Sunday, July 24, 2016

Oyster Point Criterium - Can't Outrun Heat

Yesterday was 100 degrees F. It was also sunny, humid, and had almost no breeze at all. And it was race day!

Oyster Point is on the way to the beach, and getting there means vying with beach-bound traffic for two hours...minimum. I did not leave the house in time, and my carefully-laid plans to get set up infield with chairs, spare wheels, and cold drinks fell apart when I got to the venue with only a few minutes to spare, and nowhere convenient to park. I grabbed what I could and followed another racer to registration without even enough time to get in a warmup lap.

I've been riding in the hot hot heat most of the summer. I've commuted several times (22.8 miles each way) on days over 90, and even a couple approaching 100. The past few Bryan Park crits have been around 90 degrees. And over the past month, I've averaged 150+ miles per week out in the heat. I figured I was ready. I was not ready. Because when this race started, it started with a vengeance.

I had gridded near the back, so I had my usual need to push forward, but even so, I was not prepared for the opening lap to be a 300W+ effort, nor for the second to be over 26mph. These guys were hustling.

But I found a rhythm, of sorts, and it was pretty easy to move around in the pack. Front straight was a drag race to the S/F line, then a drinking neutral zone toward the first turn. Gentle pedaling would keep you in line setting up for the 2nd turn, then a breeze was in your face on the 4-lane-wide entry to the fountain area. A run on the inside of the first left would let you pass the entire pack on the outside around the fountain, a run on the outside first left would pin you but let you make up spots coming out of the fountain area, then a hard push through right turn 3, set up and try not to wreck on the 2 manhole covers in right-turn 4, and grunt to the line. Rinse, repeat.

After a few laps, the pace settled and I took up my usual position in the bottom half of the top 10. A few breakaways tried and failed, and I actually remembered to drink water, which was getting hot inside the bottle.

The breeze in the fountain complex wasn't a problem if you weren't on the peg, but the air was somehow exponentially more stagnant and heat-soaked on the front straight. I got cycled forward and fought to stay out of the wind for a couple of laps before finally taking my turn at the front. It was poorly timed, as a turn out front just past the fountain would have had no wind penalty, but I took my lead halfway down the front straight and ended up pulling into the wind after two turns.

I paced the group down to just under 22mph, but they would not pass until I sat up, and then I was way back in the group. Mistake. Lesson: figure out the wind and take the pull with the least wind penalty, even if that means getting to the front a turn early, then give up the lead just BEFORE the turn pointing windward.

Fans had brought bells, making it impossible to differentiate a prime lap, so I just tried to work back up to about 10th and hang on. No crazy breaks for me in the heat. I was grateful for the effort when I heard that awful familiar sound of crunching carbon behind me in turn 1. No idea how many riders went down, but Nathan lost the peloton and retired after another lap.

Matt had cycled ahead of me, and as the laps wound down he took a turn on the point. Waaaaay too long a turn, too. I think he was out there for a good 2+ laps. I shouted for him to drop back, but he was in the zone and rode it until he had nothing left.

And that's about when Fischer Maris jumped and rode off into the sunset, leaving the rest of us with two laps to fight over 2nd place.

I knew when I saw "2" on the lapboard that I was in trouble. The effort to hold the group was becoming overwhelming, and my water was undrinkably hot. I managed to hold position until the bell, but let myself slide a bit through the running order into the fountain complex in the hope of pulling an outside run. No such luck: the legs weren't interested in picking up positions, and everybody had really picked up the pace. Matt was dropping through the running order, too, and coming out of the last turn, he and I watched the leaders walk away.

I ended up picking off one unlucky rider with a last surge, and had I jumped just a couple of seconds sooner could have had two more, but I think Matt and I finished somewhere in the high teens. The race held an average speed of 25mph, stupid crazy fast for that kind of weather. But while I had nothing left at the end to put up a fight, I made it, which is better than I'd done at the past two BP crits. Whether it was because I stayed a little better hydrated or because I had backed down my training appropriately last week, I definitely felt more capable.

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