Sunday, June 12, 2011

Racing - 2011 Nutmeg State Games P123

Action shot, chasing the second break,
courtesy Michelle Marble 2011.

I've always held the New Britain course dear to my heart. Located in Walnut Hill Park, in New Britain, CT, I did my second ever race there.

Of course, back in the day, we went the other way 'round the loop, clockwise, until a series of incredibly damaging accidents on the S-curves convinced the various powers that be to reverse the direction to its safer counter-clockwise direction.

In its clockwise state I managed to win one spring series race; in the current form I also won one spring series race. They no longer hold them anymore, and for summer races, well, I've never won one, and New Britain is about as close as I've gotten to winning a summer race (I've gotten second here and at another race).

Of course, that's as a Cat 3, or, in the first win back in 1986, as a Cat 4 (I got my upgrade literally at the finish line after that race).

Now, as a 2, I'd be eligible for just the Masters 40+ or younger races, or the P123 race.

I've watched a lot of the P123 (and P12) races at New Britain. I've always been astounded at the consistently high pace of their races, as opposed to the stop 'n go pace of the Cat 3s. As a Cat 3 there'd be plenty of time to coast in the field, soft pedal, relax, rest. The group would spread curb to curb, not because they're anxiously moving up but because the pace is slow enough that everyone naturally flares out, filling in gaps, avoiding hitting the brakes too hard.

The P123s, though, were different. They'd be strung out single file from the get go, racers constantly trying to escape the front, others just as determinedly chasing.

Then, when the attackers come back, another group goes, relentlessly driving the pace.

I'd watch, wide-eyed with disbelief, wondering how anyone could race like that.

The few times I've done the P123 race as a 3, I've been totally outclassed by the speed of the others. I struggled to hang on, couldn't contribute anything, and would usually sit up at some point, spent.

This year, as a 2, I'd be doing "those races", those single-file-for-an-hour races.

For the first time in many years I felt nervous.

Luckily for me my poison ivy's been under control, after a visit to the doctor. I'm taking prednisone, a steroid of sorts. Oddly enough my muslces haven't been explosing out of my clothes, nor have I felt stronger than I have before.

This whole doping thing must be a myth :)

Actually, I've also been taking an extra antihistime, Benadryl, at night. I didn't know this but the poison ivy reaction is some kind of allergy thing, so a Benadryl really helps with the itchy bumps. I noticed that I sleep for the whole night pretty solidly. By Saturday my poison ivy bumps pretty much "expired", hit with the triple combination of Claritin-D (which I take all the time), Benadryl, and the prednisone.

Now it just looks like someone shot me from afar with a shotgun, red dots scattered randomly around my body. I'm less irritable though, without the constant itching driving me crazy.

What's crazy is that I didn't get exposed to poison ivy directly, because, frankly, I'm super paranoid of the stuff. I probably touched either an extension cord used in a poison ivy area (for maybe 30 seconds) or a propane tank used in a Mosquito Magnet in a poison ivy area. But no direct contact, no way, and yet I had all this rash.

As the doc pointed out, my symptoms were very unusual, with no streaks of rash, just random spots everywhere. He acknowledged that I'm "extremely sensitive", and that he couldn't even verify it was poison ivy.

Anyway, back to the race.

With my body somewhat under control (just steadily gaining weight since last fall), I could deal with my next worry, the weather.

"70% chance of thundershowers" makes me less than psyched to race. The weather hadn't read the forecast, though, and the pavement stayed dry right up to the 3:55 PM start.

I brought two sets of wheels to the race - my carbon Stinger 6 tubulars and my aluminum Bastogne training clinchers. I have dry weather pads on the bike so I lose pretty much all braking ability on the carbons, at least for the first few seconds. On the aluminums it's not as bad. In dry conditions I'd stay with the carbons; in wet, the aluminums.

I looked up at the clouds. Definitely more grey than before.

I felt like I was starting a Formula 1 race under threatening clouds. More than one F1 race got decided when either the clouds opened up (or didn't) within minutes of the start.

I even rolled over to the Missus with a compromise set up - carbon rear and aluminum front. The carbon rear would roll fast, and since the rear brake does very little, especially in the wet, the lack of braking there wouldn't affect me.

The aluminum front would let me brake in the wet, but I'd pay the weight and aero handicap.

I swapped the front wheel out, putting on my carbon, thinking I'd swap back if it still looked grey. Then I rolled out to loosen my legs. I've been on a non-training streak, having ridden just Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and Tuesday last week. 3 days of training in 12 days meant that my legs would be fresh but a bit slow.

I warmed up with Luciano, a Navone Studios racer. A very strong racer, he can go with the breaks and still dig up a nice sprint for the finish. I thought for sure this would be his kind of race, with a break going up the road to decide the race.

When I got back to the Missus we were just about ready to line up.

"You want the other wheels? You have to decide now," she warned.

I hesitated, not wanting to give up the fun, fast carbon race wheels.

The staged riders rolled to the line.

I rolled away from the aluminum wheels.

I decided that if it started to rain I'd put in some monster efforts, blow myself up, and drop out of the race. If it stayed dry I'd try and race a normal race.

We set off and immediately the attacks went.

Two times breaks got up the road. Twice I watched them go, debated digging deep to go, and then, hesitating, debated myself right out of the "must go" time window. Within a lap the break would be 20-odd seconds ahead, too big a gap to close on my own.

I prayed that someone strong missed the move and would drag the field back up to it.

The second break seemed quite strong, and built a decent lead. I know they were a good 30 seconds ahead at one point, but, thankfully, had left some very good riders in the field.

The pace ramped up super hard suddenly. A few strong riders, after taking huge pulls, shot back backwards so quickly I had to believe their races ended right there and then.

The immense effort told - we caught the break so quickly I didn't realize that the front of the field was actually the break.

When the front 20 or so separated from the field, now the third time a group went away, I thought about it again.

Aain thought about it too long.

On the backstretch the racers virtually slammed on their brakes. For the first time we flared out, not because we were trying to move up, but because we were going so slow that we'd have to slam on our brakes if we didn't.

And that was that, or so I thought.

I watched Aidan, of CCNS, strangely complacent in the field. I couldn't understand why he'd be happy to see 20-odd racers away, even if he had a teammate up there. In a group of 20, to have just one or two riders, that's not a winning combination. You need two in five, not two in 20.

Then, as the laps started counting down, and I started feeling mist on my face, I saw why he was waiting.

The Trek-Livestrong U23 racer had been left in the field.

When that guy went, Aidan went too. A 100% committed move, something I've rarely seen in him (since, frankly, I'm not around long enough in races to see them).

A third rider went too, making it a three man chase, probably 20 or 30 seconds behind the big break.

Then, as the field started to crumble, two more guys went clear, including a guy Jeff that won the P123 Mystic Velo Crit earlier this year.

And the mist turned to a drizzle.

My rims, okay in the mist, were now wet.

I touched my brakes and felt that uneasy acceleration feeling, where your brain expects to slow but instead nothing happens.

I needed to stop.

So close, though, only a few laps to go.

But with 20 guys away, 5 guys chasing... what the heck was there left?

I knew I wanted to make an effort, a big one, and I wanted to be in a much smaller group so that my lack of braking wouldn't hurt me or anyone around me.

So I thought of a plan, briefly, an ambitious one that had three stages. Since even the second stage seemed unreasonable, I figured it was a safe plan.

Stage One - bridge to the chase with Jeff in it.
Stage Two - bridge to the chase with Aiden and the U23 guy.
Stage Three - bridge to the break.
Stage Four - (incomprehensible)

As we rounded the last turn, my tires okay but my brakes totally useless, I launched hard, out of the saddle, building up speed.

I hunkered down in the drops, missing my Cane Creek Speed Bars, removed since Somerville.

"I'd never use them anyway", I told someone while warming up. I wish I had them now.

Instead I turned over the biggest gear I could, flying up on the two man chase. It felt good to work hard, with no tactical thoughts, just pedaling my heart out.

I got on, still not exploded because I hadn't used up all of my anaerobic fuse, but needing some serious recovery if I were to do anything aerobically.

I declined pulling, trying to recover, Jeff looking back each time I skipped a turn.

Going down the backstretch, still unable to recover, I came off the chase.

At the top of the hill the field rolled by. I thought that by some miracle I might be able to do the move again, but as I started to pedal, I realized I couldn't even stay with the field.

I almost ran into the curb at the last turn trying to stop, but managed to get turned around and watched the last lap of the race.

Incredibly the U23 racer had not only bridged solo to the break, apparently he won the sprint right afterwards. Crazy.

Then, my day over, I rolled back to the Missus, and headed home.

Nary a flap from my number.

No comments: