Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chesapeake Crit, State Championship

For the moment, it seems the gods of ill-fortune have been sated. In the time between Miller School and the Chesapeake event, I'd managed to recover my Bryan Park Training Series finishes and put up both a 2nd and 3rd place. I was feeling good, until I wasn't.

The night after the last BP race, I changed tires and mounted the CX bike on the trainer for my wife to test. Everything was fine until I stood and turned slowly, resulting in a fire of pain down my back that lasted for days. I couldn't get out of bed at night, and walking was nearly impossible.

But I could ride, and mostly without pain.

By Saturday morning, race day, I was really concerned that I was doing permanent damage by not seeing a doctor. Alastair's racing season was on the line, though, so no matter what, we were making the 2-hour drive to the course. And if I was going at all, I was going to at least try to race.

The race itself was fairly small for a state championship event, with only 23 starters in Cat 4. At an hour, it would be my longest crit to date (didn't get to do more than 4 laps at RIR before the big crash). All of my good results for the Bryan Park season had come in races just around the 30-minute mark, so even with a good back I still would have been fairly nervous.

As it happened, this one turned out to be one of my best races, to date. Speeds were high, but power output was very manageable. With such a small group, it was really easy to move around and test different lines. The course had only two major power areas, coming onto and leaving the front straight, and the whole front straight was all upwind.

An early break gave me an opportunity to see who would work to bring it back, and try to burn up a few of my opponents. By halfway through, there was a clear group of people who would be actively competing for the finish.

When the prime bell rang, I couldn't resist: I was as patient as I could be, but I wanted to see how serious the competition would be. Coming around the final turn, I laid it out as hard as I could and crossed the line well clear of any chasers. I felt good about my chances for the end of the race.

Another break, this time by a Richmond native who typically throws away a couple of good efforts in a race, and he got help from another rider to hold it out for 4 laps.

With 6 laps to go, two riders broke off the front, including a teammate. Another two chased shortly after, and I bridged up to them. Both of them flamed out crossing the finish line with 5 laps to go, while the two front-runners had a clear margin. My teammate fell off, and it was one dude, all alone, but he was 15 seconds clear of the group.

I waited a lap and counted his gap at the same point again: still 15 seconds.

I waited another lap, and STILL 15 seconds. Nobody was moving on him, and with only 3 laps to go, he looked strong enough to have us all fighting for 2nd.

I jumped coming off the front straight, hoping to catch him unaware downwind, and pulled his gap to 7 seconds before looking back, and the group had not followed me. I was out there on my own in no-man's land with 2 laps left, gassed out and confident I'd just thrown it all away.

Apparently the group then bumped the pace up a bit, because I was caught, nearly dropped, and clawed my way back up through the group.

Rounding the back side of the course on the final lap, I locked elbows with a guy and nearly went down hard, but managed to hold it upright. The contact took his pace away, too, and I jumped on his wheel to the front of the chase group. The leader was now only a few seconds away, and I was back in action.

I set myself up for the best run through the final turn I could manage, but was still really hurting from the earlier effort, and figured it would just be whatever it was gonna be.

As it happened, the runner was caught just before the line, and I had dropped to 4th before recognizing an opportunity to snake 3rd. I made my move just as the guy ahead looked over his shoulder, and he was able to block the lane and hold me off by half a wheel.

4th and a prime, with 2 upgrade points. I definitely hurt my chances with the solo attempt to chase the guy down, but I wasn't there to fight for left-overs, and I later learned he'd done the same thing and won the race the week before, so even though it pushed me down the finishing order, the effort felt vindicated.

Alastair's race turned out to be the perfect cap to his 2017 road racing season, with his first overall win. He did it by camping on another rider's wheel (from a different racing group) while she died in the wind, then jumping and basically sprinting the entire final lap to a finish well clear of any chasers.

His effort secured the title of VA State BAR Champ, Junior Men 11-12, 2017.

All in all a great day for the family and for the team, with another teammate finishing inside the top 10.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Miller School - There's something wrong with this year

I have some feelings about this race.

We got up before dawn, crammed down a quick breakfast, and rolled west at 6:15 am, getting to Charlottesville early enough to drive most of the course. It's beautiful rolling country tucked into little valleys, with only a few punchy climbs and a couple of longer ascents that aren't steep enough for categorization.

I'd heard there were no signature climbs for this race, and while the climb at the start was nasty, it was early enough that it really wasn't going to split the group. More likely, the longer grind toward the end of the course would see the attack, and the uphill multi-pitch finish would secure the win.

Neither Alastair nor I ended up having even a moment to warm up, and I choked down a Larabar on the rollout. Quite literally choked it down, having to use precious water before the race even started.

The first lap was one attack after the next, from the first downhill to the end. I stayed near the front to respond, but never with any intent to form a break-away. None of the attacks were particularly strong, except for one brief one about 7 miles into the race, but that was too early to make something stick in a strong group.

The second and final lap started a bit slower than the first, and the first climb became almost neutral. Worried about a repeat of W&M neutralization, I ran off the front and paced it up for most of the run on Dick Woods Rd.

After the first turn, I backed way off and dropped like a rock through the group. My rear derailleur chose this moment to start acting squirrelly again, refusing to up-shift from time to time. This continued for about the next 3 miles, and left me in a crap position buried in the group on the inside line for a super sharp uphill turn, and only 6 miles or so to work back to where I wanted to be.

The last road comprises a bunch of rollers, false flats, one long grinder of a climb, and a fast fast fast downhill 1.5 mile run to the final turn. I was patient. I worked my way very cautiously over to the left side of the group, taking little jumps as they became available, and conserving for that grinder. I knew the attack would come there, and I wanted to be in position to respond when it did.

I even let a couple of attacks go, trusting that the group wasn't going to let anything go before the climb.

We started up the climb 5 wide. I was about 4 riders deep on the far left, and starting to see stars. The group was chugging hard, and riders were starting to wither to my right. I was glued to the wheel ahead, but a quick glance up the road revealed the attack had been missed.

Four riders were off the front, their margin growing with every stroke. A small group of 3 was trying valiantly to chase, and then there was the rest of us.

I jumped left and rolled hard with the top in sight, quickly reaching the 3 riders. I motioned for them to jump on my wheel and continued my assault, just slightly and slowly bringing the leaders closer. We flew downhill in super-tuck, trading places when a pull was necessary, but now definitely closing the gap. More riders had caught up, and we were on full attack, close enough now to read the backs of the jerseys ahead, but with almost no time left before the final turn and climb to the finish.

The four ahead never looked back, but sat up into the final turn, presumably assured of their break-away's success. In doing so, they fanned out across the face of the turn, each taking full wind and losing pace. I pounced, went as far left as possible, railed the turn at 30mph, and nearly ran straight into a truck that was hidden 100' back from the intersection.

I was pulling parallel with the 4 ahead when I had to slam on brakes down to 13mph, watch the entire group that I'd just pulled down the hill roll past, and had to start over basically from scratch, uphill, fully gassed out.

With less than a half mile, and all of it uphill, I had no chance to regroup, and was only able to grab 2 positions back, finishing 14th.

I was furious. I went straight to the officials and reprimanded the moto for letting a car sit hidden from view on the most important turn on the course, and doing nothing to call it out.

On the one hand, I'm alive, uninjured, I brought my whole bike home, and I finished within the lead group. On the other hand, the guy behind me into that turn finished 4th. A podium position was within reach. My race had been as perfect as I could have asked until poor marshaling took away my finish.

That truck would have been no issue for me or anyone else if it had been sitting at the actual intersection. That truck would have been no issue if it had been 50' farther back. But 100' from the corner was the exact perfect spot to ruin the turn and nearly end my whole year. Again.

There's something wrong with my racing year. My first race, as mentioned, was neutralized. I crashed and broke a rib preparing for the next one, then crashed and broke a rib again in the RIR race. I missed Jeff Cup because of that broken rib.

I was starting to get a good run going with Bryan Park, but even that seems to have kind of run dry. I'm watching the same group of guys run the same races and win over and over again, and I know I'm right with them on power, endurance, and even strategy, but I just can't seem to put it all together.

The guy who finished 4th yesterday got his Cat 3 upgrade out of the race. I wouldn't have been in position for that, but points would have been nice. Upgrade points were to be my main focus for the year.

But no more whining: I'm still pissed, but I'm going to try to use that anger to focus, tighten up, and look for opportunities that I might be missing out there. Others are figuring out how to win--I have to do the same.

---

Alastair's race was never really a race. With only 22 juniors registered (and probably only 18 present) across 5 racing classes, there was no peloton. His race broke apart on the first hill, the teams from up north working together to pull their riders to a strong finish. He ended up riding alone between two groups, and was ultimately caught by the chase group right before the finish. While he finished last in his age group, he was only 15 seconds behind the leaders (according to timing & scoring reports--haven't seen his Garmin data yet), and he had just spent the prior week at camp with no access to a bike. Even so, a 4th place finish in VA Cycling's Jr Men 11/12 still netted him 40 points, and he still holds a 45 point lead in the BAR competition, so it was definitely worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

BPTS17 #7: Grrr

I love racing in the heat. The hotter it is, the more the other guys are thinking about how hot it is, and with my regular commutes, I only notice the heat when things get slow. Some of my best races have seen temps into the 90's.

Last night was not one of my best.

On paper it wasn't my worst of the season. Hell, I finished upright on the bike and brought home intact hardware. But it felt the most confounding, the most disappointing.

I'd raced hard on Sunday and done a good hard effort on the mountain bike early Monday. Not really in race / recover mode since finishing my Great Cycle Challenge. I'd even ridden in to work on the race bike, so I came into the race with 35 miles on the day. But that's not abnormal for me, and I felt good.

The race was pretty boring, for the most part. I was focused on the end, so I didn't fight for primes, and while I chased down a couple of break-away efforts, I probably only spent about 3/4 of a lap out in the wind. I was dedicated to pedaling efficiency, too, turning the cranks for only 80% of the race, which was a huge improvement over my usual 85 - 88%, and should have yielded enormous results.

And I spent 4 of the last 6 laps camped on the series leader's wheel, only letting him go when we both got buried about 25 riders deep. I figured he'd picked the wrong line, since there was only one lap left and we were waaaay back in the thick of things.

I heard a rival team tell their captain to take the inside line, and I moved to block. I was unchallenged up the back straight, and went into the final turn in the lead position of the inside line. But as we started to exit the turn, the outside line came rolling through much faster. Like a lot faster. Like almost 7mph faster. There was nothing I could do. I pinned it as hard as I could, pushing 1100W+ for the first 3rd of the sprint, then shifting and holding another 900W for most of the rest, but that outside line just rolled away. I might have caught 3 or 4 guys, but that's it.

I watched incredulously as 10 riders crossed the finish line ahead of me, where just 3 weeks ago the series leader and I had incredible success on the inside.

I was shut out of points for the first time since June.

On the one hand, I'm irritated that I couldn't read the race better than the other guys, with whom I usually get to sprint. It's like I missed the memo. On the other hand, I'm thrilled to have had a successful enough season that I can afford to be irritated with an 11th place finish. That argument would probably feel a little more reassuring, though, if the points order hadn't gotten shaken up. As it is, I think I'm now in a tie for 5th, so I have to work that much harder.