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.

BP Circuit Race - Men's 4/5: 7th Place

This was probably the most fun I've had racing bikes all year.

I showed up late, with no time to warm up, signed up last minute, so my legs weren't properly "seasoned" for the day, and just figured I'd see what I could see.

Though we use half of it every Tuesday night in the Bryan Park Training Series, I'd never ridden the course at speed. I'd scouted it a bit on commutes, but decided it was probably not anything I wanted to race on because of some seriously choppy bits.

But at race pace, I didn't notice the chop.

The first corner on this course is undeniably terrifying. It's a 90-degree right hand turn through a metal gate. Get it wrong and risk serious injury, and stalking Strava profiles revealed that the fastest of the fast could only manage it at about 16 mph, and even then only once in a race.

From there, the course ran downhill to a relatively tight but sweeping left that is ironically called "the hairpin". It allows speeds up to 26 mph, but nobody usually hits it much faster than 22 or 23 in the Tuesday night races. Then it's an uphill run to a 45-degree bumpy left bend onto the back straight, which then opens to a glorious sweeping downhill 180 onto the start-finish "straight", where the worst of the chop can be found. The 1.4 mile course, from Strava-stalking, should take somewhere just north of 3.5 minutes per lap.

After just one run through that puckering first turn, I knew I needed to be up front. I put down a quick early effort and found myself on the front, and with nobody really challenging me, just hung out there for about 6 laps. Occasionally a guy would run out, but I'd jump on the wheel instantly and stay within the first 5 or 6 riders.

But at the mid-way point, I realized I needed to save a bit for the finish, so I faded into the group. Huge mistake. That turn, scary up front, is both scary and exhausting toward the back, with speeds dropping to about 10 mph and then rocketing back to 25+ before the next turn. The farther back you are, the more energy it takes to avoid crashing and catch back on.

Within 2 laps I knew I couldn't circle around back there, and moved up just in time to watch a solo effort run off the front. Fortunately it's a guy we've watched all season in the training races, and most of the front guys knew he didn't have more than 2 or 3 laps in him, so we let him sit out there in the wind until he blew up, eliminating his chances in the sprint.

As we came up toward the back straight on the last lap, I got swallowed by the group and nearly merged over onto a teammate, who told me to stay on the wheel in front, since that rider is usually on the podium. I did, for a moment, but when he jigged right, a rider ahead of him hit a pothole and slowed the entire right pace line, leaving just left & center into the sweeper.

I was pretty gassed, but rolled into it hard and wide to prevent an outside pass, then just punched it for all I was worth. I pulled back 6 or 7 riders before running right into a pinch-point and had to back off. With less than 50 meters to go, I had nowhere to go and had to settle for 7th.

But it was so much fun controlling the pace, working with teammates, trying little runs, setting guys up, that I couldn't wait to do it all again Tuesday night.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

BPTS17 #6: Extra Crashy Edition

Last week's BP race was one to forget. We ran clockwise, which is usually awesome, but so far this year has just been extra sketchy. The first time there were no wrecks, but gobs of unnecessary brakes. This time felt like Talledega with a whole mess of extra stupid to go around.

The first bit of stupid was my own. I knew there was a ladies' prime, but the instant I heard that bell, I forgot all about it and charged. A couple of guys came with me, but it was a dumb move and I need to keep my focus better. Ultimately it may have saved my whole day/week/month...

Because on the very next lap there was a snapping sound from behind. I was still out front but shouted to the lead pack that it sounded like a wreck behind us, and we needed to be careful coming through the first turn on the next lap. Someone glanced back and confirmed riders down, and when we came back through, there were at least 7 guys off bikes, with one rider lying on the course.

Those who'd gotten up were waving us to the right and begging the peloton to ease up through the area, but two younger guys decided that was a great place & time to attack, building about a 15-second lead on the group.

For several laps we would soft-foot through the accident scene, bunch up before the bottom turn, and charge up the front straight. For several laps those two stayed away, occasionally working their gap up to 20+ seconds.

All told, the accident took about 10 laps to clean up, and at one point there was a pickup truck on the course sitting at start/finish with guys flying toward it blind, and spectators having to yell at us to stay track-right. It was a really weird dynamic, and about halfway into it I decided I was not going to let those two kids win the race by taking advantage of injuries.

I shouted to the group to shut their lead down, and a few riders joined me in the effort to reel them back. I didn't know until after the race that we had a break, but it would have felt wrong to win by doing the same thing I was trying to prevent, so once we caught those two guys, I backed way off and settled back into the pack.

The very lap after the injured rider was cleared from the racing surface, the bell rang again. Again I pounced, unaware of there only being 5 laps left. I won the prime, but was totally tanked and dropped to the tailgunner position.

When I saw 2 laps on the board, I was sure the race was lost for me, but moved up a bit to find the series leaders. At 1-to-go, I moved alongside a guy who's in serious contention for the leader's jersey. We were not in the first 10 wheels, and rolling through the bottom turn I was pushed back to about 20th.

But I cannot not sprint, and running clockwise means a long uphill sprint, which is out of reach for a bunch of folks. I went for it, and brought myself up to 6th place at the line, keeping myself 5th overall in points.

I heard later that two dropped riders were moving at a conversational pace up the front straight as we charged out of that final turn, nearly causing another massive wreck.

Fairly safe to say they won't let us race clockwise again for a while.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BPTS17 #5: 2nd! Make a plan, stick to the plan

Another 20-lap counter-clockwise slog around Bryan Park? Sure, why not.

Last week I threw away a win. I saw a gap open in front of me, I didn't jump through it, and I paid the price by getting squeezed in the final turn.

It ate at me all week.

If I saw that gap again, I was going. I ran through the process over and over again: defend the inside up the back straight, get near the front, let someone go way too far inside approaching the bend, jump around them and power out of the final turn.

I got to the point where mentally performing the process could reliably cause my heart rate to jump about 30bpm. I had a plan, and I felt I could execute it.

And then the board said '20' again. Blerg. My legs were feeling wooden and stiff from a way-too-hard solo ride on Sunday, so I figured I'd just sit in and wait to see where I could be at the end. The race had other ideas, though.

I never grid on the front. Every time I do, I end up running point for a couple laps and pay for it later. Last night was no different: first to clip in is first sucker in the wind, but hey: I wasn't trying to bridge up on lap 1, so it was something.

The only team with numbers threw an early attack which everyone ignored, and I was starting to cycle back through the group when the first prime bell rang. With still-decent positioning, I figured 'why not' and glued myself to 2nd wheel, letting them pull me up the back straight. One fell off, and it was down to two. I put down a finishing sprint on lap 3 to claim the first prime and promptly assumed my race was just done.

I managed to catch back on and tried to set up a teammate for the next prime, but the jump was too early and he waved it off. Again, as the group was absorbing me, another break tried to get away. A quick jump and a refusal to work, and the pack was back together after a couple laps.

With 7 laps to go, I pulled back through to the leaders and waited for the final prime lap, ready to drag my teammate off again. The bell rang, the pace quickened, and on the back straight I made my play, which would prove a practice run for my final lap. But nobody followed. And I mean nobody. Rounding the turn for home, I looked back to see the group barely pedaling. I cruised across start/finish at 17mph with the field far adrift to claim the 3rd prime.

Seems everybody was already thinking about the final lap.

But then with 5 laps to go, the strong guys started throwing random furtive attacks. Nothing strong enough to stick. I found my way to the inside line and camped about 10th until the final bell, letting foolishness happen elsewhere, but ready to defend any action.

And coming up the back straight for the final time, last week's scenario repeated itself, down to the players. A paceline right, a knot trying to form on the outside, and 2 of us inside. The guy in front starts his wild yawing sprint way too soon, and as I'm about to move around him, another guy moves into our lane. No worries: still room to execute.

The Wild Sprinter goes through the turn so wildly that the right-side paceline backs off just enough to make a hole, and promptly runs out of gas. It's game on for the two of us on the inside line, but I hit a bump and destabilized the bike just long enough for him to get on power first.

With a 2 bike-length lead, he charged up the straight. I started to just so slightly reel him in before running out of time, but we were well clear of anything behind.

The finish was enough to move me into 5th place overall in the series, and my teammate was able to hold on for 7th, putting him in 6th place overall. We have a big points deficit to the top 3, but they're not out of sight yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

BPTS17 #4: 20 laps and 7th

I'm doing a charity ride this month, trying to log 750 miles for the Great Cycle Challenge (sponsor me here and help me put an end to children's cancer!), and it's having some interesting impacts on my cycling overall. I'm way ahead of schedule with miles, having crossed 500 on the 13th, and I'll be over 560 by the end of the day. The challenge is half-way done, and I'm not feeling too beat up.

It's partially because the first few days of the month I just rode like a lunatic at full crank and nearly hurt myself. I had to back it down, while still honoring my commitments to the racing season.

So I started doing some experimentation with managing heart-rate, managing power, sacrificing climbs, managing my pedaling efficiency, and I'm at a point where I can ride about 50 miles just about every day without consequence.

Figuring out how to add racing to that was a little nerve-wracking.

I commuted to work on Tuesday on the race bike, being very careful not to throw down and only taking speed where it required no effort. I managed my heart and legs as well as I could, but when I rolled up to the start line, I already had 40 miles under me. And 51 the day before. In fact, I hadn't been off the bike in 5 days. It was Richmond swampy hot, and I wasn't expecting much.

Then they announced we would do 5 extra laps.

The race was fairly uneventful and predictable for the first 8 laps or so. I found a teammate's wheel and glued myself to it. A gap opened in front of me while I had a head of steam, and foolishly I rode to the front, pacing the group for about 2 laps. When I came off, the bell rang, and 3 riders made a strong break. Dammit.

That break stayed away for way too long. I took 3 or 4 laps to gather myself and work back toward the front again, then launched a hard attack to bridge up. The gap was bigger than it looked, and only one other rider chased. Neither of us made it across, but I was told it woke the group up, and when the final prime bell rang, they FINALLY started working and closed the gap.

On the last lap I got pinched to the inside, where I definitely did not want to be for the final turn, and though I saw a gap large enough to jump through for a shot at glory, I held back, thinking I'd blow up from the day's miles and efforts and just ruin somebody else's race.

The guy in front of me let off a little bit into the turn, the guys to my right squeezed in hard, and I dropped from the 2nd row to about 17th in the turn. Go time. Not expecting much from the effort, and watching the leaders roll away from me, I hit the gas with everything I could muster.

And they started coming back. All of them. In that short 15 second sprint, I got back 10 positions and was just about side-by-side with two more as we crossed the line.

Looking at the numbers later, I'd put down a 900W seated sprint that peaked at 1400W. After 56 miles in the saddle, and in ~90-degree heat. Holy. Crap.

So what did I learn last night? If there's an opportunity, go for it. Take the jump. Run the risk of running out of gas, because there's no shot at a win if you don't.

I wanna slow down

Today is Alastair's last day of elementary school. What the hell happened?

Monday, June 12, 2017

BPTS17 #2 & #3; Reticent Blogger

The 2017 season started very promisingly with William & Mary and the Sharmrock Crit, but took a sharp turn for the worse afterward. My main goal for the whole year was to do well at Bryan Park. It's local, doesn't count for anything, but I wanted it. The first race felt like more of the same of my 2017: in contention, but not in the final fight.

#2 was mostly the same. The juniors weren't there, but the competition is still stiff, and the pacing has been weird so far this year. A lot of sprinting out of corners and a whole heap of braking back into them. Nothing fluid has emerged yet in the B race. I managed a 10th place finish on a sprint that just ran out of space. Almost ran over 3 guys and had to back off before the finish line because there was nowhere to go. Gotta work on timing and placing in the sprint. Sounds like an echo.

But I did manage to win the first prime and narrowly avoid a nasty wreck, both involving the same rider. As the bell was ringing, he and I both broke from opposite sides of the pack at the exact same time, with two riders off the front about 10 seconds ahead. We came off the front of the pack and merged, him in the lead, and chased down to the other two by the first turn. Each of them popped coming out of that turn, and my fellow breaker pulled me up the back straight. He'd timed it wrong, and I jumped for a quick easy sprint to the line.

A few laps later, at the 2nd prime, I tried to run off the front and drag my own teammate, but we mis-communicated and I ended up off the front without enough steam for a whole solo lap. I dropped back through the pack to regroup, and as we came back through the start/finish area, there was cursing and the crunch of carbon. Seeing as I've fallen off every bike I own this year, and broken two ribs in the process, I was uninterested in being part of the fracas. But it was right in front of me, and the only thing I could do was mash the crap out of the brakes and hope nobody would hit me from behind.

I had only about 5 bike-lengths to brake, and got most of my speed scrubbed, but I was still heading straight for them. I had to settle for a pedal-strike on one of the downed bikes, but it wasn't enough to upset me, and I got rolling again...about 20 seconds adrift of the entire group. And already gassed from the previous lap's failure.

After verifying both riders were conscious and moving, I rolled and tried to get others to help me regain the group. One by one I reeled them in and begged them to help, but nobody wanted to put out the effort. I managed to get back on, but it was all I could do to hold on until the last few laps, when I caught a lucky break and was able to move forward, breathe, and attack at the finish.

#3 was the first clockwise race of the season. I like clockwise, as it really gives the sprinters an opportunity to work. In the normal direction, we come out of a 90-degree turn and have about 15 seconds of sprinting to the finish. If you're not one of the first 5 or 6 bikes around the corner, you cannot win. Clockwise, the total sprinting time is closer to 40 seconds, with just about half of it uphill. Strenuous effort is rewarded, and you can hurt the group from 15th wheel if you time it right.

But clockwise isn't done often, so the first race is usually very dangerous. This race was no exception. Massive fistfuls of brake at both ends of the course, with ginormous herculean sprint efforts out of every corner. By the first prime lap, nobody seemed interested in going for it, so I jumped and rolled off the front. One guy staged a late attack on me, but I'd already buried it. I was already resting before the line when I heard him shift for one last gear from just behind me, and 2 more pedal-strokes kept me out of reach.

We dropped back into the pack and settled in for some really sketchy laps. There were dudes in the grass on both sides of the course, guys trying to make turns work 8-wide, and again: more braking than was prudent. Including on the straights. Lots of bitching and griping, but amazingly not one rider went down.

I knew from watching last year's season leader that the outside line is faster on the final lap, and I worked my butt off to finally get to the front of the outside line entering the final turn. But all that braking made me nervous, and I gave up too much speed in the turn, letting the center-line riders drift out over me. I was pinned, and nobody was attacking.

My teammate had taken the inside line and had drifted over with the leaders. I tucked under his wheel and, with a full head of steam already going, was about to hit him when I yelled for him to go. He obliged, and for a while we were 1 - 2 coming up the final straight, but the yelling took away from the sprinting, and 3 riders managed to pick me off before we crossed the line. I ended up 5th, he got 3rd, and we both got paid!

10th and a prime one week, 5th and a prime the next. Not enough to put me in contention for my season goals, but a good feeling, just the same.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

BPTS17 #1 - Where'd all these juniors come from??

Let me just say how excited I am to have completed a race upright. It's funny how little things can creep into your brain, but having wrecked 3 times already this year with 2 broken ribs, I was starting to get a little gun-shy of taking chances, or of riding in groups at all.

So this was going to be a simple race recap about how a bunch of kids from Miller School and Endorphin Fitness showed up with their coaching staff and put down a 25.x mph thrashing on us. Tales of glory would then have unfolded about attacks, counterattacks, and pointless ventures into the wind. It would have ended with me recounting a futile effort to block an inside line that nobody was pursuing, that ultimately took me out of sprinting contention on the final lap.

But that's not what ended up being the story. The story was equipment. And not just one piece, either.

For several weeks, I've noticed a smidgeon of drag in the Blue's drivetrain. When I last put it together, the bearings were so smooth it would ghost-pedal walking it down the street. Lately that effect wasn't happening at all, even if I rolled the bike up to lunacy speed on the stand and let go of the pedals, they would just stop. That's normal on most bikes, but not on my race bike.

I had thought maybe it was the freehub bearing, or possibly that my bottom bracket was due for a re-grease, but the cranks still turned freely, they just wouldn't ghost-pedal. I compared the relative resistance to my other steeds, and it didn't feel too out of whack, so I figured I could just let it ride for a while. And my power numbers were looking really good, but not exponentially higher (nothing implying a serious problem with the driveline).

But then I struggled at Wintergreen. I got hard dropped on a group ride. I felt like a dying fish at Bryan Park. Something was not right.

So yesterday I went out to the garage and re-tried my usual friction tests: one-finger reverse turning the cranks, back-spinning the wheel on different bikes in the same gear, and holy crap the thing only turned the cranks 1 revolution. The commuter managed 2.5 revolutions on much cheaper components.

I pulled the crankset, and the drive-side bottom bracket bearing was seized. It would rock back & forth about 3-degrees, but it would not turn no matter what I tried.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't typically have a set of spare ceramic 2437 ABEC-5 bearings sitting around, so while I immediately went in and ordered a new (expensive) set, I also knew this set had to be unstuck.

I pulled the seals and found no grease at all inside. The cranks had been turning on a thin layer of grease between the crankset-axle and the inner bearing race. 25.x mph over 30 minutes with a bearing completely seized? That'll slow you down a bit. It's a wonder the DA7900 crankset isn't deeply notched (and thank goodness, because I'm getting sick of throwing money at this bike, and it's one of only 5 parts I haven't replaced!)

I pulled the plastic carrier and worked the races until the whole assembly turned, grinding and begrudgingly, then chased the balls to one side and dumped the whole lot of it in a cup of solvent.

After a thorough scrub-down and drying of all the pieces, I dropped the balls back into the badly-scored outer race, re-seated the inner, spaced and re-inserted the carrier, then greased the ever-living shit out of everything with Redine CV-2. There's still a "feel" to the bearing, but now it spins freely.

I regreased the rest of everything and put it all back together, and now it ghost-pedals like a madman. Back-spinning the rear wheel turns the cranks closer to 5 or 6 full revs.

So that was one issue resolved(ish), but my trusty Garmin Edge 520 also decided Tuesday night was as good a time as any to start switching off randomly. First in the warm-up, then in the race, it  would record a couple of minutes and die. So I had to find out later how fast the whole thing was, which really pissed me off. I kind of rely on that thing to give me critical information about heart-rate, sustained power output, and other good info that I can review later to formulate future strategies.

Crazy thing was mine wasn't the only one that died during the race, which leads me to believe there may be a bug with the most recent 11.10 software. A full factory reset seems to have the unit working now, but that can't continue to happen during races, or I may have to start looking at other solutions.

Anyway, yadda yadda, bunch of juniors came out and beat up on us for 30 minutes, but we held on and were there in the end, just with no punch left. Finished just outside the top 10, and now my bike is in fighting shape for next time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wintergreen Ascent Hill Climb

I've taken the better part of a week to process the experience and put it behind me, but last weekend Alastair and I traveled west bright (well, rainy) and early to do our first HC (hors categorie) hill climb and time trial.

We'd trained pretty well, though a couple of attempts at heading west in the weeks leading up to the event were interrupted by business travel, weather, and life-in-general.

I'd done all I could to our bikes: my race bike was running a 28-tooth cog at the back, and my spare bike was ready to receive that same cassette if I just didn't feel like I could turn the full-size 39-tooth ring. Alastair's bike was running the 32-tooth cassette from my cross bike, with a 34 out front. On 650c wheels, I told him that wasn't much more than walking the bike up.

And we'd prepared mentally. I'd done a TON of miles leading up to the event, with some pretty decent climbs, and he was hitting the mountain in both directions on Zwift with decent results. Alastair knew he was competing on his own, with nobody else in his age bracket and a gob of BAR points for just making it to the top. I had 3 other competitors, including a teammate.

At 46F, it was a full 10-degrees colder at the base than we'd anticipated, and the rain that was supposed to have left the area was still coming down pretty good while we shivered and debated warm-up strategies. Ultimately we ran out of time to warm up when we realized the start line was a mile up the road.

I made the last-second call to take the race bike and risk the water-intrusion that trashes bearings so readily, and set off with a bitterly-cold rooster-tail of water soaking my backside. Jersey, base-layer, arm-warmers, and summer gloves. I'll warm up on the way. Maybe. Hopefully.

I missed Alastair's start. He was the first one off, and with 10 minutes between us, I figured I'd run over him pretty quickly, but he evidently took things seriously for a while and put down a good run to the guard house.

But when I got to the starting line, my heart-rate monitor decided that would be a great opportunity to fritz out. Instant terror. My whole strategy for this was to get my heart-rate to 168 and hold it there. Without heart-rate data, the only other field I could rely on was 3-second power average, which isn't the greatest for regulating effort. In fact, it's pretty frickin' awful for that purpose.

I set off hard, over-took a few riders, and kept seeing 300+ on the power field. Just to keep the cranks turning at 80rpm in 39/28 was requiring regular efforts of 400+. I can't sustain that, and I wasn't even at the "real" climb yet. I started to panic and try to "feel" out my heart, which usually starts sending warning signals in the form of tingling at the base of my skull. But since I was shivering and climbing and bending my neck at exotic angles to see where I was going, there was nothing to feel. So I pressed on. 315W. 350W. 425W.

About 1/10 of a mile from the turn to the guard house, a searing pain crept up my right side exactly where I'd suffered my first broken rib of the year. Hoping it was a cramp, I tried to ease back a bit, but the pain just intensified until I was unable to proceed. I stopped, got off the bike, and leaned on a guard-rail for 3 minutes, ready to accept a ride from the photographer and call the day done.

But my truck keys were in the team car, which was heading up the mountain. If I went back down, I'd be standing in the cold for over an hour waiting for someone to realize I wasn't coming.

So I got back on, decided to just churn up the mountain, and lo and behold the heart-rate monitor decided to start working again. Now I could work. With RPM's in the low 50's in the granny gear, I trudged and tooled and worked my way up, heart-rate holding steady in the low 170's. With half the ride behind me, I felt like I could put a bit more into it.

The rain had stopped, too, and everything felt warm and good.

At 1600' of climbing, and waaaay longer than I'd anticipated, I caught Alastair. Expecting to receive a death glare and perhaps a flurry of disparaging remarks, I was amazed that his first words to me were "Grammy got a new car!" WTF, kid?! You're climbing a 10% grade and more interested in your grandparents' new car than the pain? Hell yeah!

Knowing he was fine, I turned it up just a tick and set my sights on reeling back some of the lost time. I pulled a minute off the next rider ahead, but it wasn't enough. I ended up dead last of 4, with the time I spent stopped in agony representing almost the exact difference between my position and 2nd. My teammate won, so that was some consolation, and Alastair made it to the top in 70 minutes WITHOUT UNCLIPPING.

That boy, 11 years old, pedaled up Wintergreen. 2600+ feet of climbing with less than a year of training. Never stopped once.

So while my day was just about a total loss, I have something to shoot for next year, a teammate who won, and a son who not only made it to the top, but who secured full BAR points for doing so.

A bad day on the bike is still a pretty great day.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

RIR Crit - Today was expensive and pointless

After the Shamrock race, I was a bit nervous about a 1-hour crit. I was afraid I'd run out of steam and watch the field power away from me with 10 minutes to go, so I figured I'd try what worked at Bryan Park toward the end of last season: hide in the pack, refuse to get out front, and save energy for the sprint finish.

I didn't even make it 5 laps before getting caught up in the first calamitous wreck of the race. Yep: the first. Nary a wreck in the whole day last year in the rain, but two in the Cat 4 race today.

Anyway I'd realized 2 laps in that the headwind on the front straight made for a dangerous accordion effect coming off turn 4, and was anxious to get out of  the fray. I started moving up with my teammate, but found the overall pace made slow work of moving forward. I'd moved through half the group and was willing to sacrifice my strategy to get a bit of space.

Coming through turn 4 on the 5th lap, though, I heard the telltale sound of carbon braking and nervous people, saw a wheel go sideways to my left, and thought "this is going to take me with it". A quick glance right revealed someone was right on my shoulder, giving me no escape route. And then a wheel came under mine and it was done. I was skidding on the surface and checking my bike before it even stopped, protecting myself as best I could from getting run over.

The right shifter was cranked over at 45-degrees (shades of my cross-wreck!), my ribs were stinging, and my left leg said "just don't look". But the bike looked salvageable. Maybe the race could still be run.

Alastair was at my side by the time I was standing, and I sent him for tools and starting making my way to the pits when a marshal suggested maybe I ought to see a paramedic. I am sometimes pretty dumb and headstrong, but when someone suggests I ought to see the paramedic, I tend to listen. They probably know something I don't.

I spent the next 10 minutes getting a fair amount of road-rash cleaned, and in that time realized my ribs were pretty well crunched, and this time on the left side (to even out February's hit to the right!). Once I'd been cleared, I assessed the bike a little more thoroughly.

The frame, fork, and drivetrain were ok (woohoo!), but the brand new handlebar was trashed, along with one SpeedPlay pedal, both skewers, and oddly, the sidewall of the front tire. The front wheel is out of true, and I'd torn up a BOA closure on one shoe, as well.

After an expensive evening on all the parts sites, I think I'll be back racing for just under $400, assuming I can salvage a few months more use out of that one pedal (the axle is intact, but it cannot be greased as it lost the entire outer cover and grease port bolt).

I'm really happy I didn't hit my head again, but pretty pissed off to have put in all of training and effort to turn just shy of 5 laps. And now I understand why ladies say, "I shaved my legs for this?"

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shamrock Crit - Apparently I wanted to go faster

First up, HUGE props to my son, Alastair, on his first road race, and HUGER props on his first win. The field was small, the wind was strong, and the temperatures were horrible, but he put down intervals for 20 minutes and cruised to an easy 3rd overall in the juniors race, getting a BAR upgrade after the 2nd place finisher failed rollout. I guess #zwifteffect is real.

The Men's Cat 4 race started just after noon in 10 - 15mph gusts from the NNW. It was cold at 40F, but I'm used to riding in much colder on the way to work. For whatever reason, though, I just could not get warmed up. I ended up back at the truck 3 separate times for costume changes, finally settling on a balaclava, my warmest base layer, and mid-weight gloves (my hands got hot even though everything else was freezing). I was sure I'd overheat in the race, but I was so damned cold I didn't care.

I also ended up doing a lot more warm-up than I would normally do, putting out 10 miles instead of my usual 3 or 4, and all of it with a bit more intensity than was maybe warranted. And of course, I also rode to work yesterday because I'm dumb.

And I was coming off a wonky week with an out-of-town business conference where I stayed on my feet for over 21 hours and off a bike for about 3 days.

I had plenty of excuses, is what I'm saying.

But the race, when it started, eschewed excuses and went straight for blistering speed. The first 3 laps were all in excess of 25mph, and hovering somewhere in the 300W range, a pace I cannot maintain for very long. I was hopeful the rest of the group would settle into something a bit more endurance-y, but a rider ran off the front and quickly gapped the field. The next lap, another rider chased.

As we came through start/finish, I heard a spectator shout "20 seconds". Absolutely unwilling to have the few points decided at lap 4, I shouted "fuck that, let's GO!" and hammered, bringing myself to within 5 seconds before looking back to...nothing. Goddammit. Worse, the two ahead had joined forces and looked strong. I held on for another 10 seconds before realizing it was going to be a long race if I blew up this early, and sank back to the group.

But now I was pissed, because the first 3 jerseys to pass me were the same as those who held up the entire peloton at William & Mary and caused us to get neutralized. Once again, this one team was dictating the pace of the race to everyone else, and it seemed nobody was willing to work together to stop it.

Eventually we reeled in the break, and things settled down (thankfully) for a couple of laps before another break started. This one had 3 or 4 guys from the start, and the chase group nearly split trying to counter.

We were little more than half way through the 40-minute race, and I was starting to yoyo at the back. But I was not going to get dropped by this group--I'd held on to Ben King's NYD ride, by God I would hold on to this one.

Magically the group came back to me, and several laps followed of moving freely around the peloton with no real risk of getting dropped. The break was away, but not pulling any further ahead, and nobody was taking any risks.

With 6 or 7 laps to go, it started getting fast again, and I was back to hanging on for dear life. I could make good progress on one side of the course and nearly get dropped on the other. Round & round. 2 laps to go, they ring the final prime lap. Some guys think it's the final lap (because really, who does that?) and it's game on: a group of 3 breaks off the front to chase down the leaders, and I got vacuumed to the front of the chase.

Last lap, and guys are really trying to bridge up. I hear carbon howling EVERYWHERE around me, but the next-to-last turn is a smidge tricky, and I'm given too much space. I jumped at the same moment as E. Shipp and we sprinted side-by-side for the next corner, but I got the inside line and tucked down for my usual seated sprint. I see a wheel hew into the corner of my vision from the right, actually literally screamed and put out as much power as I had left, and held off the attack...only to be passed by at least one rider on the left.

A quick glance up was nearly impossible as the whole world was blurry, but I think I counted 10 jerseys ahead, putting me around 11th. I spent the entire cool-down lap telling myself not to puke, which was frankly a pretty tall order. Garmin said I'd averaged 288W, a 30W increase from my previous 20-minute best.

I spent the next 4 hours wondering why the hell that race had been so hard before I remembered that it was a mixed Cat 3/4 race. Oh. Well, that'll do it, I guess.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

W&M Tidewater Classic 2017

Today should have been amazing. I signed up for this year's W&M road race as a Cat 5, but after doing some magic with USA Cycling managed to get my resume re-re-reviewed, and was upgraded to Cat 4 last weekend. It took my projected finish of 1st down to 11th and meant I couldn't get away with any nervous rider shenanigans, but it also meant I got to sleep in a little later, since the 4's race starts at a reasonable hour of 10 am.

And the race started with real promise. After the 2-mile neutral roll-out, the pace leaped to 30mph within 2/10 of a mile and pushed hard to the first run up the KOA climb, where the flatlanders popped and everybody jeered as the freight train accordioned.

Back on flat(ter) ground, the race picked back up to the fever pace for a while, with minimal centerline enforcement. I'd see guys go wide and hear a moto admonish them, but nobody got sent backward.

After the first turn off Fenton Mill Rd, M. Lipka did is Leeroy Jenkins move and took one hopeful soul with him. They held out for about a half a mile before the group decided to run it back down, catching him well before the first lap marker on Riverview. But then his teammate N. McKinnon countered, and I guess the group figured it was another throw-away effort, because NOBODY chased. In fact, if anything, they actually slowed down. Wherease we'd been seeing 30mph on the outlap, I was barely seeing 22mph this time through.

By the time we made the turn to Newman Rd, he'd worked up over a 20-second lead. I found a hole on the right and jumped to the front to chase.

A group of about 5 were leading a middling charge, and I took up 2nd wheel. When the leader peeled off, I put out a 1-mile threshold interval to take back about 1/3 of the gap. As we dropped to the base of the KOA climb, I was reabsorbed into the group and we caught the only decent break-away of the day.

And then it just turned into a parade. For the next 10 miles or so, I just stayed on the right side and watched the occasional surge from one side or the other, but ultimately the jerseys never really changed and the speed continued to drop. At one point on Riverview I looked down and saw 17.8mph. Guys were starting to yell out from the group to pick up the pace or get out of the way, but it never happened, and what should have been a blistering run up the KOA climb for the last lap was more of a casual Saturday group ride pace.

And so they stopped us.

The moto dropped back to the leader and motioned us to the side of the road to let the faster chase group past. Suddenly what had gone from 57 bunched riders to a long train was now, once again, about 50 guys all clamoring for a shot at glory.

Zero space for error, itchy trigger fingers, but nothing. A few guys decided the centerline rule was for pansies, and nobody enforced it to the contrary, so the last several miles were exceptionally messy, and it's a wonder nobody wrecked.

We made the final turn into the park, where last year the 5 race just turned into an open 1-mile sprint fest, and...again...nothing. The group sped up to about 30 and held station, gradually widening to take the whole road and shallowing as riders packed up the rear, but the front line was like a military column and not a damn soul would break from it.

We even passed the 200m marker without ANY action, but when it came, it came hard. Formation broke as a few guys dropped the hammer, and I was in the 3rd row back. I hunted and clawed for a way through, finding a teensy gap on the left side--exactly where I'd seen a dude get seriously hurt at the end of last year's 4 race. I took the chance, and right as I got to it the guy ahead started yawing his bike around like a cartoon exaggeration of a sprint. I gave him a moment and he did it again. I yelled--twice--and he finally curtailed it and gave me an inch of pavement. With 50m to go, I got out and threw down everything I had, expecting to see the leaders well off into the distance. But as I counted the jerseys ahead of me, I could see only 5, and the moto was not far off.

So just as anti-climactic as the neutralization was the realization that I'd scored points in my first Cat 4 road race. Huzzah.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Taming the Monster

Taming the Monster

Last week was rough. My poor baby girl had 5 shots at her 6-month check-up and spent most of the week with a high fever. This wore her poor momma out, caused several sleepless nights (for everyone), and a couple of missed gym appointments. It was also the week that Alastair began his science experiment: a 6-week power-building program on the bike trainer. The last night of that was ruthless.

But Friday came, and with it, Katelyn's parents. Catherine's fever broke in time for the ladies to make it to the gym, I rode my bike to work, and the forecast for the weekend looked magnificent. I even left work early in the precursor to the perfect weather to get in a nice ride home.

I worked that ride a bit softer than usual on the first half, knowing I had a 50-mile race on Sunday, and not wanting to go into it dead tired. Plus I'd had some issues over the previous week or so with my knees not wanting to cooperate. But as the ride wore on, the speeds increased, and the knee held out. Yay!

With that in mind, I set about planning to do a simple 20-mile easy ride Saturday morning just to keep loose for Sunday. But I am an idiot. With my in-laws in town, I didn't feel quite so bad about taking a little longer for my ride, so I casually rode down to the local Saturday morning group ride...and then spent another 16 miles crushing out ~21mph, including a couple of pulls at way too high output. But it was fun. I had a teammate out there with me and we were just having a great time playing in traffic.

So my plan for a keep-loose ride went up in smoke. I ended up putting down 40 miles the day after doing 45, and knowing I had to get up the next day and do 50 in a race. Stupid (but fun).

I put Alastair in the car and we headed out to pick up our race packets, and everyone else headed to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. When we met up with them, Catherine was all smiles, Fiona was energetic and beautiful and my whole heart was full. I LOVE my family.

Later we got to enjoy watching Catherine take her first bites of solid food. She loved it, but clearly wanted something a bit more adventurous than rice cereal.

---

Sunday morning, race day...

Alastair and I got up at 6, made sure everything was packed, and headed down to Pocahontas State Park for MonsterCross. I signed up last year and gave up halfway through, but this year I was gonna do (or try to do) the whole 50-mile shebang. Alastair was nervously signed up for the 25-mile Mini Monster. We had done the whole packet pickup thing on Saturday, but word was out that there would be separate timing-chip pickup at the event, which was weird, and meant there likely wouldn't be much warm-up.

We got to the park and had everything unloaded into the tent by 9:05, checked equipment, hung out, and rejoiced in our tent's proximity to the starting line. I set out spare water bottles so that I could toss empties after the first lap and grab new ones before rolling off for lap 2. We were set.

And just like last year, the event started late. It's tough to corral and organize 600 riders, and the pro/elite guys got a 2-minute head start, but like Tom Petty said, "the waiting is the hardest part". Once we started, it was just like last year: 2 or 3 miles of just trying to keep moving forward in a sea of slow-moving cyclists. This thing was PACKED.

Once it started to (s)pace out, the speeds went up and up and up. My pre-rides told me where I could fly and where I needed to reserve, what parts were rooty and what tire pressure would likely get me through without flatting. And there was flatting a-plenty. Rider after rider by the side, the first group of whom included one of my pro/elite teammates.

There's a trail segment at Poco that's called "I eat water bottles and skinny tires for breakfast" on Strava. Last year that segment rotated my handlebars downward. A week ago it curled my rear shifter in. This time I was ready for it, though even if I hadn't been, the pile of lost water bottles would have called it out quite obviously as a hazard. Literally, there were at least 20 bottles scattered around this section of roots.

I dodged to the left as another guy started down the middle, recognized the danger too late, and jerked over into my lane. I saw his move just in time to back out, but it cost me some positions.

The whole rest of the first lap on the bottom half of the park was spent at 100% output. Pacing with a group of fast CX riders the whole time, we were MOVING. I stayed with them into the top half of the park for a few miles, then realized I still had to go another whole 25 miles after the first lap, and backed way off...and they did too. It was kinda weird. I finally forced myself to get dropped and picked up another group, but by that time I was exhausted enough to start having trouble steering. I wasn't even a whole lap in, and already I was in trouble.

The last two miles of the Monstercross course are the only technical miles out there. They're really not even all that technical, but they do require a lot of quick uphill punches and darting around corners. I had the uphills, but the darting was beyond my tired arms. I think I nearly wrecked a couple of guys behind me by over-slowing, but I just couldn't get the rhythm.

I ended up cranking out that first lap in 1:30, and I know it could have been a minute faster if I hadn't balked at the turns.

When I came through start-finish, I made my way to the team tent and grabbed a fresh water bottle. But only one, and it was a huge mistake.

The 30 seconds I spent at the tent brought a bunch of familiar jerseys back to me, and we proceeded on for the first 5 miles or so of lap 2 before I actively got off the gas. At 1 hour 45 minutes, I'd eaten nothing and was starting to feel the bonk coming. The pace we were setting was too much to manage eating, so I got out of line, found some nice open space to ride alone, and ate most of my snacks...and drank most of my water.

At 33 miles, my back started to seize. Coming off the 2nd gravel climb from the dam, I was in trouble: riding the granny gear and feeling a fire raging up my back, with little water remaining. I'd never been happier to see pavement.

Rider after rider passed, and I knew my only game plan was just to try to finish. 35 miles. 35.5. 36. Diving back onto fire-roads and double-track, the climbs were ruining me, but I took solace in seeing that everyone else was suffering in silence, too. And then we were at 40 miles. I started doing the head-math on how much longer I had to be on a bike. I would have just stopped at the swimming pool, but I didn't want the results to say "Adrian Amos...DNF" like they did last year.

41 miles. Approaching the back side of the swimming pool complex, I did something I hadn't done in 5 miles: I passed someone. I felt a surge of energy and jumped on it...just to come up on a sea of emergency vehicles and stopped riders.

I still don't know the exact details, but someone was airlifted off the course, and everyone but the absolute top 10 or so riders were stopped. Some were told the race was over and left. By the time I got to the group, the wait was mostly over. I had, in effect, negated all the gains they'd made on me in the previous 10 miles. Oh snap son.

Except I had almost no water, my legs were starting to shake, and there were still another 8.5 miles to go, with some tricky climbs and those dreaded dead-arm turns. As everyone else started off, I spotted my savior: Alex Guzman, not racing, cheering me on. I stopped and asked him to run up and grab me a water bottle, and he did. It was the best 4 minutes I've ever waited on anything. I didn't give a half a happy horse-crap how many people rode past me: I was not going to die of dehydration.

And as a side-benefit of the time I spent waiting, I got to see Alastair come across the bridge to finish his race!

With fresh water in hand, I set off with no goal other than to finish. Counting down the half-miles, head-mathing the total time & time remaining, pissed off at my over-exertion on the first lap, and granny-gearing every climb, even the gentle ones.

Amazingly I never had to step off the bike, even for the climbs that I'd struggled to granny-gear on the first lap. I kept finding *just enough* reserves to handle them, and the only time I had to put a foot down was coming through the last water-crossing, where 600 riders had turned the exit into a thick bog.

But once I'd cleared that, I knew I was gonna make it. I bombed down the last couple of downhills faster than the prior lap, actually caught and passed a few riders climbing the paved ramp, and crossed the line at 3:19 and change.

Alastair finished his race in just a tick over 2:30, though final results have not yet been released pending a lengthy protest period.

---

Coming back to reality, we met the ladies at the park and I got to watch my beautiful children enjoy a summery February afternoon.

And this morning, for the first time ever, Little Miss Fiona pooped on the potty!

An amazing weekend, all around.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How (not) to prepare for race season

This Sunday marks the official kickoff of the Mid-Atlantic bike racing season, with the 50-mile Monster Cross at Pocahontas State Park. I did this event last year with poor results, retiring after one lap with a busted bike and absolutely no idea why anybody would ever voluntarily ride a bike on dirt.

But after some significant equipment changes and a whole lot more time riding off-pavement, I was feeling ready-er. And good thing, too, because after this weekend there's not a single weekend without a race until May.

But 12 days ago, I snuck out for a late afternoon ride and wrecked. The 'cross bike seized underneath me (caught on a root, maybe?) and I went flying, landing on my right side and whacking my head into the dirt. The Garmin's accident sensor started wailing, and in an effort to kill that horrendous noise, I forced myself up and dusted off quickly.

I knew I was hurt, but I had full range-of-motion, and the head-hit wasn't hard enough for me to be concerned (the helmet did its job). But of course, more important was to determine if I could successfully get back to the car on the bike. Astonishingly, though the handlebar and tape were destroyed, everything else was fine. Dirty, but fine.

I got on and started home tenderly, constantly probing and testing to see how badly I was really hurt. No holes in the kit, but pain was building under my armpit.

After replacing the heavy aluminum bar with a fancy new carbon bar & matching tape, I finally admitted it might be time to go get an xray a few days later. The doctor confirmed at least one, possibly two broken ribs. But they were clean breaks, and the doc didn't argue with me when I told him I was going to keep riding while I recover (I also didn't bother to tell him I'd put in a couple of crushingly hard rides in the interim).

So there I was, 9 days away from the start of the racing season, nursing a broken rib, and riding 6 - 8 hours per week, when my left knee decided to get in on the action. It started to hurt during a particularly tough ride on the trainer, and I'd damned myself by ignoring the first twinges and pushing through. The next day I could hardly walk, and was scheduled for a 25-mile team ride the following day...which I did anyway.

Fortunately for me, I'd brought Alastair along, and while it was his longest and most aggressive mountain bike ride to date, it was just exactly the level of output that would not risk further injury. Though the knee still hurt a bit, it was not throbbing by the end of the ride, and minor adjustments in pedal-stroke and seating position could alleviate any pressure that started to build.

Last night I pushed a little more, testing the waters of a 30+ mile ride on the trainer. Again, some twinges, but nothing serious, and today the knee actually feels less awful. In addition, the rib pain is abating day-by-day, though I've found myself over-compensating and creating nasty cramps that come and go. In theory, barring any wrecks this weekend at Monster Cross, I should be sufficiently recovered from the break to go hard in the peloton at William & Mary.

Now my daughters are sick, so I'm confident I'll move straight from broken to sick.

2017 is off to an interesting start.

Monday, February 06, 2017

A Bit of Science, Mixed with a Dash of Crash

2017 has started off with an aggressive uptick in my training. Probably too aggressive, but I'm having fun. Or I was.

I spent almost all of 2016 on the road bikes. I logged over 5000 miles in the year, and probably 4600 of those were on the road. I chased every moving part on the Blue more than once, rode the Fuji 'til it got stolen, and then was back up & rolling a week later on a new Fuji commuter/back-up-race-bike.

But in the Fall I got a cross bike, and while it was more of a novelty last year, it's really become something of a new obsession this year.

When we took a family trip to MD last year, I took the cheaper road bike. This year I took the cross bike with two sets of wheels: one for road, one for dirt.

I've spent time chasing the setup on the thing, too, and I really got it to the point where I could do just about anything on it, for any amount of time, and just love the experience. I'd dropped from 2x11 to just a single 40T chainring, and the road wheels run an 11-28 cassette while the mud wheels run 11-32. All run through Shimano 105, and yes thankyouverymuch a short cage derailleur works just fine.

But while I was able to leverage my 2016 knowledge to set up the tire pressure on the road wheels, I found myself watching waaaaay too many Internet videos for the cross tires. The videos said most racers run around 30psi, and might dip as low as 25. But when I asked around, I heard what sounded like impossibly low pressures of 20 - 22psi. At that range, the rear tire appears to be flat when I get on...and I only weigh 140lbs.

I'd long theorized that most people can't actually tell what the "right" pressure is, and that outside of an extremely narrow window (maybe +/- 2psi), it's either simply too low or simply too high. This theory came from my experience in motorsports, where a .25psi change in tire pressure can result in a net suspension change of 25lb-in. Bearing in mind that a Miata goes from "compliant" to "rock-hard" with a 50lb-in suspension change, I decided to test my theory.

I started my test by just running the bike at a fixed pressure: 22psi front & rear. I did this not-very-scientifically for about the last month or so on a pair of Clement BOS tires mounted on Easton EA90XD road-tubeless wheels. I found the setup to be absolutely buttery smooth on cobbles and gravel, but any slight bump went straight into the rim. On dirt & grass, 22 seemed to offer fantastic traction, as well, so it seemed like a great setup.

But then I rode with some teammates who were on matched bikes, but clearly much higher pressures, as their rear tires looked rigid. I noticed they were far less cautious in picking their lines through roots & rocks than I, so I figured it might be worth some further experimentation.

A bit of research suggested I might consider a 45/55 front/rear air-pressure split, so I aired the front to 26psi and the rear to 28. It was horrible: wildly bumpy on cobblestones, the tires meandered through gravel, and worse yet: roots still went straight through to the rim. But on smooth surfaces, the low-rolling-resistance made me faster than ever.

Friday afternoon I split the difference and ran 24 front / 25 rear and tried again. Once again, the bike wanted to wander on gravel, but seemed far more planted on cobblestones, while still offering a fair amount of speed on pavement. I found the bike to be very controllable on hard-pack dirt, too, but before I could find any grass to test...

I crashed hard. I guess after 8000 miles I was overdue for a big one. I was coming out of a long smooth trail, eyes up and moving fast, when it felt like something just grabbed and stopped the back wheel. Not like a lock-up, but like it snagged on something. I had just enough time to register the increased resistance before I went flying.

I've played enough sports in my time to know not to stick my arms out, and while I don't know exactly how I landed, I know it was hard enough to bend my handlebars around and smack my head on the ground hard enough to give me a good headache. So I avoided the common wrist & collarbone injuries, but there may be a rib or two that's not quite what it used to be.

The good news is I was able to ride out and get back to my car. The bad news is I don't know exactly what pulled me off the bike, so I don't know how to avoid it next time. Well, that and the need for a new helmet & handlebar. And possibly some ribs. But other than that...

So now I'm on a mandatory rest day off the bike. I rode yesterday outside to see my general condition, and while I felt ok then, I do not feel ok today. Racing season starts in 2 weeks. Yay timing.

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