Monday, August 01, 2011

How To - Pre-Race Instructions

A long time ago the Bethel Spring Series was the Bethel Training Series. There was no Cat 5 race because the USCF had only Cat 4s and up. We didn't have a camera at the finish.

But we raced. Boy did we race.

For many years the Bethel Training Series was my romping ground. I loved the sprint up the hill (still do, usually). I liked the non-technical course, making the race essentially one long, meandering straight. I loved the hill, a big ring hill for most of us, a small ring hill for the best (and worst, depending on how fast you went in the small ring).

I started some of the Cat 3-4 races thinking of how I'd win, not just if I could. Would I jump really early? Should I bury myself in the field and try and sprint through the field? It was like SUNY Purchase Tuesday Night Sprints. With one or two trusted "final leadout" teammates and a slew of guys who'd randomly go to the front and drop the hammer to string things out, I thought of different ways to win the sprints at SUNY Purchse. Depending on who showed up, I'd realistically have about 15 all out sprints i could win, and 15 where I'd sit and watch the others fight it out.

Of course at Bethel there was just one sprint, the final one, so I only had one chance at getting it right.

As a real casual race, Bethel wasn't as hotly contested as some of the "summer" races. In fact, for many years, the races at Bethel didn't count as regular races, due to the permitting process. Now each week is a different race, but back then they were all lumped under a training series permit.

That meant that even though I enjoyed my races at Bethel, they weren't the end-all. Just like SUNY Purchase sprints - if I didn't win a particular sprint, it was just a moment of disappointment, then I'd think about the next one.

Bethel used to go on for seven weeks, so to me it seemed there'd always be "another chance".

Our club hosted the race, and like all clubs there were those members that primarily raced, those that primarily helped out, and the bunch (there were a good dozen) who did both. I did both, and this put me in touch with all the club members that primarily helped out (but didn't race all that much).

The racing members didn't really interact much with the helping members because, frankly, the racers were too busy racing.

One of the guys who always helped out, and I mean always helped out, was a Cat 4. Bike racing wasn't his life - he had a great wife, had a whole other social life outside of cycling, and for him the club was just another interest of his (at least that's how I read him).

Because he didn't train quite so fanatically, because he didn't aspire to be a Cat 2 (like me), he was perfectly happy being a Cat 4. He'd race the Bethel Training Series, do a couple races during the summer, and do some of the group rides.

One year, I don't know why, he rode a bit more than normal. This went into and through the winter. He started up at Bethel in pretty good shape, at least compared to his prior years. He seemed to be willing to suffer more, he could roll up the hill with just a little bit less effort, and he didn't look quite so tweaked after a surge or two.

As a 4 in the 3-4 race, and with me in the race, he tried to help me when he could. If the pace slowed he'd go to the front and try and increase it. If he found himself near me he'd offer to try and bring me up.

Although flattered, I felt kind of bad. When you think about it my whole race is about the sprint, and I was already relatively fluent in "peloton speak". The super strong break guys were around, but in the 3-4s they could be intimidated by just one hard chase. Since I was relatively fit, I'd even do the chasing. All too often (for the others) the race would come down to a sprint.

One of the later weeks in the Series I was either well into the lead or well out of it, I don't remember. Either way my actual placing meant less than any workout I'd get. Anything the team did to work together would help too, since we had a few guys join up that year.

So here was our very helpful Cat 4 in a 3-4 race. Except this year he'd never been at the sharp end of the race, and definitely not near the front at the end. He raced kind of timidly, didn't really mix it up, but that was fine with him.

We raced for a bit on that particular week. I had my tubulars, Zipps (the first generation Zipp 340s, evolved into the 303s now), with super light Campy Record Crono rim (yes, rims) 28H tubulars as backups. We didn't have a pit per se but everyone kind of threw their wheels in a spot by the mailboxes (they still do), so I had them there too.

I raced expectantly, wanting to use my Scott Rakes, wanting to sprint, wanting to feel the bike respond as I furiously smashed the pedals.

Then I flatted.

I rejoined the race a lap down. It's casual and all but this meant that I couldn't go for the win. Therefore I could do something else, try something new, experiment a bit.

At the back I saw the Cat 4, working hard but looking less-than-troubled.

I got an idea.

I rolled up to him and told him to save it for the sprint, just sit in. I'd find him, but his job would be to sit in. I explained that I flatted and wouldn't be eligible for the sprint, but I'd try and make it a good race for him.

At about 3 to go I found him, told him to follow me, to shift when I shifted, just don't lose my wheel.

I made baby steps to move up (it was like playing with the huge Lego blocks instead of the intricate stuff the complicated things have). I avoided shifting too much (I think I shifted only 2-3 times a lap), called out the cog when I shifted, and kept checking to make sure he was there.

I remember rolling up the hill in a 53x15 coming up on maybe 2 to go, shifting just once so that I wouldn't "lose" him gear-wise, and slogging over the top as guys rolled by. It was okay, we rolled back past them, but when I looked back to make sure he was okay, I could see the concern in his face.

We (well, I) hit the front with about 1/2 lap to go, the backstretch, and I started rolling hard. I was holding the tops, sitting upright, elbows out, knees splayed as I pedaled, imitating a derny driver, trying to give him as much shelter as possible. After looking down to make sure he still sat on my wheel I shifted into the 14 ("14!"), then the 13 ("13!"), then rolled the 12 hard. I was totally tweaked as we hit the finishing hill.

I looked again to make sure he was there.

No one.

Looked back.

I had like 70 feet on the field, a totally strung out, hammering, hurting field. I rolled up the hill, slowed to a stop near the line, got off my bike, and, when the field started sprinting past me, yelled at the guy to go, go, go. He got maybe 8th or 10th or something, got crushed just before the line by the sprinters in the field.

But, man, he was soooo stoked. He'd never been in that kind of position before, never seen what happens on the last lap of a race. Okay, yes, I shouldn't have gone quite so hard in the final bit of the leadout, but when I gapped him some of my friendly rivals immediately tried to close the gap so my teammate got shelter.

I was pretty happy with myself. I'd turned a potentially race-destroying incident (the flat) into a great experience for a teammate. He'd never been the leader of the team, and today he experienced part of what that was like. He got immersed in a field sprint.

And, really, the best thing was that the guy he worked for for so many races, the guy that he never actually saw finish because he wasn't there in the sprint, that guy turned around and helped him out. It's like when Hampsten took the lead in the Tour of Switzerland and ended up with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond working for him (!!). He won of course. How could he not, with those two as domestiques?

Awesome. What a day. I was so happy for my teammate, to see that huge grin on his face, it made me so happy.

Still grinning I went to the officials to see how my teammate actually placed.

One of them asked why I stopped just before the line. I told him I wasn't eligible for the sprint because of my flat so I wanted to cheer on my teammate that I led out.

Said official looked at me.

"If you'd listened to my instructions you'd have heard that the free lap rule was in effect today."



Jake said...

Nice post. I especially liked the part where you compared yourself to Hinault and Lemond!

Aki said...

Well, you know, Bernie and Greg and me go back... :)