A Quiet Start to the 2016 Season

17 03 2016

It’s pretty quiet. At least from my perspective; the months and weeks of off-season training gave way to the first event: The Ridge Circuit Race and Time Trial #2. I finished well, not having bonked, or experienced a mechanical or flat, or having bumped elbows or shoulders with another in the bunch. Maybe this was karma from having completed a preemptive commuter crash during an evening return from the super market (read: got it out of my system.) Or maybe it was ’cause everyone in the pack was super cool and not real nervous. (Most of us were Cat 3 masters.)

This was a first-time event site for me and I found the experience a positive one overall. The venue was well-organized, had plenty of parking (paved or gravel,) and the Motorsports park environment a nice change from courses run on public roads. The weather was typical northwest overcast with occasional rain, and the ~9 mph wind was out of the WSW. The course was already wet. I hoped more rain would stay away for a while.

Bird's eye view of the race track

The Ridge – Bird’s eye view

The pop-up awning went up and this time I staked it down…if it rains, no problem, I’m ready. At earlier events, not tying down meant that the wind would blow it over and crumple it like tissue— no worries right? I’ve repaired the thing twice so far. Got the gear bags, trainer, and stuff laid-out. Race prep as usual.

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Figure 1. On the straight-away into the Finish, looking toward the downhill “S” turn

 

Figure 2. The Finish seems farther than it is…

I learned a couple of things this day…one, fix that front-end high-zoot skewer (the one that keeps loosening.) two, tweak the TT position to bring the elbows in more, three, even though the pop up awning might be braced-down, the wind can STILL blow it down. As was the case when I returned to my car after the circuit race.

 

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Figure 3. Circuit race. I’m (hidden) drafting the guy with the yellow frame

The circuit race was without mishap, no bumping, bar-ends getting tangled or any such nonsense, just a clean race. A good start to the season. At any rate, round and round we went. Into the wind and out of the wind. The “selection” for the last lap was decided at the top of the descent before the corkscrew, and I made sure that I was in the right place at the right time. Kyle (the rider in red, Figure 3,) was first into the corkscrew. I was second. I feathered my brake too much and watched him get on-the-gas out of the last turn. Even on the top of my gears and out of the saddle; I wasn’t able to close the gap.

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Figure 4. Out of gears and out of time…approaching the Finish.

A fun race and venue, and an easy drive. I’ll look forward to next year’s opening. Thanks for reading and good luck with your race season!

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Figure 5. 3rd place for the Circuit race this day.

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The Longbranch Road Race – From Hero to Zero

29 06 2013

So OK, the ’13 season started fairly well. I brought 12 upgrade points with me from race placings last season. Moving to the Seattle area brought new courses and teammates, and a different topology on the race venues. So far I’ve raced the Mason Lake series, Independence Valley road race (IVRR), Ravensdale RR, and the Longbranch course venues. At Mason Lake 1, I placed 14th, which I thought was OK for a season opener. At IVRR I placed 4th, and at Ravensdale, I won. Not a bad start at all.

Picture at the front of the Peloton, Mason Lake 1

At full left-side of frame, finishing my turn at the front.

The following weekend at Mason Lake 2 the weather didn’t cooperate with rain coming down soon after we started. The first crash occurred within 10 minutes after the official signaled “Race start.” The second crash about half-way through the first lap. I saw my teammate David go down in a flash when two members of an opposing team made a sketchy pass on the right where there was no shoulder. They hit each other and David had nowhere to go.  I decided right there that I wasn’t going to jeopardize the rest of my season, and bailed-out to the rear and rode in for a pack finish. The jury’s still out on me racing in the rain. I hope that the Cat 3 guys will have better judgement and bike-handling skills. David’s now had a couple slow rides, coming back to the bike in proper time. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll see him the rest of the season.

Picture of sprint finish at Independence Valley Road Race

The loudest laugh you’ll ever hear in a sprint. Me on the left almost catching 3rd place

The Independence Valley RR proceeded quite well with my form starting to emerge. My tactical play served me well coming into the finish sprint as I had plenty of capacity. It felt so good I let out a laugh that the pack heard. If you check the photo, you can see other guys grinning (or grimacing) too. I gunned it from ~180 meters to place fourth. I realized afterward that could’ve launched earlier and probably caught the lead guy as I had a great head of steam on and was passing racers left and right.

The Ravensdale RR was pretty interesting too. There was a climb I was concerned about along with a minor climb. At race pace these inclines had the potential to have me shelled off-the-back. As it turned out, I was able to stay with the front of the pack even after jumping with a few not-so-viable breakaway attempts. I think one of these attacks could have stayed off-the-front if a few more of the guys would have cooperated and worked a bit, but that was asking too much. Nonetheless, I wrote a separate post about this finish. I won this race and gladly accepted my competitor’s compliment as being a “tricky guy.”

Picture of the finish sprint at the Ravensdale road race

The sneak attack. An opportune moment opens just before the 200 meter mark…and I’m alone at the finish.

With this win bringing 10 points, I had enough to justify my request to upgrade. On June 11, the regional USAC representative informed me that my request had been approved. I was a new Cat 3, and have finally achieved my top goal albeit carried over from last season.

So I’m thinking that the wet, sloppy base miles accrued during the off-season, the targeted mid-range intervals, and general season campaign plan is working pretty good. My expectation was to gain an understanding of what the new racing scheme is all about. I think that every race course and every categorical mass-start has it’s own personality. I had experienced the Cat 5 and Cat 4 personas to include the master classes. (Yeah, I’m an old-er fart and I’ll get to try the 50+ group after next August.)

I sent an email to my team captain about the upgrade and he responded appropriately and transferred me to the Cat 3 team captain. These will be the guys I start training with during the transition period and they’ll be my starting squad-mates next racing season. With 24 of them, I’m sure there will be plentiful advice and guidance to come.

A week or so has gone by since my upgrade and I’m on the fence about racing and training. Call it a slump, call it motivational burnout, call it whatever. The Capitol Stage Race comes and goes…I’m not feeling the love. (I’ve missed-out on the Walla Walla Stage race two years in a row now and have yet to do a stage race.) It was with a half-spirited sigh when I clicked the pre-registration button for the Longbranch RR.

I registered for the master’s 40+ 1-2-3, and my race would be in the afternoon, 1:05. I watched who had signed-up early and was concerned when the deadline showed only five racers. If no others showed for registration before race time; we’d all be working quite hard for the whole distance. Another possibility was that the race organizers would combine our pack into another with separate scoring. This latter possibility would skew the pack characteristic that I was trying to learn, but I’d have to wait and see.

Six of us carpooled to Longbranch, WA. After jostling the cars around so we could gear-up/warm-up and discuss race stuff, we settled in underneath a pop-up awning that a thoughtful teammate brought. This course had an uphill slope from the start leading to a small climb, which lead to a larger climb. Both course features would yield a selection, whittling down the pack to only those who could survive. As it turns out, these climbs would prove significant during the race.

Longbranch RR profileSo we chatted about who was doing what pack, that is to say, masters or regular category. Three or 40 plus? I was vacillating. If I stayed with the master’s (similar ceilings for HR), I would have to race with a pack of only 10 and no teammates. If I moved over to Cat 3, I would race with three teammates in a pack of 40 (better quantities for points.) On the other hand, the 1-2-3 group contained former uber-fast guys who, as local consensus said, were likely to establish a breakaway. I choose to move over and race with my Cat 3 teammates. This meant that I would race 66 miles, or about six laps of the above profile.

Andrew walked about; dealing with his pre-race jitters. David warmed-up on the course. Greg and I warmed-up on our trainers while chatting about training regimens, warm-up routines, and other race banter. I learned that my routine was still oriented to a morning race: that is, awake early for breakfast, pack the van with pre-staged gear, drive to the race, set-up—warm-up— race. I had not considered taking extra food for the hours after breakfast and before the race. Greg was cool enough to give me a few food bars to chow on and I wasn’t going to be picky about it. Additionally, my Joule GPS wasn’t picking up my G3 signal.  I knew that you could command the Joule to find the sensors but I couldn’t find it on the menu. (It’s on page 10 of the users manual—press the + and – buttons at the same time.) Great, all I had was the Borg RPE scale to gauge my warm-up effort. So far this (and the lack of food prep.) feels like strike one for this race effort.

Staging time. I detach from the trainer, swap skewers, put on the helmet and glasses, and make my way over to the group. David and Greg are already in place; I roll in behind them. The race official bellows out his stuff. He reminds me on one of my DIs while in boot camp many years ago,

“…race start is from here after I blow the whistle. There is no neutral roll-out today.”

Now I wished I had pedaled a bit higher in intensity during warm-up (legacy thinking, see book reference above). I noticed Greg digging into zone 4 but hadn’t really thought about it. Strike two. There’s the whistle. Staccato clicks of pedals and cleats, and pings of derailleurs shifting under tension. We’re rolling north on Key Peninsula Way for what I’ll call the first area of interest in retrospect.

Jeez, we’re moving fast. I’m already aerobic; trying to hold the wheel in front of me, my introduction to racing with the Cat 3s. The little voice in the back of my head wasn’t saying anything, but if it did:

“Hey—you asked for this.”

My Joule display shows me where I am on the course and the feedback from my legs is pegging the warning light…they’re full of lactate. Crap! I’m in trouble. We’re over the rise now heading north-west, hitting a downhill portion for 45 seconds of recovery. Draft dude, stay in the draft. Almost 32 mph now, we cross the bridge. My little backseat voice chimes,

“Christine said to ensure you’re in the small ring when you cross the bridge.”

“Got it”

Down goes the chain. My legs aren’t clearing out. I’m getting nothing from the recovery. The guy in front of me gets squirrelly as  something in front of him makes him un-clip his right foot popping it like an outrigger.  I swerve to protect my front wheel. Shit. My legs are burning; I look up to the front of the pack.

“Oh God.”

The road is straight as an arrow, and it’s going up. Up all the way to the horizon, up to the sky. A little tunnel of light flanked by the trees on either side. The pack surges at the base of the climb as we clear the bridge. My meter would say something like over 730 W. We’re climbing around 15 mph and slowing to 8.5 mph as gravity exerts it’s hold. The pack surges again and post analysis says I’m still over 660 W. Our speed increases to 14 mph (huh, going uphill?) My legs are dying, I’m sliding back to the rear. Another surge over 560 W. I can’t clear my legs out. The coup de grace is upon me. Still another surge over 500 W, speed now over 17 mph. I’ve cracked. The pack glides away from me. Other casualties fall away, spat off the back. Ahead of me, David and and Greg manage to hang on. Andrew is somewhere near the front, his 150 lb. body weight an advantage.

Picture on the second climb on the Longbranch road race course

Cracked and dropped on the third climb. I spend the rest of the race trying to clear my legs; barely able to turn the pedals for decent speed.

“I might as well get some time in. What else to do on this fine afternoon?” I might as well, I gotta’ wait for Andrew to finish since we carpooled here; he seems to be holding it together. David and Greg eventually drop too although I wouldn’t know that until I started a subsequent lap; seeing them riding together back to the parking area.

“You guys finish?” I huffed.

“No, we’re done, just heading back.” they reply.

This chip-seal is going to get old. I’m not sure I want to do more laps ’cause it’s starting to feel like the Ann Weatherill century+ ride that I did in Walla Walla last Saturday. Not only were my legs blown, my motivation was sapped too. I didn’t have my usual MP3 training accompaniment with me either. After the fifth lap I had had enough of riding by myself. My back was a giant knot and the fun meter was on vacation somewhere else.

Post Analysis

What happened? Yeah, I wondered that question for the rest of the afternoon. Since my Joule wasn’t synchronized and didn’t record a single bit of wattage data, I would be hard pressed to create conclusions based on vetted data. Then, I remembered that my teammate Andrew had a Garmin—and we had raced in the same pack. I asked and he agreed with my reasoning to benchmark the numbers behind the situation. I converted his .wko file into a .tcx file for easy data summary and snooping with the Strava web application. There was a problem however: Andrew weighed 150 lb. and I weighed 167 lb. that day. Given the same speed within the pack, I would have to exert more wattage because of my higher system weight.

One ballpark solution involves the excellent equation for steady-speed cycling power given in Bicycling Science’s address in chapter four:

Graphic for the steady-speed cycling power equation

Equation 1

Where:

  • WW = power at the wheel (watts)
  • V = velocity (mph, converted to SI units within the equation: meters/second)
  • KA = aerodynamic drag factor (SI units within the equation: CD·Aρ ⁄ 2)
  • VW = wind velocity
  • m = system mass, bike + racer (kg)
  • g = 9.81 (SI unit within the equation: meters/second)
  • s = slope of the road surface
  • CR = .0027 coefficient of rolling resistance

Method:

Using information from the data file and the Strava.com web application, segregate the three areas of interest and find the average speed for those areas. Setting the speed as a constant, use the equation to extrapolate the power needed to traverse those areas. Assume a wind speed of “0” mph and coefficient of rolling resistance of .0027 for simplicity. I used my body and race bike weight for the system mass constant. Compare the estimates of required power and duration to those of recorded training efforts. Determine inadequacies. Comment on training stress balance (TSB) or insufficient recovery from the Walla Walla weekend as possible contributing factors.

Data:

The following profile shows the areas that I wanted to investigate:

Graphic of Longbranch RR Course Profile: Areas of Interest

Longbranch RR Course: Areas of Interest

Input values for Equation 1 were identified from “windowing” the respective areas of interest within the Strava application:

  • V = area average mph
  • s = area average slope
  • t = transit time

Constants for equation 1:

  • Ka = 0.25, aerodynamic drag factor
  • Vw = 0, wind speed
  • m = 83.5, racer + bike mass
  • g = 9.81, gravity
  • Cr = 0.0027, coefficient of rolling friction

Calculation results:

Area            Description/Location           WW W/kg   V     s   Time (min.)
First start to top of first climb 365 4.8 21.6 0.015 5.6
Second bottom of first descent to top of second climb 363 5.7 18.7 0.029 1.55
Third bottom of second descent to top of third climb 437 4.8 13.7 0.073 2.42

Notes:

  1. In situ equation calculation was performed using SI units
  2. Power-to-weight ratio added after the fact, outside of Equation 1 function
  3. “All Time Bests” values date from June 2011 to May 2012
Graphic chart of training vs. Longbranch racing data

Graph 1

Conclusion:

Lets discuss the comparison of data. Basically, what I have is a benchmark survey of my first race as a Cat 3 to compare to my training target(s). As we can seen in Graph 1, the power-to-weight (P/W) ratios from the 6/22/13 Longbranch race for the most part are greater in intensity than any other sampling except the 1.5 minute point. Additionally, the race sampling is only taken from the first several hill climb portions of the course. Any sprint P/W samples from the race may be comparable, but as of yet are unknown. In this study, squad rides and hill repeat durations generally do not approach the intensities found at Longbranch.

The current training impulse will not stimulate adaptation needed to produce the desired levels of intensity such as those experienced at Longbranch. Thus, I have some decisions to make about where I spend my training time. If Carmichael’s energy string theory is true, I can focus on the higher levels of training intensity while retaining the benefits of training in the lower zones, and drawing close to the exertion targets needed for racing these types of climbs. I think this method is viable as now is the time to build intensity on top of the extensive base foundation formed during the off-season.

Note: I had intended to produce a regression equation from the Longbranch data in order to estimate target P/W levels and discuss them here, but this post runs long as it is.

I questioned whether I was recovered from the Walla Walla 113-mile ride. Prior to the race, my TSB level was 24. For me, this should have been sufficient as an indication of full recovery with the likelihood of a top-level effort.

So there it is, I’m confident that the reason that I cracked is because I got in over-my-head on racing intensities far above my current training level. It’s time to up my game if I want to be competitive for the remainder of this season and for the seasons to follow; not to mention the next milestone of Cat 2.

Keep it safe out there and take care of yourself.





Ravensdale Road Race – Round and Round We Go

12 05 2013

Some of my thoughts today at the Ravensdale Road Race put on by BuDu Racing, LLC:

I’ll skip my usual banter of soup to nuts race notes that I usually write about in my blog and get right to the gist. Our master’s 4/5 pack started (even though I don’t remember hearing the lead car honk) and away we went. Initially, I thought I was in trouble because about half the pack was in front of me after the start. Then I reminded myself that this course was 40 or so miles long and that there would be plenty of time to move up. I usually like to position myself somewhere in the 10th to 15th position; so I can keep watch for any serious breakaway attempts. Today there were plenty of surges (26 @ 6-8 W/kg, 9 @ 8-10 W/kg, 4 @ 10+ W/kg) but I didn’t get the impression that a serious breakaway was in the making. I kept thinking that Cucina Fresca would make an attempt but their first half appearance at the front did not sustain. More than a few Bikesale racers took their pull at the front, and some of us more than a couple of times.

“Watch for the selection,” was a thought bouncing inside my head more than the number of rocks ejected from tires and rims throughout our race

There was a mild, quartering breeze that developed, enough to occasionally skew the pack across the lane, but it wasn’t too bad. Not like the winds at Sequim (as described to me) and certainly not like the seeming hurricane (~29 mph) winds at Ronde von Palouse in Spokane some weeks ago. Nah, this was pleasant. I still didn’t want to be caught out of a draft though–always looking to conserve what I have left, I say. Nonetheless, the fun downhill grades had me popping out of the draft just to prevent me from coasting past the rider ahead (this happened quite a bit).

At any rate, having not done this course before, and having been pragmatic enough to download the course plot to my Joule for reference…I always knew where I was on the course. This was important to me because this course has a couple of lower-scale grades, and I always like to be near the front when the pack approaches a climb—I dislike climbing.

Laps 1, 2, and 3 were pretty much the same—about survival, although Lap 3 was a bit different in that the race intensities were markedly lower than laps 1 or 2. I think the pack was resting or holding back for lap 4, and without going into data analysis (I like statistics and analysis), I’m certain that the data file will bear this out. The beginning of lap 4 had some good surges, but it wasn’t until we turned the corner into the east-bound leg to the finish that the behavior of the pack got really interesting.

It started at the northwest corner, a typical outside-inside-outside line to carry the speed (~35 mph) into the approaching grade. I was running maybe 13th and got gapped through the corner so I stomped on it to close it. That was worth about 6 seconds at ~ 620 W. We were on to the first grade; soon after that the lead slowed, downshifting, getting out of the saddle trying to keep the pace high, and the pack strung out. This didn’t turn out, though; the mid-range power climb only lasted about a minute and the little kicker climb was coming up. Our overall speed kept increasing with the little climb consuming ~580 W for about 18 seconds. Then the funny thing happened: Our speed was just over 28 mph when the pack lead just kind of sat up, or slowed, or rather heaved a collective sigh. Maybe it was the rebound from the corner and double-climbs—I’m not sure, but it felt like we rode into molasses. Anyway, we were approaching the orange diamond, 200 M marker and I remember thinking: “OK, here it comes,” “Shit, don’t get boxed in,” then, “What are we waiting for?”

Nothing happened, time has shifted into slow motion. No one made a move, no one attacked.

“Huh?” A 4-foot-wide path opens in front of me. The guys are spreading out across the double yellow. My finger hits the shifter and drops another gear, I was off the saddle feeling my hands move to the drops. Pull, pull, pull. I started passing guys.

“Ahhg, I want this to be over.” I’ve accelerated to the front but the finish line feels like it’s a mile away. “Don’t look back.” I didn’t want to look back. I didn’t want to see who was sitting on my wheel waiting to snipe me just meters away from the line.

It got really quiet. No one on the left. No one on the right. I don’t remember hearing anything at all. I remember seeing my bars rock a bit back and forth. I threw my bike at the line at just over 31 mph; pushing a bit past 900 W. I was done.

Picture of Ravensdale Road Race Master Men's Cat 4-5 Finish





Spokane County Raceway – A Criterium by any other name…

21 05 2010

Spokane Raceway Park Aerial View

I hope more cycling days are like this one. It’s partly cloudy, the temperature is near 70°F, and there’s a breeze out of the NW at 10 mph. But this was in the morning, the weather this afternoon would be a bit different.

Earlier in the day I had picked-up a replacement cassette from a friend of mine. One way to test for a worn-out cassette is to apply tension to your chain by holding the rear brake lever and pushing down on the forward crank arm. A worn cog will reveal itself when the chain rides-up on the cog teeth. This is also the cog where you spend most of your cycling time. Another method happens when there’s more wear on that particular cog. The chain will jump teeth. This will become obvious when you’re jamming hard on the pedals…during a climb perhaps. Lets not allow that to happen alright?

At the track, the Baddlands crew were already setting up. Barb and I were the second vehicle to arrive. I parked as close to the finish line as possible.  Karen and Ken A. were busy with registration, and elsewhere on the track was Alex R. I signed the competitor roster, paid my entry fee, and turned-in my liability release. Karen mentioned having to turn one of her folders a certain way lest it release its contents to the wind. The graying front to the northwest had brought a friend.

The wind is no stranger to SCR. The surrounding topology is flat with little vegetation to shield or redirect. I could expect the usual breeze from the southwest. Half the track would be headwind or crosswind. If I’m fortunate, I might have a tailwind. Then again, so would everyone else.

B-pack would be the first on the grid. My friend Tim L. agreed to run laps with me while I warmed-up, as long as I didn’t slam it that is…Tim was on his mountain bike. Round and round we went. I noted the freshening wind, and its direction into particular turns and straights. Just like Corsa Brutale, drafting and energy management would be important.

Tactics would also play an important part. In this crit I’d have some teammates to ride with: Eric R. , Jeff N., and Scott R.  Being able to meet at a race is the exception as all of us have different schedules.  Getting to train or practice together is quite unusual. After the race, Scott would leave a phone message with an idea on lead-outs for future crits. A team effort is always stronger than any individual effort, and I’d like to see our B-squad record some results.

Tim peels off just before start time and I soft-pedal before rolling to the start area. Alex R. asks me to roll to the start line in order to sight his finish-line camera. I thought that was cool and took my place. I was already cooling-down too much. Scott R. chats with me on the grid:

Karen, as the officiating official gives us her required safety brief. Of note was the odd and lengthy treatise on blowing your nose (aka snotting) whilst in the pack. Here I see three options to the conscientious racer: (1) move to the outer pack and let loose, (2) hold it and breath through your mouth, or (3) continue to snort and dribble. I don’t remember ever having to think about this. Most likely because I’m breathing like an over-worked rail engine at these crits.

pic of the left-side starting grid

"At the starting line" Me on the right with teammate Jeff N. right behind.

So while we’re in the middle of this “fluid diatribe” the clouds in the sky decide to scatter a bit of rain on us. I’m getting colder by the minute and wishing Karen would reach the end of her brief and start our race. I was shivering by the time she was done and I welcomed the start. We were off soon enough.

Our pace pick-up pretty fast and soon we’re carving the apex at the many curves on the course. Just as soon as the lead would pass through, they’d jump and try to create a gap from the pack. Tactically, this made sense and I started to see the ripple-effect as it traveled back. I tried to anticipate it and was successful; being able to jump myself ahead within the pack between curves.

Jumping was a nice experiment. On the other hand, burning my matches didn’t save much for the last lap. In the following clip, we have a breakaway racer, and then the pack. At 0:12, I’m behind Cris L. (green jersey), on my left is teammate Eric R., behind me is friend Scott R. To Scotts left is my teammate Jeff N. This is our last lap before the finish:

Somewhere on the northern portion of the track I reach the end of my matchbook. The many surges, inefficient drafts, not to mention my lapsed training while I was sick indicate the reason…I’m empty. There’s nothing left to dig into. Around the last sweeping, right-hand curve to the north is where you want to get in position. If you have teammates, this is where your lead-out starts. Otherwise, it’s every racer for himself.

We flow onto the drag strip. I’m in the middle of the pack noting that more racers on the flanks are arriving. There’s going to be another surge in just seconds, I can feel it. I start to see pictures in my minds eye of the crash at Chapman Lake. The visual parallel is eerie. I know that my legs don’t have enough to contest the sprint and I decide to let it go and look for a route out. I find a gap and move through it, apparently safe from any imaginary, massive pile-up. The surge coils and spews a stream of racers towards the finish line.

“Finished upright,” I thought. In a weird way, it was right at this location of the track where I was involved in another crash the season before. I stayed up during that one too, but this is just too close to dismiss.

To beat this, I’m going to have to be at the front and in the break. I’m going need more power into the pedals. Time to catch-up on some quality, hard training.

See you at the next race.






The Corsa Brutale Road Race – Something Old, Something New

11 05 2010

The Corsa Brutale Course

All fueled up and going nowhere. At least that’s what the wind made it feel like. I had about 50 minutes before B-pack rolled on their neutral start. I had to warm up.

Today was Tuesday and my wife Barb had decided to volunteer as the wheel-car driver for this race. While she prepared for race duties, I prepared for racing. I was familiar with this course from the year before, and from having ridden on it from time to time. It has some good course elements.

Course Elevation

There’s rolling hills, some flats, a nice downhill section (doesn’t let you go fast enough IMHO), and a decent climb about five miles from the start/finish line. Tactically, at about 5.5 miles in, a breakaway will usually take place just after reaching the false crest. Last year, this false crest is where I imagined I saw some racers attack, which triggered my attack in order to bridge to them.

It felt cold, it was cold. The temperature was around 38F and that didn’t include wind chill. I had to get moving. Pre-race fueling and gear preparation was finished; I turned onto the course, right into the uncompromising wind. “This is what the start and lead-in to the finish will feel like,” I thought. Right away I knew that drafting would be especially essential during this race. Even with head down and hands in the drops, it seems I can’t move with any decent speed. My H/R edges into the 150s, crap.

I decide that leg warmers are going on, but option against full-fingered gloves. I want the feel of the brake/shifter levers unaffected. I turn around near the 3.5 mile point and head back to the staging area. The tailwind is nice and I’m flying. It will feel good to get warm again. I drink from my water bottle a bit more. I remember how much I drank during the race before and have no desire to carry any extra weight up that hill.

I lean into the last turn before the staging area, my Continentals feel bit coarse today. I wonder if I’m carrying too much pressure.

10 minutes to go and I’m waiting near the start line. Eric R. and I chat about the course, its layout and where attacks may take place. Monte M. rolls up. I think this is great because last season I was by myself as the lone member from Spokane Rocket Velo in the C-pack. I actually get to race with some team members this time around. Nearby, the race officials provide their required briefing to the A-pack racers and emphasize to us that straying over the center-line in order to take advantage will be dealt with quickly and with undesirable consequences. No problem…I don’t want to be DQ’d. A-pack seems big this season.

We finish our briefing and get another look at the electronic loudspeaker that we’ll be blasted with should we err in our ways. Eric R. is rubbing-down his quads trying to keep them warm. I’ve already cooled-down and I’m thinking that the warmup was frivolous under these conditions. The lead car pulls up and I hear pedal cleats sounding throughout the pack. We’re rolling.

The double-honk start signal bleats and the race is on. Right away a single-pace line forms, snaking out of the peloton, trying to wedge into the wind. Eric R. positions right near the front and Monte and I quickly do the same. Getting caught in the wind by yourself spells for a quick burnout. We churn the pedals on. The lead rider soft-pedals into the wind and the next in line takes his place, a rotation has started. Eric R. finishes his pull, about 45 seconds I think. A second column starts to form and then dissipates as riders abandon that effort.

I take my pull on the front and fade into the wind about 2 miles into the race. I start to soft pedal and drift back looking for a spot to jump back into the line. I drift more to rear…I sense that this was a big mistake and find a gap that opens. I’m too far back from the front. Back here the accordion effect will drain your energy faster than the  effort at the “sweet spot” towards the front. Additionally, positioning in this location allows you to observe who is doing what. Tactically, this is a good place to be.

I’m not in the draft.

We roll into the base of the climb, chains start to click up cassettes and shoulders are starting to rock. We haven’t slowed much. At the 5.5 mile mark stronger riders have made their way to the front and a breakaway forms. I’m fading. I know I need to crush it extra hard to stay with them but I just don’t have the steam. I’m dropping. Some racers pass by and I hop onto their wheel in an effort to stay in the game. I make it with them pass the crest and onto the naked plateau. I feel like I’m breathing through a couple of McDonald’s straws.

I count four racers in our group. I think I hear Scott M. of NW Velo Sport say, “We need four.”

Maybe we have enough. My teammate Monte M. survived the climb too. The cross-wind is from our left side. I yell out, “We can make it if we work together! Form a pace line!”

Pic of a single cycling pace lineWe four racers form a new team. It’s work together or face solitary efforts to the finish line. The wind is cold and un-relenting. We start to pull and fade off in turn. Having only four doesn’t allow much recovery in the small draft we have created, but we make it work.

We’re trying…trying hard. A racer succumbs to the effort and a gap opens. We’re such a small group that any lapse in focus, any pause or hesitation will dissolve our cohesion. I hear Scott M. yell, “Hold the line!”

We’ve lost Monte, he’s burned his last match. It’s just Scott M. another racer, and myself. We return to the pace line. A turn east on Wood road follows. We’ve gained 15 seconds on the lead riders.

At mile 9 we approach two small hills and even with the tailwind we’re still trying to hammer a bridge towards the break. They’re nowhere in sight. I anticipate the rise and click down a gear to increase my cadence. We crest and are soon flying past Davis Lake, hands in the drops, and approaching the southern turn on Four Mounds road. Tactically and historically, there’s an attack at this corner. We’re just trying to survive.

Mile 13. Too many rotations. We’re down one from our initial count and it’s effect is telling and I’m starting to fade again. “Shit,” briefly hisses from my rasping breath.

Scott hears me and tells me to throttle back. I don’t have to be told twice and soft-pedal, drifting to the rear. I’ve got to get my wind back. I spend a couple of rotations “sitting-in,” trying to get my heart rate down to a manageable level. It works. In a couple of minutes I’m able to press hard again.

I’m feeling a heck of a lot better. To my relief I sight a rider to our front who has dropped off the back of the break. “That’s our number four rider if we can recruit him,” I thought. He’s not that far in front and I know I can bridge that gap. I get back into the drops, pass my group on the left saying, “lets go.” I pull the other riders with me closing the gap.

To my surprise the rider ahead is an old teammate of mine, Brian H. As we pass I say to him, “Brian fall in!” He immediately clues in and drops into our pace line. We’re back to four. We’re going to make it.

We make the crest to a short downhill section at about mile 17.5. I like downhills because I can always regain and recover. Plus, I don’t mind the free speed. I suppose my aero drag is pretty low when I’m tucked-in tight because I’m always over-taking other riders comparatively. I have to feather the brakes just to stay with the guys. I hear Brian H. grumble, “…everybody passes me on the downhill.”

“It’s about aerodynamics (and potential energy),” I respond. I moderate my descent by popping in and out of the draft. To try to breakaway now wouldn’t make a lot of sense. We are all out of the point standing and just trying to make it back. We’re about 1.5 miles from the staging area and the turn towards the finish line, four miles away. At some point we lose the other rider leaving Scott M., Brian H. and myself. We’re back to three now.

Ragged. We’re not holding much of a good form in the pace line. We’re all tired and struggle forward. The miles drift away. There’s the 1k marker I think.

Around the last two right-hand curves and the finish line staff is in sight. What a relief. I sit up. I told Scott M. earlier that I wouldn’t contest the line with him. He’s a wheel ahead when we pass the line. The finish official clicks the camera shutter as we pass…that would be a nice copy to have.

Scott and I turn around separately. He mentions that he needs to track down his brother who was also racing. I acknowledge and respond that I’m going to wait-up for my teammate Monte who is now approaching the finish. While we didn’t place for any points this time around, I thought that we worked well in our impromptu team.

Monte and I chit-chat on our way back to the staging area. C-pack rolls by on their way to the finish. There’s the car for the following official and Barb driving the wheel car afterward. We wave to each other. Monte and I see Scott and another rider forward of us and increase the pace to catch-up. What follows is a spirited surge and chase or so it seems. Our race has finished and we’re riding for fun now. I feel refreshed. Near the staging area I stomp on it and watch the road fly beneath me as I lean into the last turn.

It feels good to be warm again.





The Chapman Short Course – Just when you thought it was safe to race.

6 05 2010

The Chapman Short Course

My goal was to finish with the pack since I was previously sent sideways by that virus. A secondary goal was to understand what was happening with the other teams. The third and last goal was to understand how the course would be exploited for the win. In retrospect, some of these goals were met, but other lessons were learned too.

I suppose it was a typical day for this working-class racer wanna-be. My timely departure from work, hampered by the last-minute appearance by a genuine purchasing customer, was succeeded by a truly illegal speedy transit to Cheney in order to arrive before the close of registration. Now that wasn’t very smart-registration went fine.

Speed limit signs on the highway

"This is the limit right?"

I found a convenient place to park and started race preparation. With my number pinned-on I set out to start a warm-up only to break-out my stationary trainer after one lap up the road…riding in circles didn’t appeal to me. I watched the other racers pass by on as I spooled-up into the proper training zone. I saw a few acquaintances here and there. Kevin B. from Emde passed by with a big grin on his face-looks like he was doing pretty good.

The pack sequence was starting to gather so I moved the gear back into my pickup and locked it down. I rolled over to the staging area and chatted with Ron B. , my only teammate for this race. I noted that Emde and Vertical Earth were out in force. Later on IMHO, they would vie for control of the race. The race officials give us their standard briefing and soon after A-pack rolled-out for the neutral start.

Five minutes later myself, Ron and the rest of B-pack click into our pedals for our start. It seems that the lane width isn’t enough for our column-of-two. I chatted with Cris L. of the Arrivee team. His teammate, Mark H. is who I road with back to the start area during the Frozen Flatlands race. Our lead car approaches the course turn at F Street/Mill…and keeps going. I hear questions and comments echo up and down the pack.

USAC rule #3B4– “The responsibility of keeping on the prescribed course rests with the rider.” We should have turned right without the pace car. Additionally, any racer who had would have had a rightful advantage were they able to exploit it. The pace car makes another turn past what I think was a donut shop. I hear sighs and laugh to myself. Chains and gearing pop as we crest a small hill on our return back to the course.

There’s at least two sets of railroad tracks to cross before our lead car will signal the race start. Ron and I passed those without pinching a tube or losing a water bottle. Seconds later, we hear the two-honk signal from the pace car…the race is on boys.

Cris is the first to attack, the pack lead surges and he is absorbed. His pace sets the tone for the course. The quartering headwind buffets us from the southwest. I try to maintain my position in the front third always keeping one or two racers in echelon ahead of me. I’ll have a tough time without being able to draft and save energy. Our pace quickens again.

The lead trades off from time to time. Every now and then a racer jumps and makes a bid to escape but for the most part the pack remains whole. There’s also a few close calls as someone gets near someone else and a crash is avoided. (After the race someone counts up to eight near-misses.) Another characteristic of this race is created. My own pucker-factor pegs as I hear brakes sounding their resistance just in front of me. I learned long ago to stagger my front wheel from the racer in front of me. Nonetheless, that racer’s wheel can decelerate pretty damn fast…always be on the left or right and give yourself a route out and away. Not-so-famous last words as it turns out.

We arrive near West Tritt Lake, or mile 23 I think. Up ahead is our lead car apparently slowing near the end of C-pack. I hear exasperation as we bunch up. I eventually regain my breath.  Looks like we will get to pass them. Our pace picks up, I thought I heard someone saying, “C-pack go neutral” or something like that. The passage takes some distance to accomplish, I’m in the front-third thinking that I’m out-of-gas to contest the final sprint. We finally complete the pass maybe near the 200m marker.

We’re inside 200m. I remember the left and right flanks of the lane filling-up with racers. It’s really packed-in and our energy’s building, coiling for the sprint just seconds away, about 150m now. I’m in my top gear. Then it happens, but not the sprint that I’m expecting. Two bikes draw together in a violent motion-almost a blur. I hear that odd noise, that of metal, tubing and fiber. Time clicks into slow motion. Right in front of me a bike and rider is sideways then down. There’s nowhere for me to go, no escape path. I yell something like, “Oh *&^*!” I know I’m going to hit then…nothing.

I find myself on the side of the road kneeling down. I realize I have crashed-I wonder if my bike is trashed. I feel pain, a quick check says that nothing is broke. I don’t know where my bike is. There’s riders and bikes all over the road. I stand up and note the road rash over my shoulders and right side, a huge contusion is building over my right hip. I see my bike about twenty feet away. I ask a rider near me if he’s alright.

Alan J. finds me and asks if I’m OK. I reply same and start to move toward my bike. He stops me and sits me down. I feel like I need to walk this out-maybe residual adrenaline. I try to stand up, he sits me down again. Ugh, my joints are starting to get sore. An EMT puts some compresses on the parts that are bleeding. More small talk. I can’t remember what happened in between, those few seconds.

I see a racer in an arm sling, another is getting prepped for a back-board and transit. Alan lets me get up, just a bit wobbly now. I walk over and pickup my bike and note that the front wheel is knocked out of true, my new saddle is broken and twisted. I wonder what else is wrong with it.

I end up in the back of someone’s truck (thanks to whoever you were) riding back to Salnave park. I hold my frame away from another rider’s bike trying to examine for other damage. We arrive. I unload myself and walk back to my truck, pack the gear in, bid “later on” to some of my friends. Alan tells me that some other riders are covered and don’t need a ride. I call Barb, explain that there’s been a crash and to have the first aid kit open and ready for me when I get home. I have to clean all this road out of my skin. I regret not shaving. Medical tape and body hair doesn’t mix well.

Nine days later. I still can’t remember what happened. Even after talking with other racers and officials. I only have their perspective(s). Erika K. made a video from the finish line. I would like to see more detail, in order to fill that gap in my memory.

See ya’ next post.





Frozen Flatlands: The Road Less Traveled

22 04 2010

The Frozen Flatlands Course

Maybe it was ego or maybe stubbornness. Was I supposed to cast-off the implications of being sick? In retrospect, I should have delayed starting my race season until I was certain that I was over the sick bug. This ended somewhat like the previous year, albeit for different reasons.

On a positive note, I verified that my feed schedule works well. I didn’t get low on fuel during the race and my post-race recovery proceeded well. So I think I’ll keep it. Another lesson-learned was to start the race in the front quarter. With a field of 75 riders, the yo-yo effect even in mid-pack was ridiculous. The single-lane roads with large packs makes it almost impossible to get to the front unless you hopscotch one racer at a time.

The sky got dark and soon 1/4″ hail was coming down. This was the “frozen” part of the races title. I put on my rain slick.

At any rate, the race was neutralized until the pace car honked and after all of us had crossed the three sets of railroad tracks on the south side of town. One had to be careful about loosing a water bottle or getting a pinch flat.

My teammate Chad N. and I had discussed starting position at the staging area. We would try to move up to the sweet spot 10 to 13 riders back from the front. Matt W. was also with us but at the moment I couldn’t see him in the staging area.

I was surprised at the pace once underway. Although at 42 miles, I wouldn’t expect the pack lead to go blasting out at first either. 16 and 17 mph would be quite manageable. (I thought this would be great for my opening race and after being sick.) But this wasn’t going to last long. We picked-up the pace once getting out on the flatlands. The head and cross-winds were blasting us. More than once I felt my bike tilt underneath me from a gust. Quite unsettling.

We didn’t see any more from Matt, turns out he got dropped off-the-back early and cracked trying to catch a wheel. I know he’ll be back for other races and I look forward to it. Good effort Matt!

As the pack turned east on Bradshaw Road, I heard Chad N. say, “Here we go.” Bradshaw Road is a series of 3 to 4 medium-sized rollers and the pack lead was stepping on the gas exploiting the terrain. Guys were out of the saddle trying to keep up. I lost my position and knew that I was in trouble. My meter started to hit the peg, and my lungs just didn’t have the air. Big trouble. I was dropping fast and the lead was quickly getting out of range. Chad went on, tried to recruit for a breakaway, but no one wanted to go. I regret having missed that.

Crap. The break was gone having turned south on old highway 195, and the pack was strung-out like floats on a fishing net. I did some quick evals…either knuckle down and grunt it out solo for the next 30 miles, or turn around for the shorter ride back. Did I really want another experience like 2009? The sky seemed to darken again.

After a few minutes of debating with myself I turned around. Crap. I supposed there’s a first time for everything. My rational was “save what you got” as the Twilight race series starts in two weeks, come back then.

It seemed like a long ride back. I saw a rider a ways ahead and I thought at least I won’t be by myself. I picked-up the pace, caught up and introduced myself to Mark H. of the Arrivee team. Good conversation as we rode back to Cheney–much appreciated Mark!

We arrived in town, said later on, and went our own way. I slow-pedaled over to the coffee shop and surprised my wife with an early return. I was glad she was on-board as I was in no shape to pay attention while driving. Double-crap.

So another year with a less-than-satisfactory finish for one of my favorite road courses. On the other hand, I have all of this year to prepare for the next.

I’m glad my wife’s an optimist, we balance well. I’ll be ready for Flatlands 2011, maybe without getting sick too.

Stay safe out there. Next stop is the Twilight Race Series.








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