Photo: Tony Allen-Mills

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

Sunday, April 17, 2011

18th Annual Carl Dolan Memorial 2011 Senior Men's Category 5 8:45am Cold and Windy Snot-Rocket Circuit Race presented by DC Velo Race Reportage

Ancient history does not sell newspaper, cutting edge news sells newspaper.  I am not in the newspaper selling business.  But so what, it's a fine analogy.  So instead of annotating the tragically funny experience that was my first race, the Black Hills Circuit Race last March 19, or finishing my Sleepaway Camp encomium to the concept that shared suffering is better than suffering alone, both old news now, I will move forward along the arrow of time to the recent past (or near present, if one prefers), and talk about the 18th Annual Carl Dolan Memorial Circuit Race, which I raced this morning.  Bottom line, the Cat 5 race was lots of fun, crash-free (if just barely!), frustratingly slow at points, laden with moments of panic and several bowel-clenching near disasters at others, and topped off by a ridiculously early and tough to pace final sprint which found me out of gas when it counted.  Finish: 21st out of a field of 46-50 or thereabouts.  I loved it, and I thought DC Velo put on a great event.

So let me get some data, the good and the not so good and some other random factoids, out of the way for us:
  • ~9 laps, 18.6 miles
  • Avg speed: 22.9 mph (windy)
  • Max speed: 41 mph
  • Max wattage: 930 (meh)
  • "Normative" wattage: 230 (major meh)
  • 564 kilojoules
  • Max crank torque: 1030 in-lbs.
  • HR:wattage: -2.68% (what does this even mean?)
  • Witnessed nearby wheel bumpage: 3
  • Crashes: 0
  • Lost water bottles: 0 (new record for me)
  • Boogers in face: 1
So, the category 5 race went off at 8:45am.  The wind was running about 15-18mph or so from WSW, according to, which is never often wrong but in this case seemed about right.  Just before I began my warmup on the trainer, I checked the car external temp gauge, which read 49 degrees.  My garmin, however, tells me the avg. temp for the ride was 53.  Either way, with the wind, it was cold at the line in the morning.  As I mentioned, and unlike my first race, I indulged in a steady 30 minute warm up on the trainer prior to heading to the start, and I felt reasonably alright.  I qualify, as I had not ridden for 2 days and was coming off an arduous team training camp the weekend before (at which I did about 650 TSS, in WKO+ speak), followed by a hills interval ride on Tuesday night and a reasonably hard exertion during a solo ride Thursday -- so really I had no idea how all that was going to play out once I got underway.

We hit the road at a moderate pace, at best.  Everyone was antsy about the wind, I suppose, and no one seemed particularly anxious to take the front along the west side of the course.  Almost immediately a predictable pattern emerged: slow as dogshit on the west side of the roughly square-shaped polygon of the course until you hit the single turn, then immediately out of the saddle sprint like hell up the outside along the east side of the course until the finish line.  Then repeat.  Here and there one or two guns would fire alone, but they were rather easily drawn back when no one went with them and the wind and hill did their work.  This pattern held until about four laps remained, at which time a group of 5 or so fast-looking fellows got away and began to form into a line on the slow, wind-heavy west side.  I was sitting maybe 10th or 15th wheel, and when the first 5 got about a 100m-150m gap, one by one I and several others apparently reached a tacit understanding that the move could have a chance and we should join it or bring it back.  I have no idea why I decided to participate in that effort, given my prerace commitment not to do any epic off the front pulling (my Black Hills lesson), as in retrospect there was slim chance anyone was staying away once we hit the hill, but thinking clearly at 170 bpm isn't my strong suit.  So off I went into no-man's land to chase, along with sets of 2 or 3 others at various intervals before me, and I guess the rest stringing out behind us.  The break wasn't working together very well (I later learned), and we caught it and the whole race came back together on the "foot" of the east-side climb (it maxed out around 3.5% grade, so I don't want to overstate), as I probably should have predicted.  That effort in the wind took its toll.  I redlined on that ascent, and it took eveything I had to keep my claws in the ass-end of the field when it hit the hump at the start-finish area until we ran into the much-blessed slow as dogshit part of the course again.  Thankfully, I think the uptick in pace to catch the break took a toll on the field as well, as the next time we reached the turn /stand-up-and-sprint-to-the-hill-climb component of the course, things felt less fierce and I managed to recover.  After that, I stayed in the thick of the peloton until the final lap.

A couple bad things unfolded at this point.  First, and this is gross, a WWVC or some other red-colored kit guy kindly looked over his right shoulder to check his blindspot before releasing a healthy, one-nostril snot-rocket projectile into the free air.  Unfortunately, and for reasons I cannot explain or understand, although he checked right, he turned and unleashed it over his left shoulder.  Into airspace that my face occupied.  I quickly mentioned my displeasure and kept going past.  He was kind enough to say "sorry," so I guess we're good.  Second, I came off the turn less hot then I had every lap prior.  I guess I was worried about the final climb/sprint and didn't want to cook my goose before I absolutely had to.  I may have been right, but maybe not -- my position entering into the sprint was probably the furthest back in the field at that section of the course that I had sat all morning.  This is a guess, but I must have hit the finishing climb about 30-35th wheel.  I dug deep to pass about a dozen bikes as we approached the 200m mark, and by that time the leaders were already hammering hard for home.  I had no chance, was well beyond red, the horizon shrunk to a dim and narrow tunnel, my aerobic energy system hung from its feet in Shelob's lair, and there was nothing left.  The wattage display on my garmin deteriorated quickly as I crossed the line 21st -- frankly, lucky to hold that.

I am not complaining.  The twenty guys who beat me had more in the tank because they are more fit, or more savvy at speed.  Likely both.  Either way, they win.  Truly, I'm sure the top ten or so would have licked me in the uphill sprint even had I jumped with them.  That said, I would have liked to finish somewhere above 15, even if realistically a mid-pack finish is about right.  Most importantly, though, looking back over the months since November, when I  first decided to give racing a try after riding nothing more than recreational group rides for a year, I recall that my sole goal was simply to finish among the main field in a cat 5 race, to not get dropped.  I figured that would be something.  And now, in my second race ever, I have achieved that something.  It feels good.  Admittedly, maybe I set my sights too low; it feels like I did, now that I've done it.  But that's often the case with goal setting generally.  And back in November the idea that I could accomplish even that modest level of success was far from certain.  So I am quite pleased with the result, and I have modified my goals accordingly.  I still do not expect to affix a podium picture here anytime soon; but I want a 5-10 spot.  (Unfortunately, the next few races are 4/5s, and I think we can all agree I am not likely to make my breakthrough in any of those.)   In a solitary cat 5 field, however, who knows, it just might happen ... so long as I play my cards right and stay away from the plethora of inadvertent cat 5 wheel chopping behavior that, incidentally, I also witnessed today (yes, I'm talking about you, crazy inside-suicide-loving no-kit guy, and you, too, kindly but swervy DC Velo gentleman).


  1. Congrats on your race, too. I was in your shoes a year ago. Each race I learn something new, and now it seems even more so that I've upgraded. At Carl Dolan, I learned about using the inside/outside lanes to move up (significantly). Keep at it, this sport is addictive. This year, I've learned to race my own race, and I've become MUCH more patient and less likely to jump at every move that happens. In crits, the field is so dynamic. You're either moving up or moving back, seldom do you simply maintain position. You just have to decide when you're ready to stop moving backwards. Also, energy recovery and maintenance seems to be the name of the game for me. I don't mind the occasional big effort, but I'm gonna need some time on somebody's wheel to regain my composure. I like that you're using power with your Garmin. Which Garmin, and which power unit?

  2. Thanks for writing this stuff up. This is my first race season and it is very interesting to see another perspective.

  3. Stott,
    Thanks for the thoughts. The addiction is firmly entrenched. I've got the Garmin Edge 500, with a PT SL+ hub. Wonderful device, although I now spend far too much time playing with metrics when I should be doing dishes.

    Thanks -- happy to oblige! Good luck this year.