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.