Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Racing - 2015 Circuit Walnut Hill, Aetna Nutmeg Spring Series

I've been a bit negligent with the blog. I don't know how I'll approach writing about the last 5 weeks since it's no longer timely, but I'll deal with it somehow.

Of course, now that the busy period is almost over, I have something to write about, namely the last race of the 2015 Aetna Nutmeg Spring Series.

I didn't realize it at first but I'd been sick from the first ANSS race on. I blew in the first race after feeling horrible for 3/4 of the race, I stopped in the second after a similar horrific last 3/4 of the race, and I didn't even bother getting my number for the third. The Easter Sunday break, April 5th, worked out great for me as I finally worked through the full blown flu/cold/whatever I had. The process involved a couple days in bed, coughing up blood and such, but finally, like magic, things cleared up.

Training for the last 5 weeks - note that the week before the first race I basically stopped training.

Two more factors. I've been taking part in a VO2 max study in which I've promised to do two sets of 5 to 7 minute intervals each week, about an hour of riding (the one hour long midweek rides above are the intervals). Because of this commitment to someone else's thing I've been good about doing the study's efforts, despite feeling horrible and all that. In fact if I wasn't doing the study I realistically wouldn't have trained very much in March at all. As it was I often pushed back the Tue/Thu intervals to Wed/Fri because I was just too tired/fatigued/sick on Tuesday to do anything. These are very long efforts for me, something I normally don't do.

The other factor is Zwift. It's a new online game type thing that lets you ride virtually with others. Using a "dumb trainer", my CycleOps Fluid 2, along with an Ant+ speed/cadence sensor (I already had it for the 4iiii Sportsiiiis) and an Ant+ dongle (which I had to buy), I could ride on Zwift's island. This had the effect of motivating me to do some unusual efforts on the trainer, namely repeated 10 second max effort sprints to try and win the Green Jersey. Like the intervals above, these 10 second all out sprints are very atypical of my trainer workouts.

Zwift screenshot after my best Green Jersey sprint.
An 8 second sprint is about 1100w sustained on my trainer.

Just before the last Aetna race I also did a couple big efforts to try and get a real KOM time on Zwift island. It took me a solid 1:25 to get up the hill, another effort length totally out of the ordinary for me.

I'll do a post on Zwift so I'll leave it at that for now.

Part of my VO2 max study has me doing some core work. It's both relaxing and super good for my back, so that's helped a lot with both stress as well as just being able to function with a normal back.

I'll do a post on what I did, pending an okay from the testers, so I'll leave that as well for now.

So to recap I've been doing some different training on the trainer, mid-length intervals 5-7 minutes long, some 90 second efforts, and all out 10 second efforts. My core strength is up and my back feels much better than it did at the beginning of May.

As the last Aetna race approached I felt better overall health-wise. The big sign was when I went to get into the shower one day. You know how you have a set spot for the shower controls? You know that, okay, this is where you put it for the summer, this is where you put it for the winter, and if you go beyond this it's too hot.

Well I'd been running a fever of sorts for weeks, walking around feeling cold for weeks. My "normal spot" on the shower control was pretty hot because I'd be shivering whenever I got into the shower.

A couple days before the last race I got into the shower, temperature control set as normal based on the last month of showers, and immediately jumped out.

It was so hot I felt like I'd get scalded.

I checked to see if maybe I set it super hot but no, it was my normal for the last month and change. I couldn't believe how hot I had the shower set for the past month, and at the same time I felt like maybe I was finally getting better because that "comfortably warm" setting was now "uncomfortably hot".

Race day dawned pretty warm. No stresses about snow and such (more on that in later posts) so my morning was pretty relaxed.

It helped that the Missus prepared food enough for a good dozen hungry bike racing type people. I didn't have to worry about food throughout the day, eating twice, snacking once or twice. I had my first Coke since last November (or earlier). The staff were well in the groove of things so in terms of marshaling and registration things moved nice and smoothly. On the other hand I had to do the overall presentations and such so I was scrambling after each race.

Still, though, I managed to get my bike all set, a set of wheels in the wheel pit, pin my number, and my kit on.

The pin job.

I was ready to race.

(The only thing that I missed was that the SRM speed pickup got nudged so the SRM didn't auto-start when the race started. This meant I only captured 12 minutes of data when I looked at the SRM for the first time with basically 5 or so laps to go. That sort of illustrates how little I look at my SRM during a race.)

The Missus and Junior showed up but I barely had a chance to say hi to them before we started the race and we started the race a few minutes late so I could take the Women's podium pictures.

The race situation was that our teammate Stan was in the overall lead but he couldn't make this last race due to work. Therefore we had to try to shut out the second place guy, Mike, from the points. It was sort of tough because Mike is a good guy, a friend, and so maybe we weren't quite as cutthroat as we might have been.

Stan and Mike got all their points in breaks so we figured that the ideal situation would be to keep it together for a field sprint and try to keep Mike from scoring points by having other riders take the places in the field sprint. The alternate plan was if Mike showed up with his normal field-crushing legs (during the series he soloed to a win at a different race, 3 minutes ahead of the field) then we wanted at least 5 guys to go with him and have them all beat Mike at the finish. Heavy D would go with Mike and we hoped that another 4 "better sprinters" would join them. We needed to keep Mike at 6th or 7th place. If he got 5th he'd take the Series from Stan.

To be honest we'd all sort of given up on protecting the overall. When Mike is on form he can ride a whole field off his wheel. We felt more optimistic about preserving the team's overall lead in the team standings.

During one point early in the race I saw Mike moving up, carefully and in a calculated way, broadcasting his intent to attack. Heavy seemed in good position so I moved up hard, let Heavy know that Mike looked anxious, then did a big pull to try and stress the field. Such a move would encourage a break to go and if we could get a big enough group away then we'd had a chance at keeping Mike at 6th place.

Doing my "tempt the break to go" pull, holding 30-32 mph.
I happen to be going through the start/finish area.

Obviously if a group of 5 or fewer got away, with Mike in it, we'd have to bring them back.

Point was moot as Mike couldn't escape. Unbeknownst to us he'd done massive work the prior day at a different race, soloing for a while, bonking, and basically crushing himself for today.

So with Mike mysteriously not soloing away from us the laps counted down to the finish. The field stuck together, despite some strung out times, and things started looking good for the sprint.

And that meant it looked good for me.

This was the first week I felt healthy and the 20 pound weight loss compared to last year made the hill a good place, not a struggle. I held back on the hill most laps - if I made even a little move I'd move right to the front. It felt good and I figured that I could move up pretty hard on the hill on the last lap, get through the last turn in the top 5 or 7, and try to win the sprint like that.

Bell lap.

At the bell I was a bit far back, but that was okay. I felt pretty confident about being able to move up hard between the top of the hill and the last turn.

Getting a bit tight.
Note who's to the right?

Just after the start/finish, when the course curved left, things got a bit tight. I waited behind a Foundation rider (based on the helmet cam video), as the tactical situation seemed somewhat stable.

Green/yellow guy Kevin shows up to the right, this time for real.

I didn't know it but the key to my race showed up as we headed onto the backstretch. It was Kevin of Claremont Cycle Depot, the guy in the green/yellow kit to the right. He'd made the trip down from VT and didn't want to leave without making a go of it. He started moving up hard with half a lap to go.

Foundation rider and Kevin come together.

With a bit of wiggling going on the Foundation rider ended up contacting Kevin who had been following another rider up the right side.

Foundation rider pushing off.

After a little bit of contact the Foundation rider moved off. You can see how suddenly the others gave them a bit of room, with Kevin heading to the right to move away from the contact.

I used that contact to move over to Kevin's wheel.
I almost lost the wheel here as I started to run out of room after getting squeezed from the left.

This actually opened things for me as I ended up on Kevin's wheel. I wanted to be to the right, the wind protected side on the hill, so I could make my move/s. This meant not fighting to stay on the Foundation wheel. I wanted the right curb and Kevin was there so I moved onto his wheel.

Kevin starts to go.

As we hit the hill I was hoping that Kevin would go, else I'd be boxed in. Fortunately for me he started going. At first I just felt relief as I didn't have to squeeze all the way right. I expected him to tuck in just behind the front but Kevin kept accelerating.


Rear wheel skip.

He actually dug his pedal, skipping his wheel to the side, and kept going full gas. I closed up over the top of the hill, the bit where I felt best on this course. I was feeling good, letting myself do some work without having to hold back. When I checked the power file after the race I saw that I'd done a pretty solid effort, doing an 800w jump to go with Kevin.

Kevin putting in a big dig.

Instead of looking around Kevin put his head down and kept going. He wasn't just moving up, he was making his last move for the race.

Kevin telling me to go.

Kevin eased (blew?) about 10 seconds after we went flying past the front. He turned to me and yelled, "Go! Go! If you don't go we're gonna lose!"

My first thought was that if I went then he would lose. I looked back and realized that we were just about leading out the field. In a thousand races I'd never have thought of going from the front but for some reason I went. I abandoned Kevin and try to get a gap before the last turn.

The view from Douglas, who was leading the field, as I jumped.
I was just a few meters in front.
Still from Douglas's YouTube clip of the race.

I jumped, the field a few lengths back, and thought for sure I was throwing away the race. I didn't do a full on jump because I figured I was leading out the field. I needed to do a fake jump, just enough to get the speed up, and then do a real jump out of the turn. So this effort was just over 600w, not even as hard as my initial surge to follow Kevin.

Kevin follows.
From the cameraman's point of view it looks ideal here.
He's sitting 3rd wheel with about 20 seconds left in the race.
Still from Douglas's YouTube clip of the race.

Kevin tried to go with me. Later he told me he wished there was one more guy because if one guy stayed on my wheel he'd have been able to respond. The reality is that if someone had been on my wheel I think both of us would have lost. Because Kevin looked like he was just off my wheel everyone figured he'd effectively neutralize my move and no one moved around him to get on my wheel.

Out of the last turn.
Still from Douglas's YouTube clip of the race.

I wasn't totally committed when I exited the turn because I thought everyone was on my wheel. I did another half-hearted jump, this one about 700w, just to get the speed up to something reasonable. I expected everyone to be on my wheel and I was hoping to do a real jump, 1000-1200w, when I had to out jump whoever was on my wheel.

Kevin didn't jump but I did my big jump when I saw I had a small gap.
Still from Douglas's YouTube clip of the race.

The key here was that Kevin didn't make a huge jump out of the last turn. I looked back, saw I had a gap, and realized that I absolutely had to go RIGHT NOW.

So I did.

I did my max effort, which after the three efforts in a few hundred meters, meant a relatively weak 900+w jump. For me, though, it was full on and I hoped that this would make it harder for those closing in on me. In fact I actually stretched out the gap.

I'm actually panicking up there.
Still from Douglas's YouTube clip of the race.

Because I had only 20 or 30 feet when I did my 900w jump, and I knew that the jump was way below my normal jump (1200+w), I figured that there'd be a couple guys that were doing a normal sprinter 1200w jump and closing in on me hard.

I struggled, shifted into the 11T as I started running out of pedal revs, and did a final dying-gasp 500w jump. I thought the imaginary 1200w jumpers were closing in fast and were about to blow by me at the line.

I'm actually throwing my bike at the line.
Still from Douglas's YouTube clip of the race.

My bike throw.
Not great form but I was so redlined I didn't want to crash myself doing a big bike throw.
I should have thrown the bike more forward, gotten my butt back further off the saddle.

At the line I threw my bike, to beat those guys about to swarm me. I was so tunnel visioned I couldn't even look back. I was shocked when no one flew by me, even more so when I looked down and back after the line.

Bike throw, my view.
I'm looking to the left to see who is there.

Looking back to the right.
Where were those 1200w jumpers?

Obviously it worked out for me.

Worked out for my teammate Stan as well. Ends up that Mike had a really hard last lap, getting forced over the yellow line and then later onto the grass. Not only did he not get 5th or better, he sat up before the finish.

With him not placing, with no one else up there from the overall classification, Stan kept the Verge Sport Leader's Jersey. The 10 points I got for winning ended up putting me on the podium for 3rd overall behind Stan (with 15 points) and Mike with 12 points.

It was a great way to finish the Series. I rarely win races, like really rarely, and I basically never win alone (once I did), so to win on that day, in that way… it was good.

Weird, too, to be honest.

I didn't really feel like I won. There was no one around me, no desperate lunge to the line while watching another guy throwing his bike next to me. I didn't get this feeling of "ultimate jump" to launch my bid for victory. It was a series of staggers, sort of, stumbling my way to the finish, winning despite myself.

Only when I saw Douglas's YouTube clip did it start seeming real.

I still have to do some work on the races, get the final overall published, thank sponsors and such, but I needed to get this post up.


And a final note. As a consolation prize Mike got his Cat 2 upgrade based on his incredible results from the last five weeks. So everything worked out in the end.


F16F22 said...

That's awesome Aki, I'm really happy for you. I'm even more happy that the new spring series seems to be working out. I hope you'll post sometime on how the promoting of the new race is going. I enjoyed reading the details of what went on "behind the scenes" at the Bethel series. Glad you're feeling better too. No fun being sick.

Aki said...

I started so many posts throughout the last 5 weeks and then just stopped because I didn't have the time/energy/mental-capacity to finish them. I'll probably post a few of them but after the Series I have to catch up with life stuff. But I hope to, I should have, at least a few posts up in the near future. I hope. And obviously I want to do a clip as well, at least on the final race. Maybe the first Bethel as well since I have it on video (not the second and I didn't race the third week).