Friday, September 08, 2017

Page Valley Old Guys - Final Road Race of '17

Last year it monsooned on the final lap, and I ruined the bike for a 3rd place finish. This year I took more confidence than brains with me.

I have two cassette ranges: 11-25 and 11-28. The '25 lives on the race bike during crit season, and I tend to reserve the '28 for the steepest of the steep. I ran it last year and couldn't remember hitting the bottom gear, so I figured I'd go for it and run the '25. Three ascents of a Category 4 climb wouldn't be too much.

And it wasn't, really. It was the finish-line climb that sucked.

The first lap felt too slow leading up to the big climb, so I got out front and pulled up the hill with my teammate D. Riddle. Neither of us wanted to be in the front, but the group was all too eager to just let us work. I figured I'd TT it and see how many riders got shelled off the back. We lost a few, but not as many as I'd hoped.

Going down the first big drop, I let the bike do its thing and ran waaaay off the front, letting the pack catch me at almost 30mph halfway down the next road. Again,  nobody was willing to work, so I pulled the group at almost 30 for the next several miles, nearly back to the base of the big climb.

Once again we got thrown out front, and again I just ran it at a TT pace, but by now we had a locked-in set of riders. In a short stint before the final turn, I experimented with laying down some serious power, and put a big gap between myself and the group, letting them catch me on the finish-line climb. This time, though, I was out of gears and a little worried about tackling the same effort on the final lap. Plus I had exposed my hand.

The final lap, again a big super-tuck to run down the mountain, and nearly a repeat of the previous lap. Guys refused to do any work. I'd swerve left and right and the pace-line just followed. Finally I jigged hard left and hit the brakes. A grand total of 3 riders passed and started putting in effort, including a guy who'd been projected to win the race.

We got to the base of the climb for the final time, and he was at the front. He pulled for a grand total of maybe 30 seconds and then moved left. I was 2nd wheel and had spent almost 10 miles of the race in the wind, so I moved with him. He didn't appreciate it and brake-checked me. Dick. This is supposed to be a race of guys old enough to know better than to ruin each others' day over bragging rights, but there ya go. I avoided his wheel and watched my heart-rate creep into unhappy territory.

Again we approached the final turn, and again I laid down a big effort to move clear, but I actually forgot to brake for the final turn and nearly went over the bars at the exit, costing me a valuable couple of seconds while I regained composure. In that time, a rider bridged up and ran out ahead into the finish-line climb.

I figured his effort would come up short in the steep pitch toward the line, and indeed I was able to pull alongside him about mid-way up, but by now my heart was pounding out about 190bpm. Brake-Check Guy made a move between us, and we were three-abreast 200' from the end. Then the first dude just stood up and dropped the hammer, rolling off to a solo win. BCG did the same, but to less effect. I had nothing to offer, gassed out and churning on that paltry 25-tooth cog, and we crossed the line with him about half a bike ahead.

3rd again, and Mr. Riddle followed shortly behind in 5th place. The organizers paid cookies 5 deep, so we both got to take home baked goods.

It was a good race, and while we pushed the pace much higher than it was last year, we spent too much time near the front. My lap-2 run to the final turn was a bold experiment, and it will probably work again in the future, but I can't TEST it again in the middle of a race. And next time I'll put a climber's cassette on the bike.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

And then I actually won some races!

The Bryan Park Training Series 2017 season is over. I struggled in the middle to find points and put myself into contention overall, but started getting some traction later on. By the time I had a rhythm, the top step of the podium was already out of reach, so I changed my focus to just figuring out how to beat the season points winner one race at a time.

It paid off, because while I *think* he stopped caring about winning right about the same time, it razor-focused my efforts and got me over my fear of tangling with another rider on the final sprint.

In my first win, I rounded the final corner 5 bikes back, but on the fast side, realized I had nowhere to sprint with two guys ahead, and just shouted at them that I was coming through. They gave me room, and I made it work.

The second win was the hardest possible way I could think of to win a race. We were running clockwise, so the sprint was a 45-second affair with the first half uphill. I love going that way, so I ran off for the first prime. And then the 2nd. And coming off that 2nd prime sprint, the two other challengers decided we should make a break of it...with 8 or 9 laps remaining. It seemed foolish, but I stayed with them for a lap or so before deciding it wouldn't hold.

As I was just reaching the front of the peloton, gasping for breath, 3 strong riders broke and rolled across the 1/10 mile chasm to the 2 up front. Uh oh. We'd tried all season to make 2, 3, and even 4-man breaks work, but everybody seemed to agree a 5-man break was really needed. They held their distance at 1/10 mile ahead for two laps while I failed to organize the group.

One other rider tried to bridge across but was dying in the middle, and we just couldn't do anything to chase it down, so I ran off with 5 laps to go, caught the guy in the middle, took a breath, told him to follow, and knuckled down for the remaining distance across. It took 1.5 laps, but we hooked on just as the leaders were starting to up the pace.

With 2 laps to go, the gap was just edging 2/10 of a mile, and we had a group of 7. I was hurting really bad, but stayed glued to the wheel ahead and tried to find any opportunity to rest.

In the final lap, they threw me out front and set up the finish for the only team that had 2 riders in the break. I quickly abandoned any thoughts of the win and just got out of the way, rounding the final turn in 4th. But then the guy ahead sat up to let his teammate sprint. And then the next guy bobbled a shift. And the guy expected to win took a swerving start to his sprint, scrubbing speed. I figured my heart-rate was already a zillionty-five, so why not. I jumped on his wheel, followed him up the hill and into the kink, popped out left and threw everything I had at it, edging him by less than half a wheel. Strava data showed that by the end of the race, we had increased the gap to 3/10 of a mile, or almost 45 seconds!

With that 2nd win, I had secured enough points to end my B season prematurely, just barely out of reach of the 3rd place finisher.

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.