Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Racing - CCAP Tuesday Night Race, May 27, 2014

So we did the first race after the slew of posts on how to race.  The chronology goes something like this:

1. We raced on May 20th and my teammates told me that none of them really every figured out what they should do during a race. One told me that his mantra was simply to "get to the front". The result? The team used a lot of energy during the race but collectively had nothing left at the finish. I know they're really strong because I can't do a lot of what they did during the race. Unfortunately they exhausted themselves by race end and couldn't follow moves on the last lap.

2. I wrote a post asking if racers wanted feedback. At that point I already had a few asking for advice, but I felt it best to put the advice out there in public so that all newer racers could benefit from it, not just Expo ones. The post had four main points. I chose those points because those are the things that the Expo guys mentioned, both directly to me as well as indirectly (I was eavesdropping on some post race discussions).

3. Point One - How not to get lapped. More accurately, how not to get shelled.

4. Point Two - How to draft.

5. Point Three - How to corner.

6. Point Four - How to go fast. This last one combined a few thoughts so it's a long post.

How did it go? Well it went really well. I told someone after the race that the team transformed from one week to the next. No one chased a teammate down, they waited patiently when they needed to, and they weren't afraid of going to the front when that was necessary as well.

Utimately a group got off the front with one Expo rider, and the rest bided their time for the sprint. Up front the one Expo rider (Nick) survived with just one other rider, a non-Expo, and so it'd be a two up finish.

Unfortunately the race got rained out - it was sprinkling lightly one lap, no problem, and the next lap it was a downpour.

This is how it went down.


With showers forecast for the entire day just a few days prior I thought that the Expo BBQ night would get rained out. However by race day the forecast changed to a slight chance of thunder showers but no substantial rain until later in the evening. It was hot for us, 80 degrees or so, and very humid. The front coming through was supposed to drop the temperatures about 30 degrees so it would be a doozy when it hit.

The Missus and I have honed a system to get to the race earlier since Junior's schedule is such that I can't do the later A race. Therefore I pack the car and I get as ready as possible. I pin the number (same number each week), I wear my cycling shorts, I put on my heart rate strap, I even pump up the tires on the race wheels before I put them in the car. I just have to put the wheels in, stick the helmet on my head, start Strava, and get my gloves on, and I'm ready to race.

This day I packed the Expedition. I wanted the extra room so I could change and I also thought it would be better if it rained on us - more room for dry air means less humidity in the car. A side benefit is that Junior can actually see out the side of the Expedition (he really can't in the Jetta or Golf, the seat's too low), so he peers intently out while he's in it. He loves watching things passing by the window, pointing out trailers, trucks, tractors, stars, whatever he sees.

We got going earlier than expected and hit the first highway only a few minutes after 5. We got to the course at 5:20 instead of 5:45-5:50 which was our expectation. I got my bike ready, paid my registration, and met up with some of the Expo guys.

The skies looked threatening but the clouds weren't moving very fast. The sun beam part of the sky was creeping towards us and the dark clouds seemed to be moving away from us. I hoped that the rain would hold off and we'd be able to race. Plus Expo was running a BBQ that night so it'd be fun to hang out after the race instead of rushing off to feed Junior.


We all lined up, a decent number of us. One team was noticeably absent (I think a bunch of them are 3s) but otherwise I think most of the regulars were there. Expo was missing both the 3s that would normally do the race, Joel and SOC. We got our instructions and just before they sent us off on a couple neutral laps Aidan (the race boss if you will) asked the Cat 3s to raise their hands.

One person raised their hand.


All Cat 3s raise their hand. Just one hand went up, mine.

I was pleasantly surprised when I learned the whole field consisted of Cat 4s and 5s. This meant the whole field was racing for the win, minus me, and it meant that no one could hide behind a "but that guy is a 3" excuse.

I liked that Aidan asked the question because it clarified exactly who was racing and who was not (the 3s approach the B race as training/mentoring, the 4s and 5s are trying to do well in it).

We started off and two laps later we were racing.

Major crosswind from left.
I'm sitting in the best wind sheltered spot, relative to #398.
Everyone to the left is hitting massive amounts of wind.

The wind hit the field from the left after the first turn, and as we all rounded the second turn it hit us head on. I'd say the wind was almost as powerful as it was last week. Based on the weather forecast that didn't surprise me - it was supposed to drop about 20 degrees in a few hours so that meant that some system was moving in. Nothing moves for free so it meant we'd see some wind for a while.

I drifted to the back of the group on purpose, to try and help the younger riders earlier. I realized last week that helping them after they'd gotten gapped didn't make sense. They were already blown so they didn't have the power to make the jumps necessary to stay on the wheels.

I decided that this week I'd sit back there, sit in the wind, and tell whoever wanted to listen to sit to my sheltered side. This race, on this night, it meant getting the others to sit at my 4 o'clock (behind and to my right) after Turn One and then sliding behind me after Turn Two.

I intentionally sat to the left, trying to give more sheltered lanes to the right, but I think some people misinterpreted that as an example to "stay left". As the races go on I think we'll see some improvement with Wind Management, but it seemed a lot better than even last week.

Someone had commented on the "danger" of overlapping wheels. It is technically more dangerous but when you're drafting in a crosswind there's no way to avoid it. In a headwind, or in "no wind" (i.e. the wind is from the speed of the riders, not nature), it's not ideal to overlap a few inches, but to sit to someone's side is not bad.

Of course I still saw racers leaving gaps and such. It's only normal - even in Cat 3 races you'll see racers do that. However overall I think people tended to be a bit closer exiting the turns, they followed lines better, and I felt like the field was more under control in the turns. Last week I saw many, many riders take different lines in the middle of the field. This week just one rider stood out.

Also it seemed that racers were quicker to close gaps and a bit more reluctant to take big but meaningless pulls. As I mentioned above I posted all my race advice for Expo on the blog so any of the competitors could read it. Good bike racing is fun, and racing with a bunch of racers that know what they're doing is even more fun. It's like playing a game with someone that is as skilled as you are, maybe chess or something like that. It's no fun playing with a brand new player just as it's no fun playing with a Grand Master. But get two evenly matched opponents and it's going to be a good game.

An example of Expo guys waiting.

In the above picture you can see two Expo riders waiting patiently near the front of the field. At least one Expo is off the front, although I'm not sure which attack this was so I don't know if there are one or two. Last week I might have seen two or three Expo guys actually pulling. This week they were all waiting.

I realized that my basic race craft stuff didn't incorporate any advice once things went well. One Expo, Nick, went off the front in a group of four and ended up staying away for the rest of the race. I realized that we didn't have any way of knowing if he felt good or not, and for Nick, on this day, it was a legitimate concern. He'd done three massive days leading up to the race (big miles and volunteer work Saturday and Sunday and then a big ride Monday) so he admitted feeling a bit fatigued before the start. Although he ended up feeling great in the race we hadn't figured out a way to communicate that. I worried that we'd see him drop back to the field after Expo had shut it down. This we'll have to work on for next week.

A gap that I didn't close.

At a different point a group of four rolled hard into the crosswind section (note to self: also need to give advice on when/where to attack). I rolled hard to keep the pace up but literally could not keep the gap closed. I eased and let the next rider through, and it was Vickie who pulled through hard and closed the gap.

As the laps wound down and Nick seemed to be gone I started thinking about the field sprint. I had no control over what happened up the road but as long as Nick wasn't suddenly in front of us it was okay, and even if he did blow, it was still okay. There was plenty of race craft we could work on in the field.

Rain started sprinkling lightly, a refreshing mist if you will, but I was a bit surprised. I started thinking about really pushing hard because if the race got called we'd want to be in position to sprint or something. We got into the last 5 laps so the race was almost over anyway.

At this point one Expo had rolled off the front. Two more were soft pedaling, trying to encourage someone to pull through.

Expo waiting.

Again, although minor in terms of "race moves", this was a great example of the discipline and control (and knowledge) that the Expo guys had learned over the course of one week. Even though the gap was just 15-20 meters it was still a gap and they practiced their race craft.

Once the gap closed I rolled forward.

A rider in white obliged and quickly closed the gap. At that point I went to the front, completing an Expo wall of sorts. We weren't going that fast, we weren't strung out, but the rain was just a touch heavier and I thought that maybe we should just drill it from here in case the race got canceled.

I figured the race would be called soon so I went to the front.
Note that the pavement is still basically dry and that the tires are dry.

We rolled by the start/finish area and I think it was 3 to go. We had Expo jerseys all over the front and as the token Cat 3 I felt that I should go to the front. The boys lined up behind me and let me dictate the pace. With three laps to go I knew I couldn't go really hard so I toned down that leadout speed and wondered what I could do to get the team to the finish in some kind of organized fashion.

The rain started pelting us pretty hard by Turn Two, and by Turn Three I went way wide to try and get everyone else to take a nice, wide line. I didn't want anyone crashing by going into the turn and trying to turn really sharply.

Approaching the line the race got called.
I sat up and looked down - note the raindrop on lens, wet gloves, wet tires.

My gloves were soaked by the time we got to the start/finish and they called the race. It's the smart thing to do, the safe thing. Yes, it would help to race a bit in the rain, but it takes just one slip for someone to crash, and it takes just one crash to get screwed up. I agree with the "call it if it rains". The promoters waited until the rain was heavy to call it - during the laps of the sprinkling rain it was all okay.

I turned around and went back to the start/finish area.
It was quite wet already.

The rain really picked up in the minute and change from 3 to go until I returned to the start/finish (I didn't take a lap, I just turned around at the end of the straight). Water poured off the tent sides and everyone was soaked, and the poor grill wasn't doing much to help. It felt pretty cold too, the wet combining with the wind and the dramatically lower temperatures.

The Missus had taken refuge with Junior under the tent, but he was cold and wet so she took him to the Expedition.

In the meantime I had some post race talk with some of the guys. The race went really well, a huge improvement, and you could see it in everyone's faces. They were happy with their races. They worked smarter, not just flailing away at the front. They'd started thinking like bike racers rather than bike riders.

Now we just have to continue the trend.

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