Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bryan Park #10 - 5th and a prime!

My crit season ended last night on a high note, but frankly it could have gone better.

Tuesday afternoon was sporadically rainy, so instead of racing, I went and watched the B race with Alastair. While the actual race was uneventful, there was a crash during warm-up and evidently some carnage during the A race.

So I headed into Wednesday with fresher legs than most, and a plan. The plan was hatched after watching a competitor complete a season full of come-from-nowhere top-5 finishes. I'd spent all season near the front, with nothing left at the end, and he'd spent all season near the back, and is wearing the points-leader jersey. He knows something I don't.

So I was going to spend the entire race glued to his wheel, following his actions and figure out when is the time to move up from the back. But on lap 4, he dropped the hammer, and I followed, racing off the front like a couple of wild banshees. As we crossed start/finish, he sat up and looked over at me. I asked what we were doing, and he just smiled and gave a "meh, whatever" reply. No prime lap, just a random flame-out.

Next plan.

I dropped back to the back and circled around for a few laps, easing forward when gaps allowed. By lap 10 I was back near-ish to the front, and I was hearing some shouts to pick up the pace, which is weird, because why the hell would the guys on the front want to blow up? As we crossed start/finish, I heard the marshals say "15 seconds", which can only mean one thing: a break got away when I wasn't paying attention, and is 15 seconds up the road.

That's bullshit, and there was no way I was going to end my race off the front group. Nobody was willing to organize, so I floored it and shouted at the front guys to get on my ass and close the gap. We took away that 15 seconds in 2/3 of a lap, with about 7 guys clear of the field. And they all sat up, right as the prime bell rang. I was hanging out close to the front as we came tearing back up the hill to the line, but nobody was willing to jump. I like free things, so I figured if nothing else, I'd go win a bottle.

And nobody chased!

I even asked the marshal if it was a prime lap. Whatever: the team took at least 2 primes on the night.

I dropped back into the group and looked around to see if my rabbit was moving up, and he was! But on the complete opposite side of the road, so there was no chance of getting to his wheel. I was pinned inside, but had complete control of the inside line.

On the final lap, even as we came into the hairpin at the bottom, I was still able to control the line, and nobody tried any boneheaded dive-bombs. As we came out of the turn, I was about 10th, and we were moving (better than last week, where a bunch of guys basically stopped on the exit). I jumped and my legs felt amazing. The guy in front of me jumped, too, but got pinned right into my line, leaving me inches on the side of the road. With nowhere to go, I had to let off and roll behind him. By the time I had clear space, the front 3 were away, but for the first time I was a legitimate factor in the final sprint.

I really feel like I could have pulled off a solid 3rd place finish, but I ended up with $5 winnings and a gift card, so I can't complain.

5th place in my final crit of the season, following a 3rd place in my final road race. Can't ask for much better in a 40-year-old's rookie season!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Data Nerd

Every part you can buy for your bike comes with some sort of promise. Makes you more visible! Makes you faster! Sleeker! Reduces weight! Increases virility!

Obviously a lot of it is marketing, and sorting through it without significant financial outlay is challenging. We have do-gooders in the community, like DC RainMaker, who review products like crazy to separate the wheat from the chaff, but there's just so much stuff out there, and so much anecdotal evidence, that even with expert reviews it's hard not to spend money on a promise.

I've spent a lot of time, money, effort, and research making my racing bike as fast as it can be. Fully equipped, it comes in under 17lbs and is dripping with just-shy-of-top-end equipment. Carbon everything, ceramic bearings, and data sensors out the wazoo: power, speed, cadence, GPS.

I haven't, however, spent a bunch of time or money making my commuter bike faster. It has an aluminum frame, disc brakes, exposed cabling, fenders, and a rack. I did spend money on a decent set of wheels, but only decent--no carbon here. The commuter sports a mostly-Shimano 105 drivetrain, with stock chain and rings. All compact, unlike the race-bike's 53/39 x 11/25 big boy setup. And about half of the miles I've put on the bike have come with panniers, a tool bottle, and usually a big honkin' light with an external battery.

Point is, this bike ain't light. Commuter weight, with laptop and everything else, comes in right around 40lbs. And yet, in spite of all the FASTER! LIGHTER! SEXIER! parts on the 17lb bike, I ride them just about the same speed. Most of my rides average just over 20mph over their length.

So if I can ride two wildly different bikes at the same speed, was all of that money a waste? Could my commuter be an effective racer? That question has bugged me a lot, recently. I've even considered racing it at Bryan Park just to see how it would do. And actually my first ever race was on the commuter: the failed Monster Cross back in February. I slapped some CX tires and SPD pedals on it and rode it until I couldn't any more (and wrecked it twice).

One thing that was holding me back from trying the commuter in a race, though, was a recent spate of flat tires. The decent wheels I bought back in the winter were Mavic Ksyrium Elite Disc 2015 wheels. The were on clearance, and came in at 1540g for the whole set, which kinda blew me away for non-carbon. They're weird looking, but you can't beat the value, and I have some nasty hills to climb on my commute. They also came with extremely proprietary tires, which I didn't realize had zero puncture protection.

I got so tired of replacing tubes that I swapped one of the Fuji's stock Vittoria Zaffiro 700x28 tires on the back. Worst case, I figured, I was training and it would help make me faster on the race bike. Best case, I wouldn't really notice a difference.

I think it went somewhere in the middle. I certainly knew the tire was heavier, but as many components as I've hung from the scales, I'd never actually weighed one of these bricks. For the past 2 months, I've had a 385g tire hanging off the back of the bike, but hey: no flats.

In June I gashed one of the race bike's tires and switched over to the new hotness: Continental Grand Prix 4000s II. They were 10g heavier than the previous tires, but advertised LOWER ROLLING RESISTANCE! and INCREASED CORNERING GRIP! and FASTER! SEXIER! STRONGER! And I have to admit, the bike felt faster. And instead of wiping out in the rain at Page Valley, they cornered pretty well.

I figured it might be worth a shot to get off the commuter's brick tire and standardize.

This morning I got up early and mounted a 25mm version of the same tire on the commuter. It weighs 225g, a full 160g less than the Vittoria, and all of that savings comes--not just in rotating weight--but at the outermost point of rotating mass.

And the ride in was amazing. I tore up hills at 25mph. I raced a Honda Ruckus. I felt fast. But more importantly, I felt like the bike wasn't sapping my strength with every effort. So at 20 miles, I felt as good as I had at 5 miles. And it got me wondering if those marketing claims are real.

To the data!

I track my rides through Garmin Connect and Strava, my sleep and weight through Garmin Connect, and my food through MyFitnessPal. Looking back over every commute with the bike in its current configuration, I was able to determine which days I'd packed my lunches, which days I'd slept better, and capped it off with Strava's Fitness/Freshness/Form scores (from the previous day) to see what my overall performance level should have been for a given day. For the wind, know that most of my ride is due south. Data like estimated average power was ignored as subjective, and morning humidity in my region is just shy of jungle.


Bearing in mind that I've only put one ride on this tire so far, and the fact that this bike lacks a power meter, and some days I might have packed a change of clothes, etc, it's fascinating to see that today was my fastest moving ride by over a minute, with a lower average heart rate.

The temperature was lower, and my average cadence was higher, but my weight was not at its lowest, I barely slept last night, and overall time shows that I stopped for a number of red lights, which means some of that moving time was spent stopping and starting.

Because I'm always running late, I only ever ride hard, but this morning was the first time I've ridden hard and felt like I could just keep on doing it, in spite of form, sleep, whatever else was in the way. And the numbers support it: my heart didn't have to work as hard to fuel the effort.

I credit the tire. So there you go, kids: in my completely academic test that failed just about every scientific standard, I think I've effectively demonstrated that pulling 160g off the rotating mass of the bike and reducing the rolling resistance has made me FASTER (0.6mph average over my previous best, or 1.3mph better than the average average)! STRONGER (lower heart rate)! LIGHTER (-160g)! The Continental marketing department can rest easy tonight.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

BPTS #8 - Reverse

I commuted yesterday.

With Page Valley out of the way, my real racing season should have been over. Bryan Park is supposed to just be an opportunity to work on skills and try new stuff. And while I had a plan for the race, it did not depend on being particularly fresh. But then came the news that we would be running clockwise tonight. Fan-friggin-tastic.

Counter-clockwise, the course is a downhill run into a hairpin, with a mostly straight and slightly uphill run to a 90-degree turn at the top, and then a run back to start/finish. It's a momentum race. Clockwise, it's a 90-degree turn with a whole lot of chop on the exit, a run downhill at breakneck speed, an uphill hairpin, and a sprint to the kink. Every lap plays out the same, and it's exhausting. And I was already exhausted.

To make matters more complicated, even though I had completed all of the PUBLISHED requirements to upgrade my racing license from CAT 5 to 4, we are apparently playing Calvinball. There are unpublished rules. There is "steward's discretion". And I think some sort of Illuminati handshake, but I got confused after the eleventy-third if-then statement. Honestly, scoring the Tour de France is less complicated. Anyway, the take-away was that if I put myself in a scoring position tonight, I would likely secure my upgrade. No pressure. Oh and they typically only score 7 positions.

The race was predictably fast, predictably hard out of the hairpin, and had the predictable bumpy run-outs from the top corner (one almost threw me). I took a few laps to move up from the back, but once I got to my preferred spot, I was able to hold it, for the most part. A few dodgy passes, a couple of corner dive-bombs. The usual.

In spite of my determination not to bridge, I still fell for one failed break, but fortunately it was on the downhill, and I was able to stack up the field with a slightly-less-aggressive run back up the other side. Several riders tried in vain to either attack solo or form a break.

But in the last lap I finally had myself exactly where I wanted to be: 2nd wheel, inside line. I knew I had the power to make the tighter turn work on exit and was on Ted's wheel setting up for the hairpin, when some jackass just swerved in front of us. Ted checked up hard, as did I, and we lost all our momentum. I watched a slew of riders go into the turn ahead of us, including some guys who had no business being that far up in the bunch.

As we came through that turn, it was like running into a parking lot. Half the guys who had crowded that turn were just grinding up the hill while the leaders sped away. I knew the race was done, but dammit: an upgrade was on the line. I buckled down and put out everything, blocking the inside line completely and reeling back a few fliers. As we rounded the kink, I counted helmets and saw 9 ahead, with one just beginning to ease up. I dropped the hammer, and realizing how close it would be, tried to thrust the bike forward, having never done so before.

As I came back around after the race, the timing & scoring guy told me I was 10th. I asked if my thrust had been for naught, and upon review, T&S confirmed that I did get 9th! I groveled and begged, and they agreed to score 9 deep. Woohoo!

So I learned a new skill tonight, and I found a little extra reserve of energy when I needed it most. Now I just hope we're running the right direction next week so I can follow my original plan...