Friday, January 06, 2017

NYD with Ben King: "It's not a race, but it's definitely a race"

Last year I found out about the annual NYD ride the day before it happened. Ok, I guess technically "two years ago", but I found out about the 2016 NYD ride on Dec 31, 2015. I had ridden to work that day and cut out early to grab some extra miles with the RABA crew. All told, I'd put down about 65 miles with luggage & fenders. I was not prepared to throw down the next day.

But I showed up and learned the meaning of pain, spending the first 5 miles sprinting and stopping with the accordion train, and then bridging from group to group to catch the leaders at about mile 12. By the time I got to them, I was spent, and I opted to take the 30-mile short route as I watched the peloton speed away.

I didn't know, at the time, that there was a pro-tour rider there. I also didn't know just how "serious" this event was.

I learned some valuable lessons about navigating a bike field of that size, and vowed never to start that far back in so large a group again.

This year (dammit, ok: last year) with the event looming, I focused my post-marathon training on preparing for this non-race race. I had a better sense of who Ben King was, and had seen that local hero Edward Anderson was planning to join. It was gonna be a hard roll. But since it was being hosted by another local race team, I wanted to represent the best I could.

My plan was to survive the first 40 miles and then drop off into the comfort and security of the casual guys. I hadn't put down a 40+ mile ride in weeks, and most days I've been bonking right at the 40 mark of my overall commute mileage. 40. That was the plan.

Over and over again, that did not seem feasible. These guys hit 25 in the first half mile and only accelerated from there. There was no neutral, no rollout, no casual conversation pace. Just hammer and hammer harder.

The guidance I'd gotten for this year, though, was to stay on the peloton if possible. If the guy in front of you gets dropped, you are also dropped. I moved up into the thick of it quickly, found the center lane (when it existed), and stayed out of the air.

The first 3-rider break came at about 15 miles. They gained about a football field of space and held it for about a mile. I decided to see if I could bridge it, and as I was coming toward the front of the chase, a gap opened at wheel 5. I tucked back into line to keep the group from fracturing further, and we eventually reeled the break back in.

But that hurt, and just 2 miles later I was pulling. This was not a pattern I could repeat. For the next 20 miles or so, I sat into the group, getting close to the front but not fighting for the lead. And another pattern began to emerge: whenever Ben King came off the front, the guy two back from him would sprint. Sitting back in the group meant constantly looking for a Dimension Data jersey to jig left and then responding an attack that you knew was coming, but wasn't yet happening. That pattern started to take on an unsustainable frequency, and fortunately died just prior to the 40 mile mark.

But then 40 miles came and went. At 26+ mph, too. And I was still in it, and not feeling too awful. I decided to hold in to 50 and see. Around this time, my left calf decided it was done: the muscle seized and would not come back to me. Every time I had to sprint it said NO. Quite firmly, too. I changed my pedal-stroke and kept rolling, eventually finding a posture that would allow me to come off the saddle when I needed.

I kept waiting for either an impossibly-strong attack or a slackening of pace, but the Garmin kept showing a dead-steady 26.1 mph average. There was pretense of going neutrally through turns, but that was only an excuse to rocket out the other side. 45 came and went. 50 came and went. I was astonished to still be with the leaders and decided to see just how long this would last.

A mere 1.3 miles later came a hill that sent me backward. It wasn't particularly long or steep, but just steep and long enough that, at 51+ miles, my legs were not interested in climbing. My heart rate went deep into the red, and at the languid pace of just 19mph I watched the peloton roll by. This was it, and I was happy. I would fade back, find my teammates, and enjoy a much more relaxed pace to the end.

Except one of my teammates was still on the back-end of the peloton. Shit.

I yoyoed hard off the back for a while, ignoring the pain and the gasping-fish breathing, and clawed back on. I had remembered from last year's Jefferson Cup that spending an extra 8% to hold onto the group would have saved me 16% overall work after being dropped. I was tired and not interested in doing 16% more ANYTHING.

The next 2 miles were utter hell, but I began to recognize the roads and knew we were getting closer to the end. If I'd made it this far, goddammit I was going to be there to see the sprint to the finish.

Somehow I worked back through the group and ended up on the peg in a roll-through rotation. When I rolled off, the next dude jumped, and freaking NOBODY FOLLOWED HIM. No way I was letting a lone sprinter charge off the front with less than 10 miles left, so I jumped on his wheel while the group hauled us in. I figured that energy burst would ruin my plans, but it invigorated me. I found my teammate in the group and glued myself to his wheel.

The final set of turns into the airpark were remarkably uneventful. We were less than a mile from the end, and nobody was out of the saddle...yet. I tried to start moving forward, but still wanted to have a little something to play with at the bitter end. I missed the invisible cue to sprint, and wouldn't have had much for it anyway, but did get out of the seat for the last block or two and ended up finishing the 64 mile ride in 2:25, with an average overall speed of 26.1 mph.

How the hell I survived it is still a mystery, but I'm pretty jazzed to get the racing season under way. #rockthefrog

Monday, December 12, 2016

Alastair's first "season" of CX

Sometimes just showing up is enough.

Alastair was exponentially more skeptical of cross than I, so when I told him that his first foray into racing would be on wet grass, he was not thrilled. But since his entry would be free, I gave him no real choice and told him it would just be an opportunity to learn.

Reluctantly, he went along with the program and, while he HATED every pedal stroke, he at least finished the race.

It was good enough for a podium, but because this area doesn't see a lot of competition in the juniors divisions, it was also last place.

We skipped the rest of the season, with me shifting into marathon training and him putting time on the soccer field, but since the season finale was going to be in Richmond, I told him he needed to try again.

As I mentioned from my own race report, it was VERY COLD. And getting a 10 year old to put on lycra to go ride in sub-freezing conditions is not easy, but this time was dry, and he'd been putting in some decent training on Zwift.

He didn't get on the podium this time. Of the 3 other racers out there, one wins just about everything he does, another was the son of the guy who took 2nd in my race, and the third had been to every single race this season. Alastair was outgunned and didn't take it seriously until it was too late.

But.

He showed up.

Series results were posted this morning, and somehow, magically, irrationally, he took 5th place, out of 33! It looks like 27 other kids just did one race, but if he's truly a member of the junior development program on the team, then he got the overall best position on THE WHOLE TEAM for this cross season.

Mind: blown.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

VACX 2016 Finals, or how I learned to stop hating cross and love the bike

Let's get one thing out of the way right up front: I'm still not 100% sold on cross. My heart does exotic things that do not occur in other forms of racing, like gluing itself to 178bpm and just staying there for 30 minutes at a time. That doesn't feel good.

But today, in spite of the imminent heart attack and the sub-freezing temps, was kinda...fun. Ish. Sorta.

After completing the marathon a month ago, I turned my attention aggressively back to cycling, but was so far out of my fitness cycle that I've just felt like I had no power at all. I've commuted to work a bunch of times, and almost invariably gotten the outfits wrong for the weather, and all this week I was sick.

But I kept at it, and bit by bit I started to see some of the summer's speed come back, even if my legs felt like putty.

And in the interim, I'd made some changes to my cross setup. I'd switched to a 1x setup with a 40T chainring driving an 11x32 cassette on MUCH lighter Easton EA90XD wheels, dropping a couple of pounds off the bike. And I'd done some practicing on well-groomed single-track with it. The bike felt light, spry, agile, and shifting was crisp.

I maybe should have practiced some dismounts, but I'd done what I could, and braved the nastiest weather in preparation.

This morning, the car said it was 30F when we parked. I'd put on a baselayer, arm warmers, thermal jersey, wind vest, thermal bib, soccer pants, wool hunting socks, team socks, my heaviest gloves, and my old auto racing balaclava (probably the only guy in town bike racing in a fireproof hat). I looked pretty ridiculous, but that warmup lap was COLD.

14 of us lined up at the start, and--failing to ever learn a damn thing--I got in near the back. I spent the entire first turning complex just trying to figure out pacing and traffic, and by the time I found the first bit of straight, my heart was pegged at 180. Too much, too fast. But I got a break in the traffic and picked off a few riders early. I settled into 8th by about 1/4 through the first lap, and then started reeling a couple folks in. By the time I'd come back to the line on the 1.3 mile course, I was in 6th, and I took 5th going the long way around a hairpin, but I had a problem: I couldn't feel my hands at all, which meant shifting and braking were more "jiggle and hope" than anything else.

As I came through the start/finish for the 3rd time, I had a sizable gap and backed off a bit. 4th was out of reach, and it became a game of management. Starting the final lap, 4th had backed up a bit and 6th was closing in. I picked the pace up as best I could, and my body rewarded me by thawing my hands a bit. With the feeling back, so too came the confidence, and they made up for the sponginess of my legs, with the last lap only a few seconds off the pace of the first, and rebuilding my comfortable gap on the guy behind me.

Cross is still weird to me. I'm used to pelotons, bunch sprints, and downhill segments where you can tuck into the group and recover a bit. Not counting the number of switch-backs between me and the one or two guys ahead...that I can see. I know part of it is the diminished field aspect, and that bigger races draw bigger crowds, but even the first one just turned into a single-file race after the first lap or so.

Improvements:

  • The suitcase carry--thanks Youtube!
  • Stairs--probably because of the suitcase carry, but I didn't feel like the stairs were really an obstacle this time.
  • Trusting traction on dirt--I got too tired to care about whether or not the bike would stay upright, and it did! Crazier is that I had no idea how much air was in the tires. I'd set them at ~28psi a day or two before, but ran out of time to check before the race started.
  • Turning--I wasn't darting from one turn to the next, and I didn't go "tape to tape", but I was legitimately setting up the turns and used the terrain advantageously. Unlike last time, I didn't get wobbly-slow through anything.


Things to work on:

  • Dismounts--I felt like my dismounts were a harried mess. I'd had a couple of dismounts nearly go sideways at Chimborazo, where my left foot would twist but not unclip fully. It made me nervous and twitchy, and I know I gave up a few extra seconds there.
  • Remounts--Shoulda practiced. There were two dismounts/remounts on the course: one after the lone barrier, and one at the top of the stairs. The barrier was no problem because the course sloped downhill. The other one, though, was on flat pavement. Only once did I actually get pedaling without being clipped, instead of spending precious seconds fumbling with how to get on and get clipped AND THEN get moving. Needs to be a single action.


I'm really happy to have ended the season with a strong(er) finish, but I know that would not have been a 5th place finish in a bigger field. Guess I'll just have to wait until next year to see if I can improve!