Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Racing - July 12, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

Tuesday promised to be a hot one, with a heat index of about 100 degrees. With work involving some forays outside, required long pants and heavy shoes, I knew it'd be a long day. I brought extra water, tried to stay in the air conditioning, and only had to move a little over a thousand pounds of "stuff" in the heat.

I did some computer stuff too, which let me hang out inside, and then it was 5 o'clock, my bewitching hour. I turned into a bike racer, gathered up my stuff, and headed home.

The Missus had gotten back a bit before me, enough so that she had the bike, wheels (race and spares), and pump in the car. She'd packed the cooler minus the Polar Chill bottle I brought to work. I gathered the electronics (camera, SRM), the kits (skinsuit plus regular jersey and shorts "just in case"), shoes, helmet, and some other stuff.

While the Missus fixed the last Chill bottle, I changed into some cooler clothes, shorts and a (Expo) t-shirt. Some sneakers unweighted my previously boot-clad feet. I felt light and free, at least until we stepped back outside into the blazing heat.

Not needing food per se I skipped grabbing a bar, and, with the Missus driving, we headed out.

I wanted to pin the number on the skinsuit before I slipped into it so I meticulously pinned my number as we drove towards the Rent. Then, of course, just as I started to change (i.e. I was naked), we got to the busier part of the area. I quickly finished getting the bottoms of the skinsuit on, not wanting to flash anyone near the car.

When we got to the race I got the bike ready, pumped up the tires (125/130 psi, Vittoria EVO CX tubulars), gathered the checkbook and wallet, and headed to registration. I actually remembered how much for the check, who to make it out to, and to put my number in the top right corner of the release.

SOC was there, a bit quiet after a tough weekend. We rolled out to warm up, talking about innocuous stuff like bike racing, keeping "off topic" if you will. We came back to the start area having met up with a few other teammates, which is about when we noticed a stars and stripes jersey.Link
Now, in the past I've mistaken real jerseys for poseurs. Although initially skeptical, I decided that this guy was probably the real thing.

We decided this had to be a guy who'd won it recently and for a while debated who it might be. To his credit I thought it might be the U23 champ. In fact it was Dave Wenger.

(Sidenote: when I Googled his name, I got a professor at Jefferson and the blurb under the name said something about "canine and non-human primate models of Krabbe disease"... I didn't realize that reading The Rider by Krabbe was considered a disease.)

Ends up that not only is Dave W a national champion, he's the criterium national champion.

We'd be in for a world of hurt.

Or would we?

I figure that since I hadn't really heard of him doing 100 mile solo breaks in Tour of Georgia or spending all day in the break at Philly that he was a rider more like me. Sit in, go with moves, win sprint.

Except, of course, he'd be able to go with more moves, he had an FTP that registered on the chart, and he could outsprint guys like Bahati.

A good sign - Tim U's dad mentioned that Dave W remembered Tim from the 2002 Elite National Road Race as well as his racing around the Midwest that year.

Dave W also acted pretty mellow, not doing mysterious things like shooting lightning bolts from his eyes or whatever else those top elite riders do. I didn't see him put rubber stripes down when he clipped in, no smoke rising from his brakes.

Whatever, I knew one thing. His "easy" pace would make life hell for us, and his hard pace would be devastating. I steeled myself for a hard race, but I hoped that he'd dole out more "easy" than "hard".

At the gun Tim went, a typical attack, and, like my failed attack, no one chased. The difference between me and Tim is about 200 or 300 watts of FTP, so unlike my short lived "breakaway" the other week, Tim actually got going, got a gap, and didn't falter much at all.

Some steady efforts from the less patient in the group meant the gap came down a bit, and as the group enveloped Tim, guys went on the counterattack immediately. Two CVC guys went, an Horst guy tagged along, and then Dave W went.

Dave W responding to the counter.
He is very low on the bike.

I figure that Dave W is a strong and savvy rider, but not a leg-ripping one, not like racing against a Cancellara (with all apologies to the National Champ). A crit racer by definition is someone with an FTP high enough to hang in there with a 30 second to 2 minute power number that's astronomical.

I also figured that he wouldn't be racing his heart out at a Tuesday Night Worlds. He'd complained a bit of fatigue too, so overall I figured we wouldn't see quite the fire that we'd see from him had we been at a Somerville or a Nationals.

He could still hurt us though. The way he could make the race hard would be by making vicious pace changes, accelerating to the speeds that only a few guys around can hit. When the group shatters, he could ease, let the strongest get back on, and then do it again. Big surges in pace hurts the group - it's how I demolished a group ride a while back.

Dave W raced nicely though. He had nothing to prove. He's the best crit racer in the country on a day that everyone acknowledged would be the day to prove you're the best crit racer in the country.

So he followed here and there, probably did a move or two (I was so far in the pain well I couldn't see anything once the group went up the road), and eventually isolated himself with Ron, one of the only other Cat 1s here at the race.Link
Ron races for CCNS and in the past I've accused them of racing these races just for training. They sometimes ride to the race, then race, then ride home. It's not a big deal if they win or not, they just do whatever they want to do for their training.

In the last two races that seems to have changed. The severely outnumbered CCNS racers have been very active, riding very tactically, and have actually made pretty big last lap moves.

If I didn't know any better, I'd think they were trying to win one of these things.

Well, for them, now was the opportunity. Ron was off the front with Dave W, gaining time, and probably wondering how to beat someone who out-sprinted the best field in the country a short time ago.

Ron sitting on Dave W's wheel.
To be fair, Ron did his work too.

Behind the pace remained unconcerned, steady, a comfortable pace that allows everyone to sit in.

Then someone, and I really don't know who, ramped up the pace.

A lot.

Single file, sliding forward on the saddle, I struggled to hang onto wheels. The ice cold water, my energy drink, none of it helped. The elastic finally broke, setting me free, sawing me off the back.

I shook my head at myself.

"Not again," I thought.

I looked up and saw other riders had had to let go too, sprinkling the course, a comet's tail behind the now-tiny group. I guess it wasn't just me - it really was fast.

The group really started picking up the pace. With about 15 riders left, it looked and felt more like a large chase group versus a small field. Expo teammates helped set a severe tempo, Todd B (winner of a couple Rents this year) especially effective. Horst Engineering also had a lot of horsepower, four riders capable of working at the front. I'm pretty sure Cosmo was there too, but I lost track of where he was.

Incredibly the gap started to come down. I reintegrated in the group twice after I got shelled, doing a few laps with them before peeling off the back. I noticed Aidan, leader of CCNS, sitting conspicuously at the back. Initially his plan must have been to help Ron when the two man break lapped the field, but as the race progressed, it seemed that he'd act as a reserve in case the break came back. He carefully sat at the back, out of trouble, even letting lapped riders gap him off. He closed such gaps with ease, making me believe he was really holding back for a solid attack.

The last time I got back on I realized I still had two bottles of ice water on my bike. Glancing at SOC, with his beet red face, gasping for air, I realized he had two regular bottles. Knowing just how helpful ice water is for an overheating core, I decided I'd dump the rest of my precious ice water on him.

I first emptied one bottle until it rattled with ice cubes, then emptied another.

Me domestique. Dumping ice cold water on SOC.

I hoped that the ice would melt quickly so I could dump more, but if it hadn't melted in an hour, it wouldn't melt in a couple minutes. There's good and bad with these Podium insulated bottles.

I was so involved in my domestique duties that I seriously dug my pedal in the turn just ahead of us in the picture, Turn 3. I had finished the ice cold dousing, had both hands on the bars, and pedaled through the turn, trying to stay even with SOC.

Then, BAM!, I planted a pedal, my back wheel lifting a bit crazily.


Nothing happened, I just hopped sideways a bit, and I continued on my way. Heeding the instructions at the beginning of the race, I played a bit more conservatively after that, with no more touches.

Still, though, I left that day with a nice bit of left pedal missing, ground away on the pavement.

SOC's core must have cooled down significantly with those ice water dumps because he pulled so hard he gapped the field. The ice dumps don't last long though, and he returned to the fold. Apparently he was pretty cooked in the last five laps, but then again so was everyone else.

At this point the small field had done the unthinkable - they'd brought back the break to within shouting distance of the field. The racers, inspired by the fruits of their labor, started launching furious attacks, with Aidan making the first connection to the now-vulnerable break. As others started to bridge, Ron launched an all out attack, going clear with about 5 laps to go.

With too many guys looking at each other and a fresh Aidan marking moves, the chase didn't get underway in earnest. This hesitation allowed the rest of the desperately scrambling racers to bridge, bringing it all back together for the final few laps of the race, save Ron up front.

After an all race break, then the big attack, Ron looked to be redlined. To his favor Aidan would be marking moves behind, and Aidan had to have relatively fresh legs. If necessary he could make a race winning move, but knowing his generous nature, he'd prefer Ron to take the win.

I figured Aidan would mark the slightly cooked Dave W to the end, and Ron would have a good chance of taking an incredible victory.

At the bell Ron had a big gap, the group behind pausing to collect its breath. A good 13 or 14 seconds clear, he looked to have it made.

Then Aidan launched what could have been a field winning attack.

Problem was that Dave W marked it immediately, trying immediately to get on his wheel. Although he didn't get the full draft right away, Aidan's move had drawn him into action. With two top guns going at it, everyone capable of scrambling scrambled.

The action started eating into Ron's lead rapidly, making his once "really good chance" move into a "will he make it?" kind of thing.

Aidan must have realized what he'd caused because he really eased up at the third turn, much more so than if he'd just blown a gasket. In order to try and win the race Dave W had to go all out from that turn, essentially extending his response effort that already lasted most of the lap. This cooked even a National Champ's legs.

Ron crossed the line well clear of the The Jersey.

The best of the rest finished too, a hard, hard race, worthy of the pros. A real exciting race, the early break, the huge chase, and then the last desperate scramble to the line.

Those of us dropped agreed - it was the best Tuesday Night Worlds we'd seen. The racers didn't look quite so eager to discuss the fine points of the race, but that's what good racing does to the racers. It exhausts them.

With grins on our faces, even the ones that didn't make it to the finish, we all set off to do whatever we do after the Worlds.

At some point, in the animated, excited, fatigued, and out of breath post-race discussions, the Missus noticed something.

The National Champion left the same way he arrived.

On his bike.



He raced like a star would race. He raced at our level, allowed us our mistakes, rewarded those that made the critical efforts. I don't think he necessarily gave stuff away, but I think that he throttled back a bit, allowed himself a few mistakes, and then played gamely at the end.

He made us all happy to be bike racers. He motivated us, entertained us, and encouraged us, indirectly, through his actions, through his legs, through just his presence.

As they say, his work here was done.


(Or, as Dan Rather weakly proclaimed for a bit, "Courage!")


Tim said...

SDC, That was an awesome race recap! I actually had the priviledge to do a road ride with DW on Tuesday morning. A mutual friend was giving a tour of Glastonbury for DW, and threw out the invite to our ride group. I happened to have the day off of work, so figured an opportunity like that does not come along very often. He was friendly guy, very down to earth. I remember reading about the Rent rides on some other blog, so mentioned it to him, as he was staying nearby. I was curious if he went and how he did, so started googling and found your blog. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and re-cap of the race.
ps. Where are you riding tomorrow? You may not have seen the last of DW for the week....

Aki said...

Thanks Tim - I was at Naugatuck today and saw him drop off some wheels in the pit and then saw the start of the race - he led into the first turn. I couldn't hang out for the finish but I hope it was a good race. I'm glad that Dave W made it out to the Rent, it was a real privilege for everyone out there.