Sunday, June 23, 2013

Racing - June 23, 2013 Keith Berger Crit Cat 3s

The Keith Berger Crit. This is a standard crit for me now. It has some significance to me at different levels. I met and raced against Keith Berger at Bethel. Back then he was "the guy in purple" because he wore a generic purple jersey. It didn't matter what he wore - he demolished the field, winning from breaks and winning field sprints. He quickly moved out of the 3s and therefore disappeared from my week to week race interactions. I might have seen him line up in a P123 race but I'd be at the back and he'd be at the front. I wouldn't call what I did "racing" and his Cat 2 status put him in different races or at different ends of the field if we were in the same race.

Another significant thing is that in 2011 the Missus was pregnant when we came to the race. We didn't know it at the time but Junior was already a tiny ball of cells. Although the race wasn't a resounding success for me (I sat up in the last lap of the P123 race) it wasn't bad either. The bonus was a short time later when we found out that Junior was on his way.

Nowadays the Keith Berger Crit is much closer to home. It makes it a home race, if you will, just like any race at New Britain and all the races at the Rent (@TuesdayTheRent). It's a quick jaunt down the highway and presto, we're at the race.

Today was supposed to be okay in the morning, like mid 70s, and warming up to the mid-80s by the midafternoon.


When we got there it was already in the 80s, and by the time my race finished it was 93 degrees (95 degrees after we got going).

Unfortunately I played it pretty close to the edge in terms of ice water and such. I was so confident in the 80 degree max forecast that I gave a precious bottle of ice water to a teammate (who, it turned out, suffered from heat exhaustion, so I'm glad he had some ice water). I even skipped installing the second bottle cage on my bike.

So Mister Unprepared started the race with one half full bottle of ice water in his pocket and one full bottle of ice water in the single bottle cage mounted to the frame. Not a lot for a 30 lap race (which was another thing - I didn't bother checking the race distance).

30 laps, 1 1/2 bottles, really hot... not good.

On the plus side we had a very solid team. Two of us had some legs - Mike and Jeff - and three of us had our life excuses - Chris, Rick, and myself. We all started out with the plan of no-plan: "Let's see how it goes". My thoughts ran along the lines of seeing if I could help Mike or Jeff. I held outside hopes on Chris and Rick, both of whom tend to understate their fitness and who try to make the most of a good situation.

Lining up for the start.

As I told the guys before the start, I've been good for 20-30 minutes in each of the races I'd done for the last few weeks. I feel great at the start, fantastic. At White Plains I started plotting how to approach the last lap just two laps into the race.

The problem is that this feeling of "good legs" goes flying out the window at about minute 20. From there it's a death march until I either get shelled or, infrequently, roll across the finish in the middle of the field.

My plan then was to go hard in the first 20 minutes or so, look for a prime or two, and then see how long I could last. This meant that when I saw a move go early in the race I tried to go with it.

Watching a move develop on the right side.

A guy in green and orange dieseled his way off the front. A CLR guy (they've been riding super strong recently) jumped across to him. A few more riders seemed to dwaddle off the front of the field so I went by to try to catch the train before it left the station.

Move is coalescing - I go.

The guy in green and orange just pulled like a locomotive, but we didn't have the speed to get that initial gap which is so important. Also the CLR guy on his wheel didn't want to pull and, honestly, I was rapidly running out of gas. I looked back a few turns later and the field was strung out on my wheel.

The counter after the field caught the move.

A slew of counter moves spelled the end of our little escapade and most of us sank into the field. I actually passed the green guy as he drifted back a bit more than me. The CLR guy... there were enough of them that I couldn't keep them straight.

A short time later a BANG and that familiar but sickening sound of metal on the ground.

A lap later the guy that pulled for that first move blew a tire.

The green orange guy had most of his tire off the rim, tube hanging out. He obviously had a massive tire failure. Unfortunately the guy that took the brunt of the hurt was a CLR rider, an unwitting accessory to the incident. I think I know who it was but I don't want to say because I don't know for sure. Whatever, I think he's a regular at Bethel and it was unpleasant seeing him on the ground.

The field neutralized itself on its own, racing just a lap until we all passed by the crash scene and the rider was still down. At that point racing become secondary to the fate of the rider on the deck. CLR went to the front to set a steady tempo, even when the bell rang for a prime. No one sprinted and the officials neutralized the prime.

Until the officials neutralized the race the CLR guys neutralized it.

I felt pleasantly surprised to see the solidarity among the racers. The guy on the ground was getting proper attention so we just eased. It wasn't easy for me, mind you, but it was definitely a step down in terms of throttle.

Red flagged race.

The officials neutralized the race, making official what we had collectively already done. We all stopped on the shade side of the road, a couple guys topped off their bottles (me included, when a teammate David came by with ice water), and we waited. The officials didn't seem super absorbed in damage control so I felt the rider's injuries were "normal", if you will.

We got started with two alleged neutral laps before the racing started showing 20 to go. After one neutral lap they rang the bell. There was a schedule to try and keep so we got down to racing quickly. The neutral lap was good though - everyone could sort of get back into it, no racing from the gun on legs that got a bit cold.

CLR's Nutmeg State Champ

The race winning break went, although we didn't know it at the time. At some point I'd said to Mike and Chris that I was working for Jeff. They nodded their agreement and so it was. Rick had suffered heat exhaustion at this point and had dropped out of the race. Some ice water, some hanging out in the shade with his wife and very young son, and he seemed to be okay.

Jeff launching, trying to get across to the break.

Jeff didn't know that we'd all decided to work for him and at some point, with Mike driving the field trying to keep the break within shouting distance, Jeff launched. He attracted one other rider and together they tried to ride away from the field. Unfortunately after a lap they hadn't gotten the gap and the two slid back into the field.

Crash. Riders at all sorts of lean angles.

If the crash split the race into two parts (and created the first defining moment) then the second defining moment was the crash in Turn Two. The field was all together, riding at a reasonable pace (not insanely fast, not stupid slow), and suddenly sliding metal and carbon fiber.

Riders went around the crash in both directions. As I rolled by I couldn't help but notice a bare carbon rim on the back of one of the two bikes.

Culprit: rolled tire off that back wheel.

A rolled tire.

It doesn't matter how the tire rolled, it's just a bad thing. In fact it's against the rules. Luckily only one other rider went down and it wasn't really bad because we weren't going that fast. I mean, okay, I'm sure it wasn't pleasant for the unfortunate victim (the tire roller doesn't count) but still, no ambulance call and such.

After the crash there were huge gaps in the field. Huge. Like Grand Canyon huge.

Gaps after the rolled tire crash. I'm about to pull through.
Note position in the lane. Zipcar guy holds basically a straight line.

I followed two guys, a Zipcar and another guy. The Zipcar guy was fading so the other guy went right. He wasn't going that fast so I went left and started yet another diesel pull. I'd been doing this to close gaps here and there because my legs lacked the snap to go fast whenever.

I drew up to and past the Zipcar guy, trying to hold station in the middle of the lane, when suddenly the Zipcar guy started hollering.

"Watch your line!"

His hollering turned to gibberish as he tried to retain control of his bike. The guy to his right was now to my right - he'd just slammed the door shut on the hapless Zipcar guy.

Pulling through.

The guy to my right moved over a few feet, squeezing the guy between us.
Note I'm almost on the yellow line now. I've moved over a few feet even after clearing the Zipcar guy.

I told him to pull when he pulled through. I suppose I should have said something about holding your line. Whatever, I moved over to the left to give the guy room, in case he wanted to come over more. He got on my wheel and I set about closing the gap to the CLR guy ahead of us.

Ironically Mike was pulling the CLR guy. I didn't realize he was there until they went through a turn - that's when I realized there was an Expo in front of the CLR guy. If I hadn't pulled so hard I think a bunch of riders would have been out of contention. As it was I inadvertently brought a bunch of competitors back to Mike.

Many of the riders sat up - the announcer said that half the field had given up. I'm wondering now if there was a crash back there. A friend in the race said there were four crashes and I only saw two. If there was one when the guy came across the Zipcar guy's wheel then that would make sense.

I found myself in trouble, desperate trouble. I worked super hard to bridge the gap after the crash, watched others fly past me, and hung on for dear life. Then I was done, dead legs, mid field.

I'm exploded and gapped.

I felt totally wasted, unable to move. Of course my body was automatically trying to recover so while I was busy letting people pass me my heart rate was dropping, my legs recovering, and when I looked up I realized that, okay, I'm not totally blown.

I put my head down and ground the big gear back up to speed. Curiously I found that my legs weren't cramping at all today. I pushed big gears, could keep pushing, and somehow my bike kept going. I just couldn't go fast, that was the limiter.

I persevere and claw my way back on (this is before I'm "on").

I had much higher speed going into the turn, and combined with the fact that I didn't have to take others into consideration it meant that I could corner at full speed. This got me back on the back of the group.

Unfortunately the guy in front of me started to disintegrate just as I got on his wheel. I knew it was inevitable but for whatever reason I waited until he sat up a bit before I moved over. He was waving his hand in the "pass me, I'm done" fashion as I rode past.

Of course 100 meters later I need to close another gap.

This gap hurt me but it felt much smaller than the prior gap. I pushed hard again, big gear, just rolling it, and managed to get back on.

With that clawing back on move I realized that, okay, I may make it to the finish. I had no sprint left in my legs, no jump, not even now, but I knew I could make one more diesel type grinding effort.

(As a sprinter you learn real quick your ration of jumps and sprints, and, as you lose your sprint, you start getting a ration of the slower, longer burning "diesel" moves.)

I decided I'd do a 100% effort on the last lap. I figured Jeff would get into reasonable position - he is really good at doing that - but I could get him into great position. If nothing else I could ride next to him and give him some shelter, or I could get on his wheel and force others to pass one more rider before they could pass Jeff.

I rallied on the backstretch - I knew I had just one shot. Luckily the pace wasn't insane so I could move from pretty far back of the field.

Last lap, back stretch, Jeff in the red, as I cleared the Lump.

I got around the "Lump" that forms just behind the head of the field and immediately spotted Jeff about 7th wheel. I figured I might be able to get past the front of the field before the 3rd turn so I ground my way past a couple more guys, eased in a bit, and hollered a very curt, "Jeff!"

He saw, I checked to see that someone moved, and someone did, I hoped Jeff was there, and then I tried to drive it home. 

Unfortunately in my decrepit state I had no speed. I only managed to pass the leadout guy after he blew up so I was third going into the third turn (where, apparently, the leadout guy went straight, taking someone with him). The guy on my wheel, a seemingly less experienced racer, couldn't stay on my wheel (I couldn't see back there but he'd been cornering a bit wobbly before so I figure that trend continued) and so we had a slight gap going into the second last stretch. I had stopped pedaling, waiting for the wave of riders to engulf me, but when no wave hit me I had to try and close the gap.

Last lap, just before last turn.

We went into the last turn, my legs like wood. I had no sprint for sure, no jump, and now I had no diesel. I had absolutely nothing left. I pedaled squares and triangles for a few seconds and then a bunch of guys flew by me.

Jeff was one of the first ones. I don't know how he did in the sprint (we never really bothered figuring that out) but he was second I think, maybe third. That was good enough for me.

Overall the race went well. I went in thinking I'd race for 20 minutes in 75 degree temperatures. Instead I raced for over an hour in 80-93 degree temperatures, used everything I had in my legs, and helped a teammate even when I was at the end of my tether.

As a bonus a young rider I know did just his second race in the Juniors. He approached me, with his parents, at Bethel this year, with a few questions, and things grew from there. I've been trying to help him with a solid approach to racing, trying to give him some guidance to see him through the very tough times that most young Juniors face. He's shown a sense of humor about the whole thing, like when he wryly reported that he got lapped "about 15 times" in his first race (it was way fewer than that). In today's Keith Berger race he did well, working with a chase group, behind the "older" racers, and finished with a good sprint.

Although it's good when I can do okay in a race, it's a bit more rewarding to accomplish something as a team. It's fun to work together with other riders, even if it's not for a race winning thing. If, by working together, we can elevate one rider above their solo potential, then we've accomplished something. If I hadn't closed a gap, if Mike hadn't closed a gap, if Chris hadn't closed a gap, would the field have had the same sprint it did? It's hard to say, but the fact remains that we all worked hard so that one of us, Jeff in this case, could try and optimize his performance.

Even more interesting is to try and guide someone on their own foray into racing. It's tough because I can't do anything for them once they start the race. I'm sort of helpless watching from the sidelines, hollering something here and there but otherwise unable to do much. I have to let them try it on their own, let them experience the disappointment and ecstasy that come with racing.

It's tough because I know that as a new father this is something that I will be experiencing for the rest of my life, with a huge emphasis in the next 5 or 10 or 15 years. It'll be interesting, that's for sure.

(Note: I don't identify most people fully for privacy reasons, except pros and such. I won't identify kids - it's why I call Junior Junior - for the same reason. I have a feeling I'll be writing about the young rider more but since I already christened RTC as Young Rider I need to think of a different name.)


Anonymous said...

Lead out guy did not go straight. The guy behind you bumped him and almost hit the curb. There wasn't much space to squeeze through. Not the place to be.

Anonymous said...

Aki, it's Larry the tall guy on CLR who got taken out on a stretcher. I've got a broken collarbone and a lot bruising and pain, but thankfully that is the extent of it.

Aki said...

Larry, thanks for letting me know. I was 99% sure it was you ("you know, the guy that won the first Bethel") but I didn't want to guess in writing. A real bummer as you've been riding really strong. In a perverse sense I'm glad it wasn't worse. Heal fast and completely and we'll see you out there again.