Monday, June 27, 2011

Racing - 2011 Keith Berger Criterium

So, finally, the day arrived. We'd be going to the Keith Berger Crit at long last. A forever drive out to the midwest, another forever drive back, and, because I really wanted to do the race, we'd stop at the KB Crit. I'd hauled my bike with us the whole time, a few kits, spare wheels, everything.

We started the day at Mifflinville, the Harry Potter sounding town, heading east towards home. With our driving speeds a little muted, we managed to make good time for the whole trip. Without our quaint inn's nice breakfast, we had to make do with some McDonald's off the highway a bit down the road.

With no home fridge full of ice and reusable frozen thingies for the cooler, we had to stop to actually buy ice. We waited until we were on home turf, with a particular spot in mind. At our favorite I-84 gas stop (cheapest gas), I went in to get ice, a caffeine-sugar soda (RockStar), and some PowerBars (Harvest - I think that's the "energy" one - and a higher protein one).
Up to this point I'd been driving. I suppose I felt a bit nervous because I'd started to do some "young me" moves, like passing on the right, or (gasp!) tailgating people going well below the speed limit.

As this wasn't productive in any way (we were on target to arrive two hours before the race), we switched at the gas station, the Missus driving the rest of the way, putting us back into a more mellow style of travel.

The KB Crit promised to be reasonably warm, with some threatening clouds that never made a difference. In the P123 race we had a good crew of riders, with three guys Cliff, Todd, and David already having raced a race. Kevin, SOC, and myself would be fresh for this race. I figured that I could be a contender, but that it'd be more likely to be a David or Cliff or Todd or even SOC. After the long day on Saturday I wasn't sure how my legs would feel.

I kitted up and rolled out, warming up with the boys. I felt okay, the RockStar perking me up, the Energy bar filling the empty feeling in my stomach. I hadn't had an optimal diet in the days leading up to the race, one filled with carbs and such, so I wasn't sure how my legs would feel.

I did know that I felt some pressure on myself, pressure to do something, anything. To have dragged the bike all over the place, spend a few hours riding it on Friday, and then to come here and get blown out of the water... that would be bad.

With that in mind I lined up, the camera well charged (it sat on the charger all night, and my backup camera sat on the charger during the umpteen hours of driving on Saturday), memory clear (I made sure both were clear before we set off from Mifflinville), and the SRM charged (it sat on the charger all night), I knew that at least electronically I was ready.

As a bonus I had started getting power readings again. Either my wire harness was acting up before or the battery in the crank suddenly revived, but either way, I had some power numbers and such.

During the warm up I saw some Stans NoTubes riders. The name popped out because I saw that some of them had placed at Nationals just the weekend prior, and I'd never seen them before. I figured they'd be a reasonable team to watch.

I saw some other teams, matching kits and all. The only other new-to-me team was some Bicycle School team, I think Boston Bicycle School. They looked pretty impressive in their kits, but I couldn't recall reading about them in any national level races. I figured they'd be good tactically so I decided that perhaps I should keep an eye out on them too.

I felt pretty thirsty, drinking down a lot of water before the race. Normally I don't feel "thirsty" but I felt it today. That wasn't a good sign - it meant that I was pretty dehydrated.

Incidentally I've had much better luck with cramps when I avoid electrolyte drinks, so I've been drinking plain water and sugar/caffeine stuff if I'm tired.

I swapped bottles, my Podium Ice bottles reserved for the actual race, the taller size Podium Chills (I ended up with the taller version of the Chills) for the warm up. Although the Ice bottles stay colder longer, the main reason I leave the Chills behind is that the really-tall Chills fall out of my bottle cages.

We lined up, me a bit behind the bunch because I didn't want pressure while clipping in. A few hellos and we were off.

Lining up.
Note the gap to everyone else.

Incredibly the field had closed out, totally full, 100 racers. Awesome for the promoters, that's for sure.

It was also good for me - more shelter, more legs to chase moves. Typically, at least for crits, larger fields means higher chances of a field sprint. Guys will try and get away, some team or three will miss the move, chase, and once together again someone will go again.

With more racers there'd be more teams, more individuals (who have no reason to block), and therefore a higher overall pace.

Only if a huge break went up the road would it have a chance - it'd have to have strong riders from the biggest teams there in order to work, and the break would have to cooperate. That's highly unlikely, but, in case it happened, I'd have to be ready to bridge to such a move.

The first lap of the race passed by pretty easily, everyone mellow, no first lap attacks. But then it got going, and the SRM shows the stress. I regularly break 1000 watts on the early laps, jumping out of turns, and I break 900 watts at each corner for a few minutes, at two corners a minute.

I was wondering what the heck was going on, if a break would actually stick due to the high pace. I even contemplated sitting up, giving up, but realized that I had to keep going. To have brought the bike everywhere and then sit up after three laps would be disappointing at best, shameful at worst.

My view for the first part of the race. It was fast!

It ends up that teammate David, looking for a good 50 minute workout, was launching moves one after another for the first bit of the race. Once him and the other frisky racers eased off the fast stuff the pace slowed.

And when David finished his workout, he promptly dropped out. I must have given him a hurt look when he shot backwards because he gave me a puzzled one.

My numbers came down to breaking only 700 watts per corner, but still, it's 700+ watts four times a lap. As my normal tactic I tail gunned, sitting at the back, but it became precarious sometimes, and I had to close a gap or two. The long coasts, the soft pedaling on the backstretch, it made the tailgunning worthwhile.

But for the most part, with a 41 or so mile race ahead of us (45 laps), I decided to sit tight and wait for the latter part of the race. Most crits have a tough start, an easy period, then an escalating finish, with the last five laps the hardest of the race.

The racing could get close.
Bike wagger right, super-smooth left.

One of the cool things about this year, versus last year, is that this year I did the P123 race, not the Cat 3s. Overall I noticed a much higher quality of bike riding skills and etiquette, where racers looked comfortable even in closer quarters. And when the more-wobbly riders made some churning efforts, wagging their bikes a bit much, no one blinked. They just gave them more room.

Another feature of this race, although not as cool, was that these P123 races tended to drag on a bit longer than the 3s. This year I've found myself lapcard-praying, looking for low numbers. First I wait as long as I can, hoping for at least the halfway point, then I look at the cards.

After that it's all downhill (and not in a good way). Every few laps I double check the cards in disbelief.

"It can't be just 2 laps since I looked!"

I broke the "unknown" period by looking at the cards. I don't remember what they said, but I think it was 35 or 36 laps. That's "to go", not "done". Suffice it to say that that's the highest lap count I've ever seen as the first glance count.

It took an eternity to get the cards down into the 20s, and by about 23 laps, just under halfway, I'd already swapped bottles once, so I'd have a "reserve" left in the original bottle. Thankfully the temperatures stayed under control and I realized that I could be a bit more generous with the icy water in the second half of the race.

One poor CCB soul, pictured in the strung out picture, had to resort to riding through a huge puddle to keep cool. I could see both of his uninsulated bottles, and both were pretty much empty for the last 10 laps of the race. Some Podium Ice bottles would go a long way towards fixing his water problem. It's probably fair to say that he already raced one race - he looked like someone that already did one. But whatever, I was glad I could pour water on myself that was so cold it still had chunks of ice in it.

I got into a pattern while riding in the race. Go past start finish, move a bit if necessary, go into the first turn a little to the inside of someone else. If I wanted a sip of water I'd take it. Watch the big crack in the turn - on one lap it almost ripped the bars out of my hands.

Roll up the second stretch, nothing major, just staying to the left of the next rider to find some shelter.

The third turn was the sketchiest, and I preferred to be on the right. I'd go through on the left without any complaints, it was just that the right side was a bit more manageable in the following backstretch.

Once on the super long backstretch I'd dump some water, sip some, and steel myself for the efforts after the third and fourth turns. Those would fly by, we'd be back on the main stretch, and I'd repeat myself.

Although I felt a bit tired, I wasn't getting twinges in my legs like I normally do. I felt pretty good overall, but the distance really started to affect me. I remember saying to someone at the start of a recent race that I hadn't done a 40 mile ride in a while, and here I was again, doing a 40 mile ride. The somewhat unusual distance (for me) really started to sap my legs.

At about 14 to go I felt a bit of worry. I knew that in other P123 races that moving up in the last lap simply didn't happen for me. I figured that I should move up and maintain a position. I'd surf the front, try to balance on that delicate edge of the wave, riding the edge without going over. In cycling terms I'd make the little jumps to go with each surge, all while remaining protected from the wind. No super big efforts, just a bunch of little ones.

Ideally this would keep my heart rate under control, instead of spiking it by making a big move.

Looking at the power meter numbers after the race, I probably could have waited a few more laps before moving up. But, at that time, in this race, 14 to go triggered some alarm.

So I started moving up a bit.

By 10 to go I'd moved up enough that the Missus, usually looking for me tailgunning, started wondering if I'd dropped out of the race. I wasn't "at the front" as much as I was in the core of the clump of racers just behind the front.

What I (re-)discovered amazed me. In the group, in the middle, there was this "eye of the storm". I could make pretty regular efforts out of turns but other than that, I did absolutely nothing to maintain position.

I just rode my bike.

The guys around me protected my position when they protected their own position. I was in this little area where I could stay put, so long as I pedaled out of the turns. Granted, I was going a touch harder than the 550-600 watts I was doing at the back of the field, but now I had to respond to whatever moves the guys at the front made.

I started realizing this whole "eye of the storm" thing about 6 laps from the end. It seemed too good to be true, just gliding along in the middle of the chaos, so I just enjoyed it, tried to make it last.

Behind me, to the inside, I could hear pedals and spokes colliding. There was a crash on the inside, as guys tried to make room where no room existed. In fact I think there were two crashes before the last lap started.

Finally, at some point at about two laps to go, I made a mistake. I eased when I shouldn't have, I didn't accelerate with a surge, something.

So I found myself, at the bell, pretty much at the back of the race.

I'd worked for about 10 laps of the race, holding a pretty good position, worked a bit....

For nothing.

My view after Turn One on the last lap of the race.
Not really ideal, if you ask me.

I came out of Turn One pretty demoralized. I'd spent quite a bit of mental energy surfing on that delicate edge, having more than a few close calls requiring some actual input to the bike so that I'd stay upright.

And now, after all that, after all that driving, after dragging my bike into Chicago and Wisconsin and back to Pennsylvania and the long hours the Missus drove while I slept an exhausted sleep, after all that...

I had to do something.

So I charged.

I gathered my strength, willed myself out of the saddle, and drove into that mess. I had absolute faith that I would get through, that there'd be an opening hidden in there somewhere.

And voila, the right side had a hole.

If the pack was a castle, this was the secret entrance, the one that pops up in the fireplace in the keep. I dove through it like my life depended on it, and broke through to daylight, to all encompassing asphalt.

I could see the front of the field.

The view from the end of the secret entrance, the fireplace if you will.
This is approaching Turn Two.

The turn ended up a bit tight. The guy that I tucked behind ended up a bit off line. I think he couldn't see the curb through the guy in front of him, and he over-corrected in the turn, going a touch wider than everyone else expected.

Whoa, Nelly!
Turn Two, under pressure. Anthony, #85, to my left. He gets even closer after this frame.

Note that you really, really, really should be on the drops when going into a turn.


You have so much more control over the bike, you can brake so much harder, and if all else fails, you have a much better platform for pavement diving.

The drops really help, and those that phsaw that and race on the hoods... well, it's kind of tempting Darwin, that's all I'll say.

What's a bit amazing, even to me, is that my tire is actually close to being under Anthony's right hand. My bike is tilted to the right, my body to the left.

And, yes, my hands are on the drops.

Nothing happened to him, to me (on his wheel), or to the guy to my left. I did have to make some jinking maneuvers to avoid contact with the rear tire in front of me, without slamming into Anthony to my left.

I barely missed the rear tire, focusing on it for some macabre reason (normally you shouldn't focus on what you're trying to avoid - in this case I couldn't help myself). I saw my tire miss his by about an inch, my tire crossing his at an aggressive angle. I think I'd have made it had I hit it, and in fact I'm guessing I may have shoved his rear wheel out of the way, but it's better not to experiment like that.

I also brought in my left shoulder to avoid contact with Anthony. I felt no contact, he seemed comfortable with his New York City studio-sized space, and we all got through the turn okay.

Just behind, though, under my arm, I saw three guys trying to move up my inside. Seeing as I was about a foot from the curb, there wasn't room for one, forget about three.

Guys tumbled to the ground.

I started moving up the side, saw Anthony really punch the pedals, and realized that my legs were cooked. All that stuff that motivated me to move up now demanded payment from my legs.

Literally feeling confused, I sat up, watching the others slowly ride past me. I probably could have pedaled a bit, salvaged something, anything, but my addled mind got stuck on a subroutine.

"Pedal or not?"
"Pedal or not?"
"Pedal or not?"

After a gazillion thoughts ran though my head, it became too late to do anything. Virtually the whole field having ridden past me so I really gave up.

This is what giving up looks like.
Note that even the pavement suddenly cracked.

I came across the line well behind everyone, defeated, the Missus looking disappointed for me. She saw me fighting for position, something really unusual for me. She knew that it meant something to me, that I wanted to do something.

This time, this race, it didn't happen. The officials politely placed me 73rd.

And, as a final note, just to be totally honest, the pavement was already cracked. It didn't crack when I gave up.


Sleepy pin job.

1 comment:

Suitcase of Courage (SOC) said...

Really enjoying the clips/pics from the helmet cam.

And "lapcard-praying" - I've been there too. Ugh