Friday, August 10, 2012

Racing - Aug 7, 2012 @TuesdayTheRent

Not much to report from the race Tuesday.

Short version - I got shelled.

Medium version - a huge early move went, the remnants of the group eventually bridged, and a new composite group finished the race together, minus a few strong guys off the front, and I couldn't hang when the second group did the merge with the first group.

Long version goes as follows...

The Family headed over to the Rent for one of the last three Rents scheduled for the year. It's always a bit bittersweet, coming to the later Rents. The good thing is I have some more fitness because it's later in the season. That combined with a lot of other racers getting burnt out (or tapering for cross) means I may be able to finish a race. The bad thing is that the regular weekly racing I enjoy will draw to a close.

We had an unpleasant beginning to the race - a rider fell just wrong in the B race, breaking a bunch of stuff, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. A huge fire truck also responded (complete with a huge ladder). Ironically one of the first responders to my crash here back in 2009 was one of the fire truck's crew. The Missus said hi and such to him, a good guy. He's appeared in a few clips in 2010, but after some bad luck and a couple crashes he quit the sport that year.

For this week I wanted to wear the jersey. SC (as the members refer to it) is a smaller cycling forum that I read. They needed some money to seed the site so I sponsored the jersey. I hadn't worn it outside yet, just on the trainer, and I wanted to fly the colors at least once this year.

(As an aside I also wanted to break the superstition thing about wearing a non-kit jersey - on one of the only days I raced in a non-kit jersey in 2009 I ended up crashing and fracturing my pelvis in two places.)

As expected the race started with a couple solid attacks in the opening laps. Groups of four or five started drifting off the front, and suddenly something like half the field was up the road.

The first move, 4 guys, 1 guy launching a bridge, and the field. 

Usually a large group lacks cohesion. Not every strong rider makes it up there and often a number of opportunists (i.e. a weak rider like me) may be able to bridge before the gap gets too big. This leads to some uneven strength in the group which then causes the lack of cohesion.

This "unglued" bit manifests itself in a few different ways. The break may initially work well together as everyone takes their turn at the front. The overall speed won't be super high though as the slower riders bring everything down a notch.

As the riders get tired and the little gaps in different fitness levels open into chasms the break will start to stretch and contract like an ameoba. A strong rider may pull kind of hard, causing gaps to open, and only when a weaker rider goes through a bit slower will the group come back together.

Strong riders will also attack to try and pare down the break, jettison the weaker riders. This just encourages the weaker riders to stop taking pulls, increasing the load on the stronger riders, and reducing the strength differences temporarily.

Finally the weaker riders will crack, the stronger riders take off, and the break disintegrates.

If the field has been working diligently and stays within reach the whole race can come back together.

A couple Rents ago this happened. It was like a Tour stage, the race scenario basically reset at the end of the race. In the last five laps that evening the remnants of the field caught the remnants of the break, making for an exciting finish for the spectators. I, unfortunately as a rider but fortunately as a spectator, had been reduced to spectator status by then. At least I got to watch and learn.

Therefore when a large break went away this time I hoped that a few strong riders had missed the move. Looking around the second group I saw Tim, an always impressive motor, most of the Horst Engineering squad, and many of the Central Wheel riders. This boded well - Horst did much of the work that other week to bring back the break, and Tim could singlehandedly bridge a minute gap.

I did miss one guy, Dave G, who I noticed for the first time literally a couple laps before he sat up. He must have been chasing at the front because he certainly wasn't behind me. Always a classy rider (former Cat 1 and one of the best amateurs on the East Coast back in the day), when he finally sat up he gave me a power assist that helped me close the gap and then some.

Power assist coming up!

A couple Rents ago, struggling in the field, I kept finding myself behind a guy leaving a gap in the turns. The first couple times he left a gap I worried about trying to close it but he closed it on his own. The next few times I figured he was about done so I set about closing them myself.

I finally realized that he was so strong that he could afford to let gaps go then leisurely close them after the turn. I stuck stubbornly to his wheel whenever he let a gap go and he closed them all himself. Eventually we got to sprint for the finish line.

This week I found myself behind the same guy. Instead of worrying too much I let him do his thing. If a couple weeks ago indicated anything then he was plenty strong and if he let gaps open up in turns it was all good.

Unfortunately this week wasn't quite like that.

Rider ahead leaves a big gap.
The other week he left gaps like the one between the last two riders ahead of us.

A 10 foot gap is... not great but it's okay. A 40 or 50 foot gap isn't good at all and with a pretty stiff crosswind coming up after Turn 3 I had to close the gap.

I set off, no real hard acceleration, just rolling up the gear I happened to be in - I had no more than that to give. I started to struggle a bit at my very unimpressive speed when I saw a rider come up next to me.


Lance pulling through.

My teammate Lance, not the one that wants to do triathlons. Lance was one of the instrumental teammates who helped me take the 2010 Bethel Spring Series, and he can motor like there's no tomorrow when he's on form. With some time off this season he was just getting back on the bike and he wanted to do something in the race before he dropped off.

He looked at me as he rolled by so I swung on his wheel. Suddenly it felt much easier (drafting someone does that) and we led the back half of the back group to the front half.

The guy leaving the gap started leaving bigger and bigger gaps. He looked elsewhere for help but we were basically cooked, else we'd have gone around him before he left the gap.

At one point he swung left and kind of drilled it, pushing the pace to keep us in touch with the break up the road. It could have been an attack or it could have been a cup of cold water thrown in our faces to wake us up. Whatever it was I swung over too and doggedly stuck on his wheel. He duly led the group around for about a lap before he eased. I couldn't pull through so I swung off with him, and I think the guy behind me was in the same situation. The group collectively slowed and unfortunately wasted that guy's efforts.

Every week I start looking for the 5 laps to go marker - I can make it if I get that far. This week I could see that the break had started to come back, thanks to some lap or two lap pulls by Tim and a couple of the Horst Engineering guys. Each of those guys would sit at the front for a long time, driving hard but steady. The once half lap lead fell to about 15 or 18 seconds. I hoped that things would come together in time for the sprint and I hoped that I'd be in the group when it did.

The break started attacking itself, the stronger riders now thinking they could make it to the finish, the weaker ones trying to hang on.

This only fired up the pace in the much-reduced field.

The last move I really saw was when Tim and two of my teammates rolled off the front of the group. I sat nearby and when the Central Wheel rider in front of me couldn't go, I had a choice to make. I could chase or I could "not chase".

Gap to Tim - he's in white. SOC is up there and one other teammate.
Just to the left of the center lamp post is the front group - maybe 100m away.

Technically I shouldn't chase because I had two teammates up there in a group of three. Technically I should have let someone else close most of the gap and then counter-attacked them, or let them close the whole gap and then tried to bridge to the front group.

Because it's a training race, because I knew Tim would drive until he bridged to the front group, because it's meant to be fun, I decided I'd bridge the gap.

This time I had no Lance to give me a spell, no shelter offered by a friendly wheel. I rolled across the gap myself, at whatever speed I could pull from my legs, dragging along whoever wanted to come along. The front group was just ahead.

The pull killed me though, and although I tried to hang on to the back of the group I slipped off. A lap later they put the 5 to go out. Maybe letting someone else close that gap would have been the right thing to do, but realistically it wouldn't have made a difference. I'd have had to make some hard efforts once the two groups merged and I wasn't strong enough to make just one effort.

I stopped and chatted a bit with Lance and other guys hanging out at the finish. SOC rolled in, a good effort that kept in the hunt until the very last barrage of attacks.

He commented briefly that one of the leg breakers Aidan had commented on his bridge to the first break. Basically Aidan told him that if he can bridge then he can pull too. Ultimately SOC came off but we learned the lesson there (combined with one I learned recently here - at least pull through and off). We all wondered if he'd committed a faux pas in Aidan's eyes (and therefore a genuine faux pas).

We were grinning like naughty schoolboys when Aidan rolled over. He started to address SOC but then realized that the rest of us were paying attention too. You could see him recalculate the approach.

"Hey, you want to do a cool down lap with me?"

We all looked at SOC who'd turned bright red on cue. We were all thinking the same thing - trouble!

We discretely kept an eye on the two of them. They seemed to be talking in a normal way, no animation, no fighter pilot hand gestures showing swerving and the like.

When SOC returned we all crowded in.

"So what did he say?"

He wouldn't say, but later he explained. Of course SOC is an adult and he can take constructive criticism, so he opened the conversation. Aidan, if you don't know, is an ex-pro, a current Cat 1, and a respected coach in the area. Any feedback from him, whether requested or not, will be good solid feedback. Therefore SOC knew that whatever Aidan said would be significant.

The conversation went something like this:

"So, um what did I do wrong?"
"Well I must have done something wrong in the race. I can take constructive criticism."
"Didn't I make a mistake or something, you know, when I didn't pull through?"
"No, you're racing well, you're strong, you're fine."
"When we were in the break you said something about leaving a gap."
"Well, that's not your problem, right? If you leave a gap it's the people behind you's problem."

SOC rethought the whole scenario. What else could it be? Maybe Aidan is recruiting? That's one powerhouse teams in the area. Are the team bikes free? The Raleighs seem pretty sweet. Kits, they must have a lot of kits.

SOC listened intently to what Aidan had to say.

Sadly enough Aidan stuck a pin into that big bubble. His question had nothing to do with racing per se, it had to do with regular stuff, familiar stuff for SOC.

SOC grinned sheepishly when he told me that story. I couldn't help but exclaim that I was thinking the exact same thing!

We laughed together. Good thing we're racing for fun.

As quickly we rise, so we fall.

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