Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A great weekend on the bike

This last Saturday my friend Nick and I headed out to Lincoln, NE for a road bike race. The race was the Lincoln Plating Spring Cycling classic and is a 2 day 3 stage race. Saturday had a 12.8 time trial (ITT) in the morning with the 38 mile (for the cat 5s) road race in the afternoon. Sunday was a 30 minute criterium, short and fast. Nick and I went out there with the intention on just racing Saturday and to come back sat evening. We drove out Friday, had some good food (seriously there is no good place to eat in kirksville), stayed in a hotel room, and got up sat morning ready to race. The Saturday races were being held at Branched Oak Lake just north-west of town. Going into the weekend had looked at the weather and knew that it was going to be a good temperature and windy. I didn't know it would be REALLY windy. We had a constant 25-30 mph wind out of the south the whole day.

We were a little late getting there and were kind of rushed to get ready for the ITT at 9am (9:04:30 to be exact). We got a nice little warm up and got to the start area. Nick was posted to start right before me (we went at 30s intervals) so it would be nice to use him as my "rabbit". Talking with Thomas earlier in the week he suggested that I "sandbag" the ITT and save my energy for the road race knowing that I wouldn't be going for the overall. So I got to the ITT start, pulled up to the line, someone grabbed the back of my bike so I could clip in, counted down from 10, and I was off. The course was a little hilly, with a good climb at the beginning. We basically headed west out of the park, then took a right turn into a 1.5 or so mile climb then went clockwise around the lake. So we got a combo of tail wind, then a cross wind, then a brutal head wind, then another cross wind. The climb wasn't too bad, for 2 reasons: One, it was only around a 5-6% grade, Two, we had a 25-30mph tail wind. I was able to keep 20-21mph going up the was nice. I was riding the ITT pretty well, I decided that I wasn't going to soft pedal around the lake so I decided to catch Nick. I caught up with him right after the climb and just kept on ticking away. The rest of the ITT I just tried to keep a rhythm, knowing that we would be riding the same course for the road race in a few hours. On the south-eastern part of the course we had to cross the dam. This is also where we had a head wind and I kept thinking to myself, "it is going to be brutal in the road race today with this type of wind". I finished the TT and rolled in to the car. When they posted the results an hour or so later I found out that I took a respectable 4th place. Not to bad for not pushing it too much. We kind of relaxed and refueled in prep for the road race.

For the road race we would do 3 laps around the same course. We lined up at the start, right behind the Collegiate racers and got ready to roll. A couple cool things, we had to sign in before the start, and we had a neutral support/wheel car, and we had a mile long neutral start until we made a right turn onto the hill. Kind of felt like a big time race...

We rolled through the neutral start and hit the climb (with the tail wind). A big guy just kind of rode off the front and the rest of the group kept a nice easy pace up the climb. Somehow Nick and I ended up at the front. I didn't mind doing a little work at the beginning but I knew I didn't want to be up there too long especially when we hit the cross/head wind. We finished the climb, took a right turn and headed into the wind. I was still at the front and when I tried to pull off to finish my turn no one would come up to replace nick and i at the front. I would pull off and slow down, the whole group would slow down. I was getting frustrated by the fact that no one would work. I think everyone was too scared of the wind and didn't want to blow their chances by wasting too much energy at the front. I looked at nick, told him we should light up the pack a bit and see if we can catch the guy out in front. I was just hoping to put some fire into the field's legs, get things moving a bit. We came on a small hill, I looked at nick and picked up the pace. It was a good attack, I went hard for about 15 seconds and looked back.......nothing. No response, nick wasn't feeling it so he had dropped back. No one was responding, I had a gap, may as well go catch the guy in front, so I did. I caught up with him on the dam. The wind was brutal, as I came up on him I told him the field was being lazy and we should work together. I don't think he heard a word I said over the sound of the wind. I got in front of him hoping he would pick up on it and get on my wheel, soon however I noticed that he had fallen off my pace. So here I am, 7 or so miles into a 38 mile race, alone out in front in a 25 mph headwind, did I mention that I was alone....may as well go for it and see what happens. I came to the next right turn and was happy to turn that headwind into a cross wind. At this point the field could still see me up the road. I figured that if this is going to have any chance at succeeding I need to mess with their minds a bit. I realized that if I can get out of their sight it will only demoralize them since they will have no idea just how far up I am. So I tried to take advantage of one of my stronger points in cycling and hit the small rollers/hills pretty hard. Slowly increasing the gap. I kept glancing back over my shoulder and seeing the field fade into the distance. This was feeling pretty good. A bit lonely but pretty good nonetheless. I came up to the hill with the tailwind now and hit the climb going almost 30mph. I kept a 20mph speed up the climb and just felt great. Going into the wind and across the dam kept me at around a 16 mph speed, but I tried to make it up on the crosswind sections. The only company I had out there was cat 5 lead car in front of me, a radio car behind me, and the occasional stragglers from the collegiate fields in front of me that would offer some encouragement. So I kept going, trying to ride in my limits but pushing hard to maintain the gap. I finished lap 2 in about 34 minutes, 3.5 minutes quicker then I rode it for the ITT. Last lap, could I pull it off, was the field getting their crap together? I kept my head down and thought of great solo cycling artists like Jens Voight, Vino, and my buddy thomas who soloed for 100+ miles to win a race. I guessed that if I could hold them off enough that they were still out of sight by the time I crossed the dam then I had a good chance of keeping it clear. I rode up the little riser at the end of the dam, looked back over my one. I smiled, shifted down a gear and started cranking towards my first 1st place finish. I came to the turn to the finish line and could hear the race director on the loud speakers announcing my name. It was a cool feeling. Solo victory, and with the field nowhere in sight. I came across the finish, rose a clenched fist, and a smile across my face. I started for a 2 handed victory salute but a big gust of wind right at that moment almost sent me tumbling across the finish line. It was a sweet finish. As I was cooling down I heard the director calling me back to the finish over the loud speakers. I made my way back, got up on the officials stand and conducted a post-race interview! He asked me what it was like out there, why I decided to attack so early, and so on. I told him the legs felt good and the field just didn't respond to my move. After finishing the interview, the next group of 4 riders came cruising across the line for 2nd and 3rd place. Yep, I had time to do a short cool down, and conduct a post-race interview before the next group finished. I crushed them, not that I am super strong I just don't think they expected that anyone would last out there in the wind. A good combination of strength and luck.

They posted the official results a few days later. Since I didn't race the criterium the next day I essentially gave the race away to someone else. It would have been cool to win the overall but looking back it is pretty spezzatura-ish to crush a race then walk away from the overall like I have better things to move on to. The results show me finishing at EXACTLY 2:00:00 (my computer clocked a time of 1:55:45) and the next group finishing at EXACTLY 2:02:00. Seems a little weird to me with the round numbers and all. It felt like I had put more then 2 minutes between when I finished and the next group. Regardless it felt great to go out there see my training pay off. Plus the Moots is pretty much awesome and practically rode itself to a dominating victory.

Below is the power graph from the iBike. It wasn't dialed in right so the wattage reading are off but you can get the idea. The blue line is my power output and the red line is the elevation change. You can see when I attacked around minute 25 as the power spikes then remains elevated as I crank away solo. You can also see the climb on each of the 2 laps.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

First race of the season.

Last Saturday I woke up at 4am to drive 4 hours to Hillsboro, Il (I know kirksville is in the middle of nowhere, especially in the athletic/outdoor world). I've been eyeing the Hillsboro-Roubaix road race since last year so I made it a point to go race. It was my first race of the year and I was pretty excited. My friend Brian, who is just settling into road biking, decided to come along and join me. So here is the break down:

0430-0930-Drive, yeah nothing special here

0930-Arrive at the race start, check in, get my bike ready and do a nice 3-4 mile warm up ride

1045- Most of the racers do a ceremonial lap around town with the race organizer. It also gave us a chance to scout the finishing mile or two of the race.

1115-Start lining up for the race and watching the cat 1/2, 3s take off

1130-Our field starts (I decided to race the Cat 4/5 field). Our field would do two 22 mile loops on these really cool county roads. Below is the profile of the whole race taken from a friend's garmin:
We started off really quick out of the gun and at first I wasn't sure if I could hold a 25-27mph pace the whole race. Once we got about 4 miles in the group settled down a bit. We ended up doing the whole 44 mile race in almost exactly 2 hours so a 22 mph avg isn't too bad. The first lap was pretty conservative in terms of how I was riding. I sat most of the time in a great position in the front 10-12 riders, conserving my energy and not working when I didn't need to. There were a couple short steep hills that I felt really good on the first lap. The peak right in the middle of the profile above is the feed zone hill followed by another short steep climb. The first lap the feed zone hill was "neutral" meaning that it is common courtesy not to attack then. The second time it was fair game. The first loop was pretty uneventful, someone told me that there was a crash but it was towards the back of the pack so I didn't see it. It was the second lap that things began to pick up.

One hour later:

Brian took this picture as the field came through the start/finish for the beginning of the second lap (I'm in the sweet light blue pirate kit). About 5 miles into the 2nd lap there was a nice little climb that a few of us went off the front. There was maybe 6 of us and we had a nice little gap on the rest of the group. Me and another guy kept telling the small group that we had a gap and we need to work and open it up a bit more. No one else really seemed too interested so we got pulled back in pretty quickly. It was a nice little breakaway for a mile or so. During most of the day there was a pretty strong wind out of the south, and it seemed to get stronger as the race went on. The last 9 miles or so the course took a northeast course which meant that we had a tail/cross wind, but in the last 4 miles the course turned due east which meant that the tail wind became a cross wind. I figured that the deciding factor would be the climbs by the feed zone (once you got over the 150 foot climb it was only one mile to the finish) so I wanted to get in a good position going into the cross wind section. The field hit that turn into the cross wind going pretty quickly. I dropped a few positions in that turn and had to spend a bunch of energy fighting the wind to stay on the end of the front eschelon or about 15 riders. I didn't look back but someone told me that when we hit the cross wind the field blew apart. I was lucky to at least be in the front eschelon. I had spent so much energy that when we hit those climbs 1 mile from the finish I didn't have a ton of reserve left. I climbed the 150 vertical feet as hard as I could and gained a few spots. The finish was pretty cool, you crested the climb, had a nice quick downhill onto 1/2 mile of brick road (hence the Roubaix reference in the name), then the finish. I passed a couple more people on the brick and tried to hold it to the end. I ended up finishing 9th in the 4/5s (I happened to be the top cat 5 in the 4/5s also).

The race was a lot of fun, the roads had this cool northern france/belgium feel to them. I am pretty happy with my effort, if I could have kept a better position going into that corner into the cross wind I maybe could have broken top 5 but oh well. It was nice racing and being able to feel some of my work over the winter paying off.

Next up: I just signed up for a cool race in Lincoln, NB on April 21st. It has a 12 mile TT on sat followed by a road race. It should be a lot of fun.