Sunday, July 10, 2011

Racing - 2011 New Britain Crit

I'd been postponing making a decision on what to race at New Britain. I could either go earlier and do the M35+ race, or go later and do the P12 race.

I've always said that I prefer the category races to the Masters because the Masters are basically Cat 1-2 races, but when the category race is P-1-2, then the argument goes out the window.

With a sunny hot day forecast, stuff to do around the house, and with a lot of teammates in the M35+ race, I decided that would be my race.

The teammates thing decided it for me, to be honest. They'd be the ones regularly cleaning up at the Rent - Todd B (who's won enough Rents that I no longer know how many he's won), David H (our team president and a guy who crushed everyone in the last sprint I did), Cliff (he of the sweet lead out as well as some Rent wins and various successful break attempts). Dave D and Kevin G would fill out our roster; these are guys I don't know as well, and I didn't know what to expect from them. The three big guns really skewed the odds in our favor.

It wasn't just their strength either.

I've seen some strong teams actually tear themselves apart, the various individuals simply incapable of working for the common good of the team. Cycling works in odd ways. As an individual a racing cyclist has to be pretty selfish, dedicating a lot of time to training (usually) and racing, along with the monetary outlays for the equipment. For example I'll spend a couple weeks out west, training, in late winter. I've bought two custom frames in the last two years, and a trio of wheelsets.

Yet when it comes to teamwork, these somewhat selfish individuals need to somehow work together, often sacrificing their chances for others.

In this regard the Expo core is incredible. They work off of each others' efforts relentlessly, hammering home attack after attack, marking counter-moves, and waiting when everyone else is looking around. When the first Expo move comes back, another guy launches.

It's pretty predictable and, for a non-Expo racer, pretty demoralizing.

On top of being team-savvy, the guys are also really strong. If you got a team of five guys like me, you'd have a team that would just helplessly watch all the breaks go up the road. I'm too weak to factor into anything but the final sprint. But the Expo boys, they're strong, like really strong. They can venture out into breaks, get caught, and still have enough gas to give it another go.

All this made choosing the M35+ race pretty easy. I figured it'd go like a Rent race - lots of attacks, some early move goes, and the break makes it to the end. An Expo rider would have to be in the break, of course.

With my mind made up, I decided to take a spin after work Saturday. I'd promised myself to fix the front derailleur cable, but never followed through, so I still had a 10 speed bike (53T ring plus the 11-23 cassette on my race wheel).

I had some little concerns I could address, like my bars. They moved when I hit something really, really hard at Keith Berger, and since I never bothered to fix them, they've felt low ever since. I stopped at the bottom of the driveway, tilted them up a touch, and they felt fine.

I also had some cable stretch from the initial bike build in the winter. I unscrewed the barrel adjuster a bit at Keith Berger. That made things a lot smoother that day, but I wanted to make sure they were still okay.

I did the ride okay, did some rolling bits at over 20 mph, and figured that would be good enough for a nice warm up.

With all the cameras, SRM, kit (thanks to the Missus), and wheels all set, I decided I'd do one more thing.

The Skinsuit.

I bought a skinsuit for this year, aiming to wear it when I dropped below 160 lbs. I started the winter at 158 lbs but have been gaining weight steadily, so I never got to that "sub-160 lbs". And with the season rapidly winding down, I really wanted to wear the stupid thing.

So Saturday night I tried it on. I didn't burst any seams (that I could see), didn't look totally ridiculous, and decided that, pending an okay from the Missus (I didn't want to embarrass her), I'd race in it. It's be the first time since about 1997 or so, when I wore the "original" argyle kit, the Carpe Diem Racing kit as designed by Alexander Julian.

Of course, being the safe person I am, I also packed away a regular jersey and shorts combo. Because you never know.

Sunday we got going pretty early. I actually took some allergy medicine, actually got some decent sleep, and wasn't totally dehydrated. We arrived onsite, I registered, and got dressed.

Luckily the Missus looked pleasantly surprised that I didn't disgrace the skinsuit, so that stayed on. The prior raced ended a bit early so I had about ten minutes to ride around the course.

Interestingly enough I could feel my pretty-well-pinned number tugging at the skinsuit. I guess the skinsuit's got to be pretty snug if I can feel the number "parachuting" when it wasn't really parachuting. Otherwise it felt pretty comfortable, and I soon forgot I had it on.

With a couple laps under my belt and no efforts, I decided it'd be enough. I got my Podium Ice bottles, got my good luck kiss from the Missus, and lined up.

Naturally I lined up at the back, although it'd matter less in this a small field for the M35+. With five teammates I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that Todd and David historically attack from the blocks.

When the start whistle blew, David shot off like a rocket.

He had to be 30 meters clear by the time I crossed the line. One rider, I think the promoter Jose, immediately went after him. After a few seconds hesitation another rider shot by me on the outside. I recognized him from the Rent, and, knowing he's a good pursuiter, set off after him.

It happened so quickly that I jumped while holding the hoods, settling into the drops only after I got going. I got on his wheel and sat there, letting him pull through the first long bend.

Todd B, a bit impatient with the lack of pace, went by, intent on linking up with David and riding away from the field.

Here's where I probably screwed up. I stayed on the guy's wheel, let him drag me up to David, Todd, and Jose. One other guy, a Wee Bikes guy of course, had been on my wheel and ended up in the break.

Three Expos, three others.

A rare siting. Me in a break.

At this point Todd and David had both just made some serious efforts, and they were trying to catch their breath. The guy I went with was a bit tweaked too. I was dying, but that's to be expected.

We went around a lap, the group working reasonably well together, with me even taking a short pull.

This is where I probably made a mistake. With three Expos, it'd be really bad form for the field to let the break go. They'd have to chase it, even if they had teammates in the break. If you had one guy in the break and there were three guys from another team in it, you'd have to chase too.

Todd and David were both strong. I'm not. So I should have done one of two things.

First, I could have just sat up. I'd trickle back to the field, give them some reward for chasing, and make it seem like the break is kind of coming back. When a group catches a rider or two, it'll almost always ease a bit as the riders at the front kind of congratulate themselves for accomplishing something. This would help the break.

Second, I should have wasted myself pulling before sitting up and doing the above. Since I'm not a break type rider, since I don't have that steady power to time trial at 25 mph, I should have just buried myself, taken one or two really good, strong pulls, then sat up.

Although I'm not necessarily a good time trialer, I can pull pretty hard for 30 seconds or so. I know that I can close a 10 or 12 second gap on my own, which means that if I pull hard, I'll add 10 or 12 seconds gap back to the field.

Once I stretch the gap out to whatever I can, I could revert to the first plan. I'd sit up, drift back, hopefully recover, and get back in the field.

In the meantime, Todd and David would have a bit more time on their hands and the break would have a better chance at doing something.

Instead of all that good stuff, I just pulled a pitiful pull, sat on afterward, gasping for air, and we got caught.

Cliff went out for a while on his own, no one wanting to follow his move. As the field collectively fatigued, riders would be given some room to play with, the idea being that the rider would end up tangled up on the virtual leash, not breaking said leash and riding away to a spectacular victory.

When the group would ease Cliff back to within 10 or 15 meters, everyone would ease up, and Cliff would stretch the gap out again.

I felt so bad for Cliff I was tempted to shut down the gap myself, but Cliff is a strong boy and he knew how to meter his strength. Unlike me he wouldn't get shelled as soon as he got caught.

Finally, after Cliff took $50 in primes, the field ended his agony and brought him back.

The rest of the race went by in a blur. I wasn't feeling that great, I didn't know a lot of the guys in the race, and I figured I'd be doing well if I even finished this race. I felt particularly disappointed in my form up the hill - I had no snap like last year, no surge, no nothing. I think that the 15 extra pounds I'm carrying has a lot to do with that.

With my ace in the hole gone, I had to really sit in and pray I didn't get shelled.

Luckily the Expo boys had the strength to parry and counter without any help from me. As the laps wound down Cliff actually came up to me and asked how I felt. I shook my head no. I didn't feel confident I'd make it through the inevitable last-lap-surge, I wasn't feeling it on the hill, and frankly I haven't done a good sprint this whole year. There was no way I could give Cliff a chance to try and help me in the sprint. Teammates are good, but to throw away his legs for me would be a waste.

Therefore I shook my head no.

He acknowledged me and rode on.

Naturally I started coming around in the last five laps or so. I think it was more that the others got more tired, versus me getting good. Whatever, my super-economical racing style got me to the end with a lot of reserves.

I found myself surging a bit after the hill, the best sign for a good race at this course. It wasn't as good as last year, where I could really surge, but I could still get myself past a few guys before I had to ease up.

As the laps wound down, Todd went clear with two guys. The move looked innocuous but the good ones always do. David sat near the front and marked any countermoves, and, suddenly, a lap later, it looked solid.

With just a lap to go the Expo guys were all over the front. We had just a one in three chance in the break, but with Todd there, it wasn't good for the others. He's been winning Rent after Rent from breaks, even winning field sprints after the break laps the group.

It's much easier to race for a guy like that.

I wasn't near the front though; I didn't even know if it was Todd at first. By the time I did it was the bell, and instinctively I was moving up anyway.

I think my brain went out the window because I approached the last turn on the inside, the left side. The wind on the final straight was pretty strong and it blew in from the left side.

That would be the side I'd end up on after the turn.


We rounded the last bend, a Wee Bikes guy leading it out, me sitting about 7 wheels back. I waited until some moment I thought appropriate, never thinking about any previous year's marks for where to start my sprint.

I jumped left.

The wind hit me.

I tried to overpower the wind.

The wind won.

I got 7th in the field, 10th in the race.

Todd won out of the break, winning the state championships.

David got 8th I think, like me unable to make up ground on the guys at the front of the field.

Although I did a pretty poor sprint, I think the race overall went well. I didn't get shelled, I got to see the front, however briefly, and I was upright and unhurt at the end of the race.

More importantly the team did really well. The individuals coalesced well to form a strong unit, stronger perhaps than our individual strengths. I couldn't contribute much, but then again a weaker rider can't contribute as much. The other guys regularly rotated at the front, marking moves or making them.

The Missus and I powwowed a bit after the race. I complained about my sore legs after my one training ride this week. Other than Tuesday's race I'd ridden about one hour this whole week. That's not a lot.

She'd been talking to a teammate's wife who'd asked how long it'd take to get into racing shape. The Missus told her that I'd said it takes six weeks to get someone into racing shape. Now, I think I said 12 weeks, or three months, but six weeks would do too.

In six weeks of training I could get a regular rider into some decent enough shape, with enough skills, to do a race.

The Missus asked me how many gazillion hours one would have to ride to get in race shape in six weeks.

I did the math in my head. 1.5 hours Tuesday. 3 hours Wednesday. 1.5 hours Thursday. 2 hours each Saturday and Sunday.

10 hours a week.

"As much as Ed A trains, and he's a strong 2," I proclaimed.

The Missus looked at me.

I looked at her.

The proverbial light bulb went on in my head.

Oh. Right.

I could train 10 hours a week, instead of three. And I could be a decent rider, a strong 2. Like Ed A.

Well not as strong. But you get the idea.

Little print on the skinsuit.
I'm racing in it as often as I can going forward.

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