Sunday, June 22, 2014

Racing - 2014 Keith Berger Crit, Cat 3-4, 14th

After the thrashing I received yesterday I wasn't keen on the race today. The Keith Berger course, located in East Hartford, favors a longer final effort, something like a minute type effort, not the 20 second efforts that a New Britain or a Bethel requires. Since my minute numbers aren't that good I historically haven't done well here.

We'd spent a bit of time with family after the race Saturday so we got back pretty late, with Junior even refusing to go to sleep until we basically got home.

Sunday morning I woke up with really sore legs. In the last few months, for whatever reason, I don't get very sore. This is in my "1-2 hour a week training" period so I really didn't change much from one week to another. I suppose I don't race very hard (I sit in and hang on) and during my admittedly minimal training rides I go longer and sometimes harder than I do in a race. After those training rides, yes, my legs feel sore. After races, not so much.

The sore legs made me think that maybe I should actually warm up a bit because that helps when I have sore legs. Overall warm ups become more important to me as I train more. If my short rides are two hours and I'm doing 6 or 8 or 10 hours a week I need an hour warm up. If my short/only rides are an hour and I'm doing 1-3 hours a week then I really don't need much. Right now I'm in the latter schedule so warm ups haven't been important at all.

I worried a bit about my lack of speed, a problem I normally don't have. It's not sprint speed per se, it's the "sitting on the wheels in a tailwind section" kind of speed. It's what killed me at Ninigret yesterday and I knew that we'd have one tailwind straight at Berger. I hoped that my lack of speed was from not riding the day before, versus a lack of speed because I've been training just an hour or two a week.

Turning the camera on.

Before the race I rolled around to drop off a bottle, my camera, and say hi to some of the guys. I spoke with two of the 4s, Aaron and Nick. I warned them not to go out too hard, even though this was the "team race" (Expo helped man a lot of the marshal positions and with the hay bales and stuff - I didn't do anything except race and take pictures).

With a "hometown" race (Expo was one of the two clubs putting on the race, although we mainly supplied hours rather than venue experience) the temptation is to fly the colors early. The problem is that when you do that you're done for a bit and usually just as the hometown team collectively blows up the winning break goes up the road.

I didn't want that to happen so I told Aaron and Nick not to do that. With that said, and with a short talk on getting away (Lance, a Cat 3), that was that for any team talk.

The Missus and Junior found me, Junior all excited to see me again. He's at the age now (about 2 years and 3 months) where he gets really psyched to see us again, even if he just saw me a few minutes ago. He doesn't have massive anxiety when we leave either so it's nice. The separation bit isn't that painful now (no monkey-cling and the resulting finger-by-finger peeling him off of me while he screams bloody murder) and he's even more excited to see me when he sees me again. A nice combo.

Junior happy to see me.

We lined up, I sat at the back, the announcer (a racer as well as someone heavily involved in trying to make the sport grow) commented on my stem, and the race went off. The field seemed pretty solid, no real obvious new racers.

The pace was really, really high for the first few laps. I didn't know who was pushing it but I'd told the 4s (Aaron and Nick) not to go hard at the beginning.

Ultimately, as expected, the breaks came back, but only after a lot of hard chasing. Ends up that Joe, a Cat 3 Expo rider that's sort of unretired himself, traded turns attacking with Lance, pushing the pace, flying the colors. So much for that advice!

Joe, a long time racer, knew his limits and he knew that he'd be done quickly, therefore he did what he could before sitting up. Lance, after his forays off the front, drifted back to about where I sat to recover a bit.

During the race there were a few consistent bobbles in the field. Nothing like the rolled tubular from last year, or the clincher blowout that resulted in two pretty injured riders, so it's all relative. I caught a couple of the bobbles on the helmet cam.

Oops. Second turn.

The above was a relatively big bobble, especially since the rider that bobbled was on his own avoiding the curb. The problem was that he didn't need to avoid the curb - he'd have been close to it but not hit it. The resulting bobble was pretty big but fortunately no one went down, even the guy doing the sideways power slide.

The chase back on - I was the third rider after the gap - hurt me. The speed felt extremely uncomfortable but I knew that if I didn't hold on my race might end right there.

Wind from the right on this, the second straight.
Break is already at the corner.

The main crosswind hit us on the second straight, from the front right, which is sort of the norm here. Sometimes I ended up on the right and it felt much worse than in the middle or the left. I actually grinned once when the rider in front of me carefully and determinedly fought to move to the left safely, succeeding just seconds before we hit the second turn.

Another oops, second turn again.
The rider in the middle of the screen is headed directly away from me. Everyone else is heading right.

I've noticed that this year there haven't been a lot of guys cutting the inside, like a conspicuous lack of guys cutting off others at the curb. On the other hand I've seen a lot of guys go wide, too wide, and end up slowing to avoid the curb or falling when they hit it. Because I wasn't in the midst of the bobbles I couldn't tell if it was one or two riders consistently making the same mistake (aka they don't know), if it was a course "feature", or if it was just a "racing incident". I've noticed this at the Rent as well so I'm going to keep an eye out.

Regardless I think there was one crash and two really close calls due to riders almost stacking it up on the outside of the turn.

I found myself consciously slowing approaching a turn, giving myself a gap, and then cornering more along the inside than the outside. I rode through guys that had slowed for the bobbles without having to brake or otherwise waste too much energy.

Basically I'd go into the turn a bit slower, I'd start pedaling usually before the apex of the turn, and I'd be right on the wheel as we accelerated up to speed. Less time out of the draft, room to maneuver if something happened, and reasonable efficiency. It was certainly easier than sitting up near the front, something I have a hard time doing, and I still had a lot of time/room to adjust for bobbling riders. The clip will show that better but I wanted to point this out.

Clawing back on.
No bobbles or anything, I was just suffering.

All the smart riding won't make up for lack of fitness or speed. So although I may have been riding as optimally as I could, I still struggled with the pace. This particularly applied to the faster bit, the back stretch. There I struggled to hold wheels, coming off by some decent distances on some laps.
Ultimately, though, with cornering speeds lower than necessary, I could close up the gaps pretty easily in the next corner or two. This wasn't ideal and I'd rather have been controlling the gaps (aka "tail gunning" or letting the gap go on purpose to save energy), not worrying each time that I might not get on.

Bottle toss.

When I realized it was getting down into the last three or four laps I gave my mostly full bottle a heave. It's one of my two precious Podium Ice bottles so I tossed it near the Missus so she could retrieve it. You can see Junior watching as I tossed the bottle - hopefully he doesn't randomly toss his bottles when he goes for a ride on his bike.

At the bell.

I'm on Aaron's wheel. He's a new guy, strong and savvy. Strong, okay, everyone is strong, but he's a bit more familiar with the bumping and barging of crits because he comes from a motocross background. This is like a few other teammates of mine and they're all good in the turns. This raised my expectations for him and he's met them.

I didn't feel good enough to yell at him to bring me to the front - I think he'd have dropped me - but I felt like the team had potential. Thinking back I should have done something but I don't know what. I didn't know it at the time but Nick, another strong 4, had been close by as well, maybe even on my wheel.

I realized that since we don't race together as much I didn't know how we could best take advantage of our collective strengths. Since the Rents are the only times I've raced with them and we haven't finished together in any organized fashion yet, I had no idea how they'd react to various scenarios.

Even when I have an inkling sometimes people step it up a lot. For example in the last Bethel race, the Zwiedzanie, Joel went to lead me out. He'd blown up with about 300-350m to go the prior week so I hung back when he committed into the wind. I ended up in the wind a bit because he rode off the front of the field, dragging a few riders clear. I worked super hard just to draw even with him and he finally detonated only about 50-70 meters short of the line. If I'd stayed on his wheel I'd have had another 50 feet or so headstart, but since this was only the second time he tried to do something in the sprint I wasn't sure what would happen.

I also felt uncomfortable barking out a command or two because, frankly, we'd never been in this situation. I've been trying to help them win the B race but I either screw up (poor leadout moves) or they get caught in traffic. I didn't have a clear idea of what we could do so it made no sense for me to yell out much of anything at all.

After our race I watched the P123 race. The most active team really impressed me with its road captain barking out commands regularly. They ended up second, their leader simply outsprinted by the rider I thought would win, but they rode a superb race. I didn't see any tactical errors on their part.

First turn of the last lap.

At this point the race, for me, was static. I was just holding position, trying to gather my breath. I had no expectations, no plans for doing anything. Aaron has disappeared to the right. A guy had eased up in the middle, Aaron went right, I went left. After filling a hole or two I ended up at the first turn.

In retrospect I might have been able to move up a bit on the next stretch, after the first turn, but I think I was pretty cooked. I was relying on moving up on the long and wide backstretch so I sat and tried to recover just a bit.

Second turn of the last lap.

Number 812 did a superb job of cornering here. He hit the turn much faster than me and he cleanly slid through the gap ahead of me, ending up virtually on the inside curb. In a less experienced rider I'd have been worried but he did it so well, so smoothly, I was really impressed. I never felt endangered, I never needed to react. A good move. The only problem is that he left a gap - it seems like he was pretty blown.

I fought to stay on wheels but ended up dumped unceremoniously in the wind, in the middle of the group.

The fanning out on the back stretch, last lap.

You can see the typical fanning of the front. I wait for this and move up on the inside, sitting second or third row, gambling on finding an opening. However my legs wouldn't allow me to move up hard so I sat in the wind, a bit helpless. This is where fitness would have made a difference because I wouldn't have been back here, I'd have been 20-25 feet further up, right on the wheels, ready to pounce through an opening.

Third turn, last lap.

You can see that even though they slowed a bit I couldn't close the gap before the turn. This is all energy I had to expend and therefore didn't have for the sprint. I have maybe 20-25 pedal strokes in the sprint, and every hard pedal stroke here made my sprint that much shorter. I was holding about 32-33 mph here, so not ultra fast considering the fact that this was going to decide the race. My heart rate, on review, was about 170-171 bpm and holding steady, which is high for me. This explains why I couldn't move up quickly - I had very little left.

As we exited the third turn I pulled up right behind a few guys. They had slowed hard in the turn, mainly because guys tried to squeeze in from the inside.

Fourth turn, last lap.

I've obviously closed up, mainly because the front guys were slowing or the narrow third stretch made everyone string out a bit. I think the front guy was blowing up and the rest of them were waiting for the corner. I was going a steady 30 mph here, and my heart rate dropped a few beats per minute to 168 or so.

About when I sat up.

When I came out of the corner I did a few hard pedal strokes - my sprint was about 6 pedal strokes long, something like that, peaking at a relatively low 1075 watts. I was at 27 mph when I jumped, immediately went to 35 mph, and that was when I realized there was a lot of real estate to make up in not a lot of time, and in fact I think the winners were basically winning when I sat up.

In addition my jump was too weak to gain on anyone. At Nutmeg last week, when I hit a more respectable 1200-ish watts, I immediately gapped some riders. It helped that I was the first to jump and all that. In this sprint I only stayed even with the others. The rider to the left in the picture above? He was directly in front of me in the turn. Tactically speaking my sprint did nothing to change that.

On review my heart rate peaked at 171 just as I sprinted but only dropped from there. That means my sprint didn't really load up my aerobic system, showing just how little effort I put into it.

I didn't realize it until I reviewed the clip but I passed at least two people while I was coasting and may have pipped a third at the line. This put me at a non-pedaling 14th place, a great place considering the best I've done here is about a 10th (and I sprinted and blew).

For me, then, the finish was a bit of a disappointment. I was so far out of position that I didn't even feel like I could use my sprint, what I had left of it. Likewise, with teammates around but no plan, we couldn't coalesce and use our strength together to try and get a better result.

Junior greeting me after the race.

The Missus was a bit worried when I finally rolled back to the start/finish area. I think I'd coasted past her while shielded from view, so she didn't know if I'd stayed upright on the last lap.

Of course Junior doesn't understand that yet. He saw me and came running over. His first reaction is to grab a tire, then a skewer, then the brake lever. It was great to see his smiling face, his excitement.

I went looking for my bottle, which I saw bounce into one of those bushes there. Comically I couldn't find it, and after some digging around two other riders (father/son, Bethel regulars) came over to help me look. We really dug around a lot (no poison ivy, I was checking) and I finally found the bottle. It looked like someone dropped it in the middle of the bushes, and you had to peel back the layers just right to see it.

I didn't realize it until I watched that Cat 1-2 team work the P123 field afterward - the team needs to race together consistently to get the hang of different scenarios and appropriate tactics. It's a steep learning curve for everyone including myself. Two of my regular Cat 3 teammates last year, Chris and Joel, have backed off a lot from racing and two other regular teamamtes, Bryan and Jeff, have already essentially stopped racing this year. This really depleted our team of a few of our more experienced racers - the least experienced ones have been racing 3-4 years, and the most experienced ones for literally decades.

Of course it helps if I actually train and stuff. If I'm suffering at the back I can't do much at the front.

For training this week was a big one for me (relatively speaking for the last year or so), with four rides totaling 5 hours. Strava says I only did 37 minutes of rolling time at Berger when I really did about 65 minutes, so there's half an hour missing. I rode 6 hours in April, of which 3 hours was racing, and I did 8 hours in May, of which 3 hours was again racing. In June I'd done 4 or 5 hours before this week, bringing my total to 9-10 hours for the month.

My training log; for more info my Strava profile is here.

Considering the amount of training I've been (not) doing I can't be really unhappy with my racing. However to be there and not be able to do much, that's both frustrating and motivating. Going forward I want to be a bit more fit and I want to get the team to gel better. Both goals seem attainable to me, even with regular life stuff going on, so that's going to be focus for the rest of the year.

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