Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shamrock Crit - Apparently I wanted to go faster

First up, HUGE props to my son, Alastair, on his first road race, and HUGER props on his first win. The field was small, the wind was strong, and the temperatures were horrible, but he put down intervals for 20 minutes and cruised to an easy 3rd overall in the juniors race, getting a BAR upgrade after the 2nd place finisher failed rollout. I guess #zwifteffect is real.

The Men's Cat 4 race started just after noon in 10 - 15mph gusts from the NNW. It was cold at 40F, but I'm used to riding in much colder on the way to work. For whatever reason, though, I just could not get warmed up. I ended up back at the truck 3 separate times for costume changes, finally settling on a balaclava, my warmest base layer, and mid-weight gloves (my hands got hot even though everything else was freezing). I was sure I'd overheat in the race, but I was so damned cold I didn't care.

I also ended up doing a lot more warm-up than I would normally do, putting out 10 miles instead of my usual 3 or 4, and all of it with a bit more intensity than was maybe warranted. And of course, I also rode to work yesterday because I'm dumb.

And I was coming off a wonky week with an out-of-town business conference where I stayed on my feet for over 21 hours and off a bike for about 3 days.

I had plenty of excuses, is what I'm saying.

But the race, when it started, eschewed excuses and went straight for blistering speed. The first 3 laps were all in excess of 25mph, and hovering somewhere in the 300W range, a pace I cannot maintain for very long. I was hopeful the rest of the group would settle into something a bit more endurance-y, but a rider ran off the front and quickly gapped the field. The next lap, another rider chased.

As we came through start/finish, I heard a spectator shout "20 seconds". Absolutely unwilling to have the few points decided at lap 4, I shouted "fuck that, let's GO!" and hammered, bringing myself to within 5 seconds before looking back to...nothing. Goddammit. Worse, the two ahead had joined forces and looked strong. I held on for another 10 seconds before realizing it was going to be a long race if I blew up this early, and sank back to the group.

But now I was pissed, because the first 3 jerseys to pass me were the same as those who held up the entire peloton at William & Mary and caused us to get neutralized. Once again, this one team was dictating the pace of the race to everyone else, and it seemed nobody was willing to work together to stop it.

Eventually we reeled in the break, and things settled down (thankfully) for a couple of laps before another break started. This one had 3 or 4 guys from the start, and the chase group nearly split trying to counter.

We were little more than half way through the 40-minute race, and I was starting to yoyo at the back. But I was not going to get dropped by this group--I'd held on to Ben King's NYD ride, by God I would hold on to this one.

Magically the group came back to me, and several laps followed of moving freely around the peloton with no real risk of getting dropped. The break was away, but not pulling any further ahead, and nobody was taking any risks.

With 6 or 7 laps to go, it started getting fast again, and I was back to hanging on for dear life. I could make good progress on one side of the course and nearly get dropped on the other. Round & round. 2 laps to go, they ring the final prime lap. Some guys think it's the final lap (because really, who does that?) and it's game on: a group of 3 breaks off the front to chase down the leaders, and I got vacuumed to the front of the chase.

Last lap, and guys are really trying to bridge up. I hear carbon howling EVERYWHERE around me, but the next-to-last turn is a smidge tricky, and I'm given too much space. I jumped at the same moment as E. Shipp and we sprinted side-by-side for the next corner, but I got the inside line and tucked down for my usual seated sprint. I see a wheel hew into the corner of my vision from the right, actually literally screamed and put out as much power as I had left, and held off the attack...only to be passed by at least one rider on the left.

A quick glance up was nearly impossible as the whole world was blurry, but I think I counted 10 jerseys ahead, putting me around 11th. I spent the entire cool-down lap telling myself not to puke, which was frankly a pretty tall order. Garmin said I'd averaged 288W, a 30W increase from my previous 20-minute best.

I spent the next 4 hours wondering why the hell that race had been so hard before I remembered that it was a mixed Cat 3/4 race. Oh. Well, that'll do it, I guess.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

W&M Tidewater Classic 2017

Today should have been amazing. I signed up for this year's W&M road race as a Cat 5, but after doing some magic with USA Cycling managed to get my resume re-re-reviewed, and was upgraded to Cat 4 last weekend. It took my projected finish of 1st down to 11th and meant I couldn't get away with any nervous rider shenanigans, but it also meant I got to sleep in a little later, since the 4's race starts at a reasonable hour of 10 am.

And the race started with real promise. After the 2-mile neutral roll-out, the pace leaped to 30mph within 2/10 of a mile and pushed hard to the first run up the KOA climb, where the flatlanders popped and everybody jeered as the freight train accordioned.

Back on flat(ter) ground, the race picked back up to the fever pace for a while, with minimal centerline enforcement. I'd see guys go wide and hear a moto admonish them, but nobody got sent backward.

After the first turn off Fenton Mill Rd, M. Lipka did is Leeroy Jenkins move and took one hopeful soul with him. They held out for about a half a mile before the group decided to run it back down, catching him well before the first lap marker on Riverview. But then his teammate N. McKinnon countered, and I guess the group figured it was another throw-away effort, because NOBODY chased. In fact, if anything, they actually slowed down. Wherease we'd been seeing 30mph on the outlap, I was barely seeing 22mph this time through.

By the time we made the turn to Newman Rd, he'd worked up over a 20-second lead. I found a hole on the right and jumped to the front to chase.

A group of about 5 were leading a middling charge, and I took up 2nd wheel. When the leader peeled off, I put out a 1-mile threshold interval to take back about 1/3 of the gap. As we dropped to the base of the KOA climb, I was reabsorbed into the group and we caught the only decent break-away of the day.

And then it just turned into a parade. For the next 10 miles or so, I just stayed on the right side and watched the occasional surge from one side or the other, but ultimately the jerseys never really changed and the speed continued to drop. At one point on Riverview I looked down and saw 17.8mph. Guys were starting to yell out from the group to pick up the pace or get out of the way, but it never happened, and what should have been a blistering run up the KOA climb for the last lap was more of a casual Saturday group ride pace.

And so they stopped us.

The moto dropped back to the leader and motioned us to the side of the road to let the faster chase group past. Suddenly what had gone from 57 bunched riders to a long train was now, once again, about 50 guys all clamoring for a shot at glory.

Zero space for error, itchy trigger fingers, but nothing. A few guys decided the centerline rule was for pansies, and nobody enforced it to the contrary, so the last several miles were exceptionally messy, and it's a wonder nobody wrecked.

We made the final turn into the park, where last year the 5 race just turned into an open 1-mile sprint fest, and...again...nothing. The group sped up to about 30 and held station, gradually widening to take the whole road and shallowing as riders packed up the rear, but the front line was like a military column and not a damn soul would break from it.

We even passed the 200m marker without ANY action, but when it came, it came hard. Formation broke as a few guys dropped the hammer, and I was in the 3rd row back. I hunted and clawed for a way through, finding a teensy gap on the left side--exactly where I'd seen a dude get seriously hurt at the end of last year's 4 race. I took the chance, and right as I got to it the guy ahead started yawing his bike around like a cartoon exaggeration of a sprint. I gave him a moment and he did it again. I yelled--twice--and he finally curtailed it and gave me an inch of pavement. With 50m to go, I got out and threw down everything I had, expecting to see the leaders well off into the distance. But as I counted the jerseys ahead of me, I could see only 5, and the moto was not far off.

So just as anti-climactic as the neutralization was the realization that I'd scored points in my first Cat 4 road race. Huzzah.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Taming the Monster

Taming the Monster

Last week was rough. My poor baby girl had 5 shots at her 6-month check-up and spent most of the week with a high fever. This wore her poor momma out, caused several sleepless nights (for everyone), and a couple of missed gym appointments. It was also the week that Alastair began his science experiment: a 6-week power-building program on the bike trainer. The last night of that was ruthless.

But Friday came, and with it, Katelyn's parents. Catherine's fever broke in time for the ladies to make it to the gym, I rode my bike to work, and the forecast for the weekend looked magnificent. I even left work early in the precursor to the perfect weather to get in a nice ride home.

I worked that ride a bit softer than usual on the first half, knowing I had a 50-mile race on Sunday, and not wanting to go into it dead tired. Plus I'd had some issues over the previous week or so with my knees not wanting to cooperate. But as the ride wore on, the speeds increased, and the knee held out. Yay!

With that in mind, I set about planning to do a simple 20-mile easy ride Saturday morning just to keep loose for Sunday. But I am an idiot. With my in-laws in town, I didn't feel quite so bad about taking a little longer for my ride, so I casually rode down to the local Saturday morning group ride...and then spent another 16 miles crushing out ~21mph, including a couple of pulls at way too high output. But it was fun. I had a teammate out there with me and we were just having a great time playing in traffic.

So my plan for a keep-loose ride went up in smoke. I ended up putting down 40 miles the day after doing 45, and knowing I had to get up the next day and do 50 in a race. Stupid (but fun).

I put Alastair in the car and we headed out to pick up our race packets, and everyone else headed to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. When we met up with them, Catherine was all smiles, Fiona was energetic and beautiful and my whole heart was full. I LOVE my family.

Later we got to enjoy watching Catherine take her first bites of solid food. She loved it, but clearly wanted something a bit more adventurous than rice cereal.

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Sunday morning, race day...

Alastair and I got up at 6, made sure everything was packed, and headed down to Pocahontas State Park for MonsterCross. I signed up last year and gave up halfway through, but this year I was gonna do (or try to do) the whole 50-mile shebang. Alastair was nervously signed up for the 25-mile Mini Monster. We had done the whole packet pickup thing on Saturday, but word was out that there would be separate timing-chip pickup at the event, which was weird, and meant there likely wouldn't be much warm-up.

We got to the park and had everything unloaded into the tent by 9:05, checked equipment, hung out, and rejoiced in our tent's proximity to the starting line. I set out spare water bottles so that I could toss empties after the first lap and grab new ones before rolling off for lap 2. We were set.

And just like last year, the event started late. It's tough to corral and organize 600 riders, and the pro/elite guys got a 2-minute head start, but like Tom Petty said, "the waiting is the hardest part". Once we started, it was just like last year: 2 or 3 miles of just trying to keep moving forward in a sea of slow-moving cyclists. This thing was PACKED.

Once it started to (s)pace out, the speeds went up and up and up. My pre-rides told me where I could fly and where I needed to reserve, what parts were rooty and what tire pressure would likely get me through without flatting. And there was flatting a-plenty. Rider after rider by the side, the first group of whom included one of my pro/elite teammates.

There's a trail segment at Poco that's called "I eat water bottles and skinny tires for breakfast" on Strava. Last year that segment rotated my handlebars downward. A week ago it curled my rear shifter in. This time I was ready for it, though even if I hadn't been, the pile of lost water bottles would have called it out quite obviously as a hazard. Literally, there were at least 20 bottles scattered around this section of roots.

I dodged to the left as another guy started down the middle, recognized the danger too late, and jerked over into my lane. I saw his move just in time to back out, but it cost me some positions.

The whole rest of the first lap on the bottom half of the park was spent at 100% output. Pacing with a group of fast CX riders the whole time, we were MOVING. I stayed with them into the top half of the park for a few miles, then realized I still had to go another whole 25 miles after the first lap, and backed way off...and they did too. It was kinda weird. I finally forced myself to get dropped and picked up another group, but by that time I was exhausted enough to start having trouble steering. I wasn't even a whole lap in, and already I was in trouble.

The last two miles of the Monstercross course are the only technical miles out there. They're really not even all that technical, but they do require a lot of quick uphill punches and darting around corners. I had the uphills, but the darting was beyond my tired arms. I think I nearly wrecked a couple of guys behind me by over-slowing, but I just couldn't get the rhythm.

I ended up cranking out that first lap in 1:30, and I know it could have been a minute faster if I hadn't balked at the turns.

When I came through start-finish, I made my way to the team tent and grabbed a fresh water bottle. But only one, and it was a huge mistake.

The 30 seconds I spent at the tent brought a bunch of familiar jerseys back to me, and we proceeded on for the first 5 miles or so of lap 2 before I actively got off the gas. At 1 hour 45 minutes, I'd eaten nothing and was starting to feel the bonk coming. The pace we were setting was too much to manage eating, so I got out of line, found some nice open space to ride alone, and ate most of my snacks...and drank most of my water.

At 33 miles, my back started to seize. Coming off the 2nd gravel climb from the dam, I was in trouble: riding the granny gear and feeling a fire raging up my back, with little water remaining. I'd never been happier to see pavement.

Rider after rider passed, and I knew my only game plan was just to try to finish. 35 miles. 35.5. 36. Diving back onto fire-roads and double-track, the climbs were ruining me, but I took solace in seeing that everyone else was suffering in silence, too. And then we were at 40 miles. I started doing the head-math on how much longer I had to be on a bike. I would have just stopped at the swimming pool, but I didn't want the results to say "Adrian Amos...DNF" like they did last year.

41 miles. Approaching the back side of the swimming pool complex, I did something I hadn't done in 5 miles: I passed someone. I felt a surge of energy and jumped on it...just to come up on a sea of emergency vehicles and stopped riders.

I still don't know the exact details, but someone was airlifted off the course, and everyone but the absolute top 10 or so riders were stopped. Some were told the race was over and left. By the time I got to the group, the wait was mostly over. I had, in effect, negated all the gains they'd made on me in the previous 10 miles. Oh snap son.

Except I had almost no water, my legs were starting to shake, and there were still another 8.5 miles to go, with some tricky climbs and those dreaded dead-arm turns. As everyone else started off, I spotted my savior: Alex Guzman, not racing, cheering me on. I stopped and asked him to run up and grab me a water bottle, and he did. It was the best 4 minutes I've ever waited on anything. I didn't give a half a happy horse-crap how many people rode past me: I was not going to die of dehydration.

And as a side-benefit of the time I spent waiting, I got to see Alastair come across the bridge to finish his race!

With fresh water in hand, I set off with no goal other than to finish. Counting down the half-miles, head-mathing the total time & time remaining, pissed off at my over-exertion on the first lap, and granny-gearing every climb, even the gentle ones.

Amazingly I never had to step off the bike, even for the climbs that I'd struggled to granny-gear on the first lap. I kept finding *just enough* reserves to handle them, and the only time I had to put a foot down was coming through the last water-crossing, where 600 riders had turned the exit into a thick bog.

But once I'd cleared that, I knew I was gonna make it. I bombed down the last couple of downhills faster than the prior lap, actually caught and passed a few riders climbing the paved ramp, and crossed the line at 3:19 and change.

Alastair finished his race in just a tick over 2:30, though final results have not yet been released pending a lengthy protest period.

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Coming back to reality, we met the ladies at the park and I got to watch my beautiful children enjoy a summery February afternoon.

And this morning, for the first time ever, Little Miss Fiona pooped on the potty!

An amazing weekend, all around.