Photo: Tony Allen-Mills

Photo: Tony Allen-Mills
The Charge: First Race, First Climb

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Non-Intimations of Non-Immortality, i.e., Certain Death

Contemplating the 2nd Annual Black Hills Circuit Race
Presented by Team Bike Doctor p/b DigiSource Discovery Solutions

Though Spring isn't precisely in the air just yet, with the awakening of the 2012 Mid-Atlantic amateur racing calendar so too does the long dormancy of this particular space come to its end.  In truth, I've been tempted a time or two to say something or other on the topic of leg muscles or bicycles or bike kit during the intervening months.  The sad fact is that I have been silent because I have had nothing good to say.  I realize I am not alone in this, but this Fall and Winter brought with them an ever-increasing cascade of personal obligations, and consequently I suffered an ever-declining amount of time in the saddle -- to the end that in the last two months I entirely abandoned riding and training altogether. Heaven help me.

So it is that I enter the 2012 season a newly minted cat4 and less fit than ever before. What better than to race into fitness beginning with the cruel tutelage of the little circuit race that could in Boyd, with its little back pimple of a finishing ascent that broke me into little pieces last year. Candidly -- don't tell anyone! -- I fear the early drop at Black Hills again. As in, after lap one. Again. If I do nothing it's certain. The good news is I have 5 weeks or so to reform my reality, to make Black Hills more a difficult but constructive workout experience and less a life-destroying, asphyxiating opportunity for ignominious public agony.

Here's my clever plan.  Next week I put in 18 hours on the bike. This is more than idle fantasy. I will be between jobs and, for the first time in a very long time, free to spend my days how I please. Bruising my sitbones is how I please.  What about the weeks that follow, when I am productively employed again? Well, that is indeed the rub. Nonetheless, I hereby commit to all and perpetuity to sit on my bike on my miserable trainer for multiple miserable mornings or evenings every week and do miserable structured interval workouts until the big event is upon us. A promise published on is tantamount to a spiritually binding covenant with god through his agent and enforcer, satan, and so I am reasonably confident this shall come to pass. Plus, in the middle of it all, there is the matter of a weekend's worth of hellish torture, West Virginia style, currently scheduled with the team at a certain barn upon a high hill.  You see, plenty of time left to recover a modicum of fitness before I race. I have faith. I believe. All will be well. Yeah, sure boss.

In short, as I contemplate the next month or two of human existence, despite these uncertain times I find guarantee in one thing at least: I will suffer greatly -- at my own hand or under the whip of the peleton, likely both. For this reason, in the manner of the good Reverend Shaw upon coming to terms with a fornicating daughter and his own incapacitating fear of the unknown, I ask you: please join me to pray to the Lord to guide me in these painful endeavors.  Assuredly I need it.

See you March 25 with the race wheels on.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

10th Annual Reston Town Center Grand Prix: Or How I Learned to Relax and Loath the Dive-Bomb

RTC GP Category 5 Criterium
June 26, 2011

Duration: 42:26
Avg Speed: 23 mph
Laps: 22.8 / 23
Successful Turns: 182/184
Speed of impact with asphalt: 22.5mph
Place: From 8th of 50 to done with 200m to go
Units of Frustration: ∞

So you want to win an eight-turn technical crit in grand fashion? With √©lan and class? Here's an idea: haul ass up the inside of the seventh turn just as the race is poised to unleash itself in the final turn and finishing sprint. See the leaders gnashing their teeth in a single line, countersteering and banking. Fix now upon the seventh wheel, leaned over nicely.  Sprint, as hard as you can. Say not a word, but stuff your front wheel into the gutter just inches from the curb and try to outgun number seven and the line of riders in his wake through the apex that is rapidly closing. Go ahead, dive bomber, squeeze in there, see what happens.  I'll wait.


Rather not?

"Inside suicide," you say? What a catchy phrase.

Well, then. Congratulations. Your capacity for reason and for measuring risk against reward seems to be in order. But this is exactly the strategy chosen by the ["overenthusiastic" racer] who took out an NCVC rider in the penultimate turn of the Cat 5 race. And, as I happened to be following that particular wheel and holding more than 22 mph through that turn, I rapidly found myself in NCVC's wheel, or maybe it was his spine, then over the bars and sliding on my back and face on the asphalt. The collateral damage didn't end with me; two others, an Evo and an unaffiliated fan of AC/DC, were doomed as well, one sliding out his rear and the other pile-driving into a pole as they sought to avoid flying bikes and bodies.

Reston was the big one on my calendar. It was my final race as a Cat 5. It was my first race following a month and a half during which I was unable to race and had fixated on this one. It was likely my final race this season, a result of outside obligations beginning in July. And it was the first race in which I was able to ride into a position from which I might have achieve a season-long goal of a top 10 finish.

I put in a fairly good race. I made mistakes, but for the most part I managed well. It didn't take long to realize that the backside, from off of 2 and into 5, offered a respite and ability to recover. I worked the race accordingly.  I went off the front twice or maybe three times, including lap one, but only for brief spells, and after each foray was able to get back on and recover within a lap or two. By the time the count had dwindled to 3 to go, I was feeling my limits, but many others around me appeared to be taxed and faring no better. It was relatively easy to advance positions along the back side, where the field typically coasted a bit, and turns 3 and 4, two wide-open turns that mark the end of the back side of the course, made for an easy place to generate speed. So I took advantage there, and from 3 laps to go to the final I gained position until I was sitting 8th wheel out of turn 5 as we began the uphill into the rapid-fire series of turns 6, 7, and 8.  I know I was 8th wheel because I was feeling solid enough to be able to quickly count the riders between me and Chris Rabadi of Raw Talent Ranch -- the winner of every prime, and ultimately the winner of the race. But I made one whopper mistake. I followed the paceline into the inside of turn 7. I should have come outside, because I would have set myself up for the quicker inside line of turn 8 and the better sprint position. I also would have avoided my fate as road kill to the dive-bomber who toasted the guy I followed into the turn.

In the aftermath, I assessed the damage. Five riders with road rash, some worse than others. A set of Zipp 404s, property of NCVC dude, shattered. My powertap rear and a Campy Eurus front both wildly out of true, but hopefully correctable -- we'll see. A few stitches in my arm from the teeth of someone's chainring. Five bikes scratched up.  And the worst part, 40 something minutes of exceedingly hard and careful effort, up in smoke. All the result of an indefensibly misguided and reckless calculation.

Yeah, that's racing, it's a frustrating sport, whatever, get over it. Perhaps. Hard pill to swallow when the cause is so needless and avoidable. The funny part in this, though, was the comment of the guilty party when confronted: "I held my line."  Too rich. Maybe it's karma after all.

On the bright side, what a venue. I really enjoyed the racing, the crowds, the Joeisms. The course was incredible. And it was another big day for my teammates in the cat 4 field, who took 1, 3, and 4, and who I will be joining just as soon as I can get my upgrade in, my bike fixed, and my schedule ironed out.  Until then, stay classy MABRA.

Yay, pictures:

Leading the field, first or second lap.

Finish sprint, seconds after the collision.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On the Magnificent Greenbelt Seven, err, Baker's Dozen or So

Greenbelt Park Series Training Race
'B' Race (Cat 4/5)
June 22, 2011
Duration: 00:57:47
Distance: 22.423 miles
Avg Speed: 23.2 mph
Crashes: 1 (not me)
Place: 11/32

Another sweltering Wednesday evening in a small section of federally reserved parklands, another hour or so of circuit road bicycle racing fun on the books.  This iteration of the B Race began ominously for me with a dropped chain as the field moved into position to fill the space vacated by the 17 souls who constituted the spartan A field. Fortunately, I managed to wrap it back around the ring in time for the start, with no more lost than a little dignity.

For a change, perhaps because it was muggy and sticky and I think none of us were particularly interested in circling the parking lot, my teammates and I staged fairly well this time.  Staging may be less important at Greenbelt than at any race in the whole of the United States.  All the same, it was nice to be near the front with the entire five man squad from the start.  In keeping with my general feeling of malaise, it seemed like even the clacking of the clip ins off the line was sort of desultory and sporadic, and the pace around the first wide turn felt sluggish at best.  It was therefore not much trouble to reach the front and stay there.  By chance, my entire team did the same. And so it was that we were pulling the field when we passed the line after the second lap.

New member Byron leading the DVR train,
with LaRue (red helmet) coming around the left for an early break.

The race settled into something of a pattern.  There were a few breaks, several by Byron, Tony the Second, and LaRue.  Given that activity, given my highly inferior genetics, and given my overall soporific state, I settled in the bunch and did my part on a couple occasions by soft pedalling and opening gaps when others were trying to bring back the flyers.  (Yeah, I like that role. It's good work if you can get it.)  Although every so often the pace sped up, for the most part the racing was manageable, and almost every lap slowed to a crawl on the two rising sections approaching the start/finish area. Looking back over my GPS file at the lap by lap data for the 16 laps of actual racing, aside from the relatively quick 2d lap in which the team was pulling, the laps were all fairly slow, in the 21-23 avg mph range, or 3:30-3:50 minutes if you prefer.  Either way, that's pretty sedate.

The status quo ante changed dramatically as we neared the final act.  The antepenultimate lap slouched along at a laconic 22mph avg pace in 3:49 -- quite tame. The penultimate lap was a bit more brisk, taking all of 3:38 to complete, 23.1mph average.  But then the slumbering field awoke. Shaking off whatever conjuration of the heat had held it in thrall for most of an hour, what was left of the B field came around for the final time in 3:08 (for me) at a 27mph average speed.  This was a bit painful, I have to admit.  I managed to pass a few suffering soldiers and to not get caught by some others. I crossed the line 11th, at the precise moment my calf seized and said forget it. So good timing in that sense.

Now, the fine officiants at Greenbelt are worthy of great praise. On this day, they captured the first seven B Race riders across the finish line and reported those result with rapidity and precision. But there's been some controversy.  So, as a public service, I note for the inquisitive that Julie Elliot kept a photographic record of the B Race finish, from which we gain a clearer understanding of the identity of the first 13 finishers, and a pretty decent idea about the top 17, in fact. So, counting backward from this image of the first 3 sprinters, Aaron Canale (Ft. Lewis), Matt Ringer (DVR), and Anthony Monaco (ABRT): Places 1, 2, and 3, followed by Jay SHRUM (Jay always gets recorded in uppercase, presumably because he is awfully fast), Place 4, we get to my little groupetto, Places 5-13.  (We eliminate from the count Messr. Escobar of Battley-Harley-XO etc., who makes a cameo in that last image while soloing a couple minutes ahead of the A field.)  After that, it's slightly less apparent how people fared, but here you go: Kat (AU/YAH) in 14, ABRT in 15, Belgian-looking team kit guy in 16 (CRG?), and LaRue (DVR) in 17.  The rest you will have to deduce for yourself.

So I have been trying to bust a top 10 in a race of more than 10 individuals before I finish my time in Category 5 and hang up the cleats for the season. As pathetic as that photo of my "sprint" may appear, I put every watt I had left into the pedals at that point. Alas, I was close but not quite.  Better luck at Reston tomorrow.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Most Tedious Report Concerning the Latest Rendition of the Mid-Week Greenbelt Park Training Race Series Excellently Hosted by Route 1 Velo

Greenbelt Park Series "B" Race (Cat. 4/5)
June 8, 2011
Duration: 43:47
Distance: 16.7
Laps: 12 of 16 (DNF)
Avg. Speed: 23.1

So Freaking Hot. Hotter than them. Not Planck hot. Or solar particulate ejection hot. But still, really, really hot: according to the @dcfireems twitter feed -- an alarming feed to follow if you ride a bike on the District's mean streets -- we were operating under a 110 degree heat index yesterday evening. Tarnation!

Despite the oppressive environmental conditions under which the race would be run, the field for the B Race reached its 50 rider capacity quickly. As usual, DVR fielded a large team, with solid representation also from ABRT, NCVC, WWVC, as well as a few other well established acronyms. As a result of an eleventh-hour rear derr. problem, however, one of our dependables was limited to two gears -- 53-15 and 39-15 -- and then of course there was the further problem that another one of our team members was me.

So, my engine felt anemic from the start. I chalked it up to the intensity of training over the four days prior in combination with the miserable heat. I figured I'd see if the legs were going to come to life later in the race, alive enough to have reason to contend for a top 10 spot. If not, rather than surf the pack for no purpose, I thought I might try some silly stuff off the front just for the fun of it and, if necessary, cash it in then. It's just a training race, and I was feeling rather open minded about my options.

Meanwhile, I ground along through the first few laps, popping out of the saddle here and there along the front to open the legs, drinking when I could manage. Unfortunately, on the downhill backside of only our second lap we had a crash. I didn't see the proximate cause. From my vantage, I heard shouting, saw a wave of bobbing and scattering helmets moving back through the pack, followed by the unpleasant crunch of bike and rider hitting asphalt at speed. One rider went down to the left, and I believe a panic crash may have ensued on the right as well.  I followed a couple others off the road and into the grass around the mess, then hopped back into the street and safely reintegrated with the field.  I was saddened to see on the next lap that our victim was a junior, I doubt more than 14, who lay doubled up and bravely clutching his knee to his chest in obvious pain while the medic attended to his injuries. I had noticed him earlier, swinging his bike from side to side as he mashed gears to keep pace with the group. As I said, I didn't see the accident, but from what I saw beforehand I harbor some doubts about whether he was quite ready to race the B just yet. Whatever, hopefully the poor kid heals up quickly.

OK, at any rate, the race ran along its course, painfully hot. A few went off the front, including a few DVR folks, but frankly I think there were fewer attacks then previously, in part perhaps because of the heat. Nonetheless, by lap 8 or 9 I was seeing lots of tired faces in the peloton, and I was pretty sure mine was among them.  I decided it was time to throw something off the front to see if I could cause some destruction in the field and maybe advance the interests of a couple of my teammates in so doing. When Chas the Invincible asked if I wanted to work up to the front with him, that was all it took.  We quickly shot up front on the backside, me following his lead, until we broke free and dove into the single real corner on the course alone.

This was the first opportunity I think I've had to hit that Greenbelt turn entirely unimpeded by the Others. Usually I am grabbing brake and trying to negotiate a safe line among the dozens of riders similarly negotiating, some with less precision than others. This was more pleasant and much more efficient. Chas thrust his knee out as if he was wrapped in leathers, counter-steared his bike way low, and despite not being entirely sure exactly how fast we could take it, I followed suit. We sailed through the corner at 25mph rather than 19mph, then shot up the front side with a couple chasers behind. Chas finished his pull, then I went all in and held that for as long as I could until I popped.

As I worked my way back, pretty much blown, I was pleased to see that we had inflicted some damage. I tooled around for another lap, just floating at the rear and trying to see how well I was going to recover. The answer was not very. So I waived goodbye and peeled off when I next reached the parking lot on lap 12. Disappointing in retrospect, I know. I only had another 3 laps to go at that point, and I have never purposefully abandoned before. On the other hand, it's a training race, I never got my grove on, and despite that I accomplished something I wanted to accomplish, so I watched the finish play out fairly contentedly while munching a tasty peanut butter smeared bagel.

The finish was hot. Hot like this. Not as hot as this (yeah, that one's a bone for my sole follower -- recognize!), but way hotter than this. Congrats to Matt for a well-deserved victory in a head-to-head sprint against the jersey holder to win on the bike throw at the line. Awesome to watch in person, and perhaps to have added something to it in my own little way. Hopefully one of the photogs lining the course caught it, because it was a matter of milimeters and made for a great picture, I'm sure.

Matt beginning his sprint. Photo: Julie Elliott
As a postscript, it turns out the heat was a bit of an issue for me afterall. Despite downing 4 bottles of water, several salt pills, and more water, bananas, etc., when I got home, not long thereafter the most miserable hamstring cramp in history struck out of nowhere and just leveled me. It stayed locked for what felt like forever but was probably about 3 minutes. I was alone, so I had to stretch it away myself. I'm still limping a bit. Ouch.

Oh, and by the way, for those counting at home, that's number 8 in the books, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Not-Racing Race Report

As I may have mentioned, I have been grounded on the weekend racing front since my epic failure at Poolesville. Well, it now looks like I will make a return to the sport on June 26, at the RGS Title/Prosperity Mortgage Reston Town Center Grand Prix. This intermission in my racing schedule has put a crimp in my grand "race into fitness" scheme (but given the damage meted out in the killing fields of Baltimore and New Jersey of late, maybe it was somewhat providential as well).  Regardless, matters were made worse when my dependable midweek fitness crunch, the Wednesday evening Greenbelt Park Training Series race, was cancelled this week as a result of radical overestimation by the weather forecasting services of the likelihood of rain.  And the next several weekends are chock a block full of things like memorial tree planting ceremonies, birthday parties, and overdue household obligations, none of which I am in a position to skip in favor of a decent training ride. So like it or not, I am not exactly busting the TSS bank during this little unscheduled racing interregnum either.

How will the downturn in training affect my racing when I return late June? How long can I maintain physiological ripeness at half of my preferred training regimen before I shift irrevocably from just very-well-rested into atrophied? These are the questions that vex my soul as I slide into sleep at night.

The answer is self evident of course: cram as much riding as possible into the limits of the day and as "specifically" as possible for the coming event. Intervals, good; aimless and haphazard pedaling, bad. Time to dredge up the hill repetitions and microbursts I love to hate. So look for me on the road at 6am tomorrow. I'll be the lunatic flailing up the same damned hill as many times as I can manage in an hour. Maybe you will be doing the same.