Monday, March 12, 2018

2018 early racing season

I finished last year by submitting and being approved for a Cat 3 racing upgrade. I spent the winter commuting and racing on Zwift, mixing up formats and going after short- to medium- distance races. I felt pretty good about my efforts, my training, and my equipment.

But Zwift racing isn't quite the same animal as outdoor racing. Zwift rewards a crushing effort at the start and the ability to suffer at FTP for the duration, with a sprint at the end. It's really tough, but it's stable. Jumps are infrequent, but you can't coast. You can't hear the guy next to you gasping like a fish out of water, and there's never any risk of touching wheels.

Nonetheless, I went into the first race of 2018 in late January with very high hopes. The Snowcone crit is a 1-hour training race that's maybe just a hair too long to really call a crit, with just two divisions that roughly break down to 1/2/3/4 and 4/5. I had no teammates and would be facing some stiff competition, including the guy who rode off to a solo win in last year's 4/5 race. Oh and a 15 - 20 mph wind.

The race was my first real exposure to serious team strategy, as 4 Nissan RVA guys worked together like a well-oiled machine. One guy glued himself to the front of the pack and reeled back any breakaway efforts for the entire race, while their hot-shoe waited until half-way to launch a crushing attack that put him well clear of the pack. When all was said & done, their guy had over a minute on the group. In the closing laps I watched all the rest of their guys get towed to the front as others launched spurious ill-fated attacks.

Coming into the last turn-complex, my legs were about done, and I started to get consumed by the group. But entering the final straight, one of the lead riders had a devastating crash just as the sprinters were jumping, and half of them sat up, unwilling to risk the season in January. It might have been a dick move, but once I realized the crashing bike wasn't going to hit me, I jumped and clawed my way up to 6th place right at the line. It was a good result, but it didn't feel like an honest one.


Fast-forward to the Tidewater Winter Classic, my first Cat 3 road race. This one was a combined field of Pro/1/2/3 over 60 miles of mostly rolling terrain, with a single climb that's just a quick punch followed by a false-flat. Since Snowcone, I'd gone back to Zwift and actually one a couple of races, so I still felt like I had legs for something big.

This time, though, I felt like I was in trouble from the end of the roll-out. I never get used to that surge, but I managed to hold on to the pack, working my way around and getting up near the front of the group after a couple of laps.

We'd been cautioned that there had been a wreck in every single race of the day, all in roughly the same spot: the downhill run to the base of the climb. Sure enough, in the 4th lap came the familiar and horrible sound of crunching carbon fiber. Unlike in my previous Cat 4 & 5 races, though, the pack worked seamlessly to find the safe way around, leaving just a few of us hard on the brakes. Also unlike those other races, the group chose not to attack in the next mile, allowing us to catch back on. I like racing with the elite riders!

Somehow I managed to always time my efforts to coincide with other riders' attacks, so I stayed pretty close to the front until the end. Once we made the final turn, though, all bets were off. We were now racing 1.5 miles at a slightly downhill to a sharp uphill finish with a slight jig to the right.

I was chasing the wheel of one of the favorites when he told his lead-out to move left into a thick clot of other riders. Seeing a gap, I moved left onto a short line with lots of space. At the base of the final little climb, the leader of that line sat up, the guy behind him hit the brakes, and I hit his wheel. I managed to keep it upright, gathered it up, and restarted my sprint. As we came through the jig, I looked up to see 2 cars sitting on the finish line. Not moving. What. The. Fuck.

Once more onto the brakes, once more into an abortive sprint. I lost at least 5 positions each time I had to give up my sprint, and ended up 19th overall. Once again I got a result I just couldn't feel proud of, even though I'd been there right up until the end.


Saturday Alastair and I drove down to Virginia Beach for our 2nd foray into the Shamrock crit. He was facing a field of 3, which he utterly destroyed (no surprise--he's been winning races on Zwift, too!). I had signed up for 2 races: Masters and 3/4. It was a mistake, and one I knew I'd make. I can't not chase a bunny, and there were plenty of bunnies to chase.

My goal had been to give about 80% to the Masters race and save for the later 3/4 race. That plan met with utter failure, as the Masters had a hugely successful breakaway that nearly caught & lapped us. I ended up finishing 10th in that race, 4th in the bunch sprint, but knew I'd over-spent for the 3/4.

In the 2nd race, I actually held on pretty well, pulled the group for a bit, and worked harder than I should have, but there was no breakaway. I felt pretty good--I even won the first prime. I glued myself to the wheel of a teammate to ensure he'd have room to work the corners. But with 1.5 laps to go, my calves and thighs seized, and I went from 4th to 21st. Coming through the last turn, it was all I could do to turn the pedals.

Apparently I cannot do 80 minutes of crit intensity, and I did not properly manage my pedaling time.

And that's what's been missing from my training regimen. I hate hate hate doing intervals, and power drop-outs on Zwift do nothing to improve my opinion on the matter. But while Zwift racing allows me to just basically hold 285W for an hour and throw a sprint at the end, crits are bursts of 500 - 750W at almost every turn, every lap. Shamrock had 4 turns and 27 laps. That's a lot of 5-second bursts, and I hadn't trained for it.

Now there's a great big hole on the schedule, with no crits in the area until May. I'd built my racing plans for the year around crits, and so far the only halfway decent results I've managed have been capitalizing on others' mistakes. So it's not all roses and sunshine for me right now. Alastair's off to a perfect start to defending his state champ jersey, but my start has been crap. Gotta find something affirming and crush it.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Quick Guide to Trek's Road Bike Naming Standards

I have a lot of trouble keeping up with people talking about Trek's road bikes. Maybe it's because I'm just the teensiest bit dyslexic, but to be fair, picking all your product names out of the same 6-letter hat is kind of a dick move. So with a fantastic suggestion from a teammate, I'm going to make a cheat-sheet with some potential future model names just to keep track of it all.

Current line:
Madone - the racing bike
Emonda - the climbing bike
Domane - the endurance bike

Potential future models:
Nomade - the touring bike (h/t D. Riddle)
Meando - the hybrid touring bike
Demona - the bike that looks very fast but isn't, and is always in the shop for go-fast parts
Endoma - the indoor trainer (Esperanto joke)
Odamne - the sexy as hell bike that you can't afford
Odeman - the only bike you're able to ride by the time you can afford the Odamne

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Parts-hungry Fuji is hungry again

In 14 months of ownership, I've put 4300 miles on my 2016 Fuji Roubaix 2.0. It's not a great bike, but it ticked the right boxes: light(ish), cheap(ish), braze-ons for a rack. I've griped about it a bit in the past, but in general the thing was rock solid for the first 8 months, with only a bottom bracket and a chain worn through with frequent commutes.

But summer hit, and with it came much higher mileage. The next bottom bracket lasted only about 4 months, and my fancy bar-tape unraveled 6 times, which pissed me off to no end. The replacement chain is dead @ 75% wear right now, but that's to be expected. Hell: this one lasted 800 miles more than the original (note to self: KMC makes a heck of a chain!).

Still, though, just bottom brackets and chains? Not too bad. My tires were showing serious signs of wear, like a totally flat tread on the rear tire. That changed last week when I noticed a gash on the sidewall with tube sticking out. I guess I dodged a bullet, because I was able to get home on the bike, but about that same time I started noticing the shifting getting really sloppy at the front.

A quick check revealed a big ring that looked like it had been through hell and back. Every 5th tooth or so was worn down almost flat. That's nuts, because the Blue Axino's DA7900 chainset has gotten 7000 miles of use under my legs, and several thousand miles from the previous owner, and it's in better shape. And that f*ing chainset is BENT. Best estimates put that guy at almost 17K miles, and still rolling strong, and I can't get 4500 miles out of a set of Praxis rings. Not a very good return on investment, but then I do subject the Fuji to weather conditions the Blue will never see.

A quick trip to my local big-box bike retailer for discount tires turned up a happy surprise: they're now carrying the bike's stock chain rings as replacement parts! Woot! And on sale! And with a bonus coupon!

So this bike may still be a middling confused mess of a platform (is it a race bike? why the hell does it have rack mounts? and why do they interfere with the drop-outs? why is the wheelbase a full 15mm shorter than my purpose-built crit bike? why is the head-tube so freaking short? why is it so damned rigid and called a "Roubaix"?), but at least it's staying on the cheapish side to keep it rolling.