Monday, August 21, 2017

Race Report: Dirty BikenetiCrit

Top step, baby! VWS goes 1-2!
Bikenetic's annual dirt crit is one of my favorite races of the season. It's flat, fast, dusty, and hot, with a few gravelly turns where it pays to have the right line and some great power sections. It's a good race for me.

All the women raced at basically the same time: there was a 1/2/3 race and a straight 3 that went at the same time with the 4/5 women following one minute later. I was racing the straight 3 with 4 other women and another 3 in the 1/2/3 race. The 4/5 field saw a great turnout, I think about 25 women!

We went off hot from the beginning, determined not to be caught by the large 4/5 field behind us (it's happened in MABRA crits before!). I sat second wheel and attacked on the first corner that required some technique. I waaaaaay overcooked the second corner that required technique and took a little ride through the grass. Then I stayed away for most of the rest of that lap, caught on the final straight before the finish line on the back stretch. From there I drifted to the back of the pack, which had dwindled to a group of a dozen, three from each race. I sat on the back for a few more laps as an attack or two went off and came back quickly.

My teammate was on the front riding tempo as we came through the woods in the front side of the course. As we came up on the one little rise on the course, I put in a big dig and went off the front. I floated through the best line, did not overcook the corner, and had a good gap when I first looked back. I've had a few good attacks this season, but I've always ended up doing too much too soon and wearing out. This time, I was determined to dole out my effort more judiciously so that I could stay away for the rest of the race. I think that happened with 6 laps to go.

I spent the next 4 laps by myself off the front. The moto came up to me a couple of times to give me the splits. "You've got 25 seconds!" He told me before I came around with 5 to go. "30 seconds with one in the gap!" on the next lap. I had an idea of where I could gain the most time (on the flat and downhill sections in the woods) and where I would lose the most time (uphill in the woods and the headwind on the final straight). I dug deep on the sections where I could gain the most and recovered on the sections where I would lose time anyway. I managed my effort well; I kept asking myself, "Could I do exactly this intensity for another 3 laps?"

With 2 to go, one of the women from the 1/2/3 field caught me. "You're in the 1/2/3, right?" I asked. She nodded. "I'm racing the straight 3, so we've got the wins locked up!" We agreed to work together and she gave me a pull through the headwind straight. We traded off that lap and into the next, but she was smart enough to stick me in the wind on the final straight coming to the finish line. I knew that was the right thing to do, and was pretty sure I could not outsprint her. I was still determined to try, though!

She jumped at about 200 m to go. I dug as deep as I could and managed to get back onto her wheel. As I started to pull to the left to come around her, she surged again--a double sprint! I'd already given all I had to get her wheel the first time, but I didn't give up anyway. I gritted my teeth and kept pedaling as hard as I could . . . and of course she beat me.

But I still got to stand on the top step of the podium! And I got some road upgrade points! And I got the congratulations and the "Nice moves!" of the 1/2/3 women, which is like a prize unto itself. My teammate was able to outwit the other cat. 3 in the pack for second place. In our race. We won a six-pack of beer and a mini pie. We had two other people racing from Veloworks-Spokes, Etc.: one won the 45+ masters race and the other got third in the men's single speed race.

Thanks to Bikenetic for putting on a terrific race (one of my favorites), and to our sponsor shop Spokes, Etc. for helping me get my Crux ready for world domination!

Also, in case you hadn't heard, CX is coming . . .

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Sunday Edition (Boonsboro Time Trial and Williamsport Criterium)

Picture courtesy of Vladimir Sarkisov, a.k.a. first place's dad. That's her behind me!
I did not sleep well on Saturday night. I had trouble getting to sleep, and once I finally fell asleep (well after midnight), I woke up every hour or two throughout the night. I got up for the final time at 6-ish, packed up, and drove to Boonsboro.

My stomach was not happy. By the time I got to Boonsboro, I had to use the port-a-loos in an emergency kind of way. Not sure if it was something I ate; I think it's more likely that my body doesn't like hot, hilly road races and was rebelling against the previous day's effort. I started warming up on the trainer but had to take another couple of nature breaks. My legs felt heavy and unresponsive.

I used Best Bike Split to estimate the time I could do on the time trial. I had a pacing strategy that involved going hard on the uphills and recovering on the downhills. I don't have a power meter to monitor my effort level; I was going strictly based on feel. I definitely went hard on the uphills, and recovered on the downhills, but I don't think it helped. It took me to the halfway point to catch my 30 second (ahead) person, and as I made the turn-around I could see my 30 second and 1 minute (behind) person close behind me. They passed me shortly thereafter. The wheels started to fall off. I kept an eye on my computer, just to know how much suffering I had left to go. My 30 second person re-passed me right before the finish line. I stopped my computer and let out a sigh. My time was about 3 minutes slower than last year, and I felt like I'd given absolutely everything I had. I was gutted. Last year, I'd been able to do the time trial in around 28 minutes, and it was good enough for third place. This year, that time would have gotten me first, but I couldn't manage anything close to it. Last year I only did half of the road race, though, and I certainly didn't end up third in it! The increased stress of the previous day was enough (I assume) to ensure that I couldn't hold anywhere near my FTP for the time trial.

And I'm not trained for time trials, anymore. I've been training to my strengths over the past several weeks, which I now think are short, hard efforts--in other words, criteriums! But last year I had 10 years of steady-state training in the bank from triathlon, which gave me an edge in the time trials but I was at a disadvantage in everything else. This year, my time trialing prowess is considerably less, but I've gotten better at the other things. It all balanced out, at least in this race.

After the time trial, I headed back to my car to warm down on the trainer and eat my snacks. My teammates tried to encourage me, but I was feeling low. I stopped spinning after about 10 minutes, stomach still churning, and packed up the car. Back at the hotel, I took a shower and ate some more food, both of which helped me feel better. I packed up the last of my stuff and loaded up the car for one more race.

I set up the team tent (I had custody of it for the weekend) and all my stuff and started spinning right away to warm up. The race was running behind schedule, though, so I got off and walked around. I made a visit to look at the TT results and noticed that I'd fallen to fourth in the GC behind a friend who had taken first in the TT. Grr . . . I needed to gain 20 seconds on her in the criterium in order to keep my podium spot (but also, good for her for kicking butt in the time trial)! I still felt nauseous as I finished my warm-up. A teammate brought me a nylon stocking full of ice to stick down my back, and I can't believe how much it helped!

I got a call-up and started on the front row of the criterium! My start was textbook, too; I got myself clipped in on the first try without even looking. I went into the first few laps sitting third or fourth wheel and stayed there for a while. As the swarm came up around me, I let myself be washed back until I started seeing cat. 4/5 bibs. Some of the surges were hard, but I felt surprisingly awesome! Gone were the waves of nausea; gone was the feeling of deadness in my legs. Every time I demanded a surge in power from my body, it responded, and I was able to stay with the lead group as more and more riders got shelled off the back.

The course was fast with two punchy hills and one sharp right corner. It took me some time to get the hand of the hard right, but I finally found the right line and was able to carry speed through it eventually. The field felt safe and confident. It was some of the most fun I've ever had racing. I even kind of felt like I belonged with the cat. 1/2/3s!

First and second place in the cat. 4/5 GC were still in the lead group with me, but when I looked behind me I realized that everyone else had been dropped and pulled. Going into the final prime lap, an intermediate sprint for bonus seconds, I lost touch with the back of the pack. I surged to catch back on, and spent a few laps chasing. There was one other woman behind me, and we tried to work together to catch back on. But my ice had melted by that point, I was overheating, I had the chills, and I had what I wanted--third place in the GC was in the bag. I pedaled just hard enough to stay within sight of the main pack, and managed to finish as the very last rider on the lead lap.

So I got third last year and third again this year in the Tour of Washington County, but it took a lot more work this year! This was my goal race, and as much as I would have liked to have won it, first and second place were stronger and deserved their spots. I feel like I've grown a lot as a racer in the last year. My legs have gotten stronger, sure; but I've also learned a lot about the tactics of the sport, how to ride in a pack, how to conserve my energy, how to move up or drift back as needed. I've learned some of my strengths and weaknesses as a rider, both in terms of natural and learned ability. Those were big goals that I had for myself going into this season.

But my biggest goal of the season was to move from cat. 4 to cat. 3. Tour of Washington County was my last race as a cat. 4. I submitted my upgrade request and it was confirmed this morning. I'm officially a cat. 3 racer now!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Saturday Edition (Smithsburg Road Race)


Since the women's road race didn't start until 10:30, I had the chance to sleep in a little on Saturday morning. My body woke up at 6:30 anyway, though, after a restless night of sleep. I took advantage of the hotel breakfast before packing up and heading to the Smithsburg High School for staging. I warmed up very briefly by riding around the parking lot a few times before lining up with one teammate for the start. The cat 4/5 men went off 5 minutes ahead of us, a decision that several of us women questioned; we were pretty sure that our race would be neutralized when the men inevitably caught and passed us. Somebody said something to the effect of, "You're the 1/2/3 women! Surely you can hold off the 4/5 men!" Uh, yeah. Sure.

This road race course is moderately rolling throughout, with three short but steep kickers at the end of each lap. Those three hills are probably the deciding factor of this race. The rest of the course is a cinch, comparatively, although the pace picked up on the first, third, and fifth laps for the sprint points competition. A series of attacks strung out the group going into the first intermediate sprint. My legs were already a little tired going into the finishing hills for the first time. I got dropped and figured that was all I would see of the pack for the rest of the race. I was very overheated, to the point of wanting to pull over and vomit. I unzipped my jersey all the way and tried to settle into a hard but manageable pace.

Then, naturally, our race had to be neutralized so the 4/5 men's race could come past us. I'd worked myself back within sight of the neutral support vehicle, but the neutralization is what allowed me to catch back on (I probably would have stayed off the back if not for that). It took a surprisingly long time for the men to get past us. I stayed way in the back of the group, following the lead of some more experienced women. I had no problem staying with that group until the second time up the finishing hills, when I got dropped again.

I worked hard to try to catch back on, though, and was able to tag on with a group of stronger, more experienced riders. A pair of women from Haymarket and one from Vanderkitten and I worked together (although it was mostly one rider from Haymarket) to get all the way back to the pack. I stayed in the lead group again until the third time through the hills, when I fell off for the final time.

Fortunately, I found a few other riders to work with, and a group of 2 to 6 of us worked together for the final 2 laps. We took turns pulling, although we never established much of a rhythm. I was half-hoping that we would get pulled after 4 laps, but instead we got the bell. We stayed together for the final lap, sweeping up a few more riders along the way, until the last time up the hill. On the final climbs, my right quad cramped so much that I couldn't pedal with my right leg at all. So I pedaled one-legged up the hill, shook out my right leg on the downhill, and that gave me enough relief to make it up the final two hills. The group I had been with rode away from me, including one other woman in the cat. 4/5 race. Since I couldn't pedal hard, I took the opportunity to eat the rest of my food and drink the rest of my water to start the recovery process for the next day's races. I made it up the final hill in a little over 2 hours, a few minutes back in the GC from first place and just seconds behind second place.

I'm proud of myself for doing well in this race. I don't think this course suits me; it's too hot and too hilly. In retrospect, I wish I would have used different gearing, too. I had a wheel with an 11-28 cassette on it in my car, but used the wheels with the 12-25 instead because they're a little lighter. I think having the bigger cassette would have been more helpful than a slightly lighter wheelset. Still, I managed a respectable third place in the 4/5 field, and gave myself a good start in the GC competition going into the weekend.

One of my goals for this year was to get better acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses. I trained steady-state for so long as a triathlete that it was the only real strength I had coming into bike racing. Now I'm starting to develop more of a sense of what I'm good at, as a cyclist. Hot and hilly road races ain't it, though! Criteriums, on the other hand . . . well, that's what I'll talk about in tomorrow's installment.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Friday Edition (ToWC Kick-off Criterium)


I just got back from a long weekend of racing. It'll make for a long read if I write it up all at once, so I'm submitting it to you in chunks. Chunk #1 is for Friday night, the kick-off crit in Hagerstown, MD.

I'm fortunate to have a job where I can take off at noon on a Friday to go race, so I left mid-afternoon to get on the road to Hagerstown before the traffic apocalypse that is Friday night in the suburbs of D.C. Even so, the drive took twice as long as usual. I was grumpy and out-of-sorts by the time I got to the cheap hotel I'd booked for the weekend. Also, one of the cats peed on my duffel bag, so I had that pleasing aroma to keep me company on the drive up. Add to that the fact that Emily had to stay home because of an appointment she had on Saturday, and I was having a day.

There was rain in the forecast. The sky was gray as I parked in downtown Hagerstown and got my numbers from registration. By the time I kitted up and started riding the course to warm up, it was sprinkling.

This was a women's open field and their regional championship crit, so I felt in over my head. I was there mostly to support a teammate, and I needed to keep my powder dry for the weekend and not crash. Tour of Washington County was my A race for the season, but the kick-off crit didn't contribute to the GC; it was just for fun. I told my teammate, who wouldn't mind having the championship jersey, that I would be there for her in the end if I could. We made tentative plans, then lined up for the start.

It was legit raining by then. The oil and grime was welling up on the roads. The corners were slick. I stayed near the back of the bunch, which was fast in the straights and ginger in the corners. Five corners, one more of a chicane, with a short, punchy hill on the back side made up the course. There were zebra crossings (stripes of white paint) and bricks on the corners. It only took one lap for someone's rear wheel to slide out on the chicane. Three or four women went down. I barely avoided a downed bike and hopped onto the sidewalk to get around the crash. It took a lap or two to chase back on, but I made it after 2 laps.

The pace was manageable for me, so I moved up into the top 10 wheels after getting settled. I followed an attack by a Charlottesville rider, then took the inside line on the chicane (which no one else took for the whole race, for some reason) to go off on my own. I didn't have any ambitions of staying away, but I wanted to get one tough effort into my legs for the next day's road race. I stayed away for about a lap, then tagged on to the back of the group as they caught me.

It was raining steadily, and the corners were treacherous. About halfway through the race, a rider from Baltimore Bicycling Club went down in front of me and I slid out trying to avoid her. One other woman went down and another dropped her chain trying to avoid us. No one was hurt, and no bikes were hurt. I'd torn my skinsuit, though, and all I could think to say was, "Aw man! This thing was $180!" In retrospect, I wish I would have said, "You guys okay? Let's go to the pits for our free lap!" The other three took off and I followed at a much slower pace. My brake levers were twisted in so much that I couldn't prop myself up on them. I stopped in the pit to have my brake levers fixed and because I could, but the other three were trying to chase back on. I assumed they didn't want to take the risk of being in the pack, but one of the women later told me she didn't realize she could go to the pit for a free lap. So again, I wish I would have said something about it instead of complaining about skinsuit damage.

I got a push from the mechanic and got back in with the main pack, now down to 10 riders. I had no trouble matching their pace, but I was skittish in the corners and kept getting gapped. The bell rung, the race announcer shouted, "$10 prime!" and I though, "I don't want to crash and die for $10!" The pace hotted up a little, I was still getting gapped in every corner and surging to catch back on, and eventually I said, "Screw this, I have to race hard all weekend" and dropped myself off the back. After two or three laps on my own, I got the hang of the corners and was able to take them at speed, but I don't regret dropping out of the group. One of the more experienced racers, a woman I respect very much, pulled off to the side and DNFed after the first crash. She has little kids. She didn't want to risk a dangerous crash like what had just happened. I respect that very much. It was safer for me and for everyone else around me to drop back and finish the race on my own terms.

I did several more laps on my own. Eventually, on the finishing stretch, I looked around to see the pace car turning the final corner just as I went through the start/finish line. I knew that would probably be my last lap. I got pulled on the next lap; I think there were 2 or 3 to go at that point. Two women got a gap in the final prime lap, probably just before I got pulled, and held it to take first and second. My teammate attacked into the final corner and held her sprint all the way for third place.

There was one woman from NCVC who was taken out on a stretcher after that first crash. Fortunately, she was discharged from the hospital that evening and went on to win second in the women's open GC for the weekend. All of the women made it out of that race safely, but there were a few of us who left with a little less skin!


Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment in my Tour of Washington County weekend!

Monday, June 12, 2017

When Cycling Makes Me Grouchy

Emily never takes me seriously when I get grumpy because she says I look like this.

This year, I've developed a new warning sign for overtraining: when I'm under a lot of training stress, I get really grouchy.

I've noticed a greater tendency to react negatively and aggressively to motorists (and other cyclists) late in a long bike ride, when I'm tired and hot and hungry. Sometimes I make stupid mistakes. Sometimes I'm rude. Sometimes I grouse in my head and complain to myself for half an hour. Sometimes I have enough presence of mind to short-circuit my responses before they get out of hand, but other times it's not until I'm home, showered, and fed that I realize, "Oh right, that guy did have the right of way!"

This problem is similar to one that a continental pro cyclist addressed in a recent article in Peloton magazine: she was tired on the second day of a tough stage race. Her fatigue led to a poor handling mistake, and she went down with a broken collarbone and concussion. I've had that experience of feeling my handling and decision-making skills disappear over the course of a hard workout, to where I'm scared to ride in a pack by the end of a tough race.

This article is less instructional than observational, but I do have some suggestions for how to cope with this phenomenon. First off, be aware that your mood and reactions can be an indication of fatigue and hunger, and use them as an excuse to take it easier through the end of a ride or stop and have some extra food and drink.

Second, in race or group ride situations, be aware of how your fatigue level may affect your responses. Be slow to swear or yell at other riders or motorists, especially in race situations. If you feel that fatigue is affecting your ability to handle your bike or respond quickly enough to the moves of other riders, move towards the back of the pack to put yourself and others out of danger. Perhaps you can even recover and eat back there, so that you can eventually move back up and into contention. But even if you can't get back into contention, better to finish at the back (or off the back) of the pack rather than risk bodily harm to yourself or others.

You can also practice developing mental acuity when you're already fatigued. I listened to an interview with Ryan Aitcheson where he talked about practicing math problems and critical thinking late in difficult trainer workouts. Choose a venue where you'll be safe, wear yourself down for a bit, then force yourself to think and make decisions.

Finally, be aware of changes in your overall mental and physical state. Have you been extra snarky to your spouse over the past few days? Maybe it's time to take a recovery week and let the stress clear from your system. Be familiar with your base state, and be prepared to skip workouts if needed to avoid making your friends and family members hate you.

That's my spiel for this week. I'm coming off of a week of recovery and going into a taper week for the Tour of Washington County next weekend, which is my A race for this season. It will also likely be my final race as a cat. 4! I'll tell you all about it when I get back next weekend!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Race Report: Clear Spring Road Race W1/2/3/4

This was my longest race of the year so far at 50+ miles. And it was on hilly roads. And it was in a women's open field. My main goal for the race was to flog myself as training for the Tour of Washington County, which is my A race for the year and comes up in three weeks. I wanted to hang with the main group for as long as possible, over all of the hills if possible. To that end, I made a RideWithGPS route based on the course map and race e-mails to review the night before. I even wrote down key features of the course and taped them to my top tube (with the words "GO FLOG YOURSELF! TOWC" at the bottom). One teammate also raced, but we decided in the pre-race to hang out and take the race as it came with no specific team plan.

The course was a preview of the USA Nationals course for 2018-2019. It runs over a loop of about 13 miles, repeated in our case 4 times (with the first one slightly different to avoid the "big" climb). The first half of the loop has some rolling hills, including one that steadily gains over about 1.5 miles, then a long stretch where the roads are mostly flat or downhill, with a short, steep climb towards the end of each loop. The finish line was . . . well, I'll save that for later.

The race started with about 25 women and stayed mostly together for the opening lap. There were a few women who took the pace hard on the hills, but most of the group was able to stay on. Going over the climb that had looked so big on the elevation map didn't feel that bad, either! I turned and asked another racer, "Was that the big hill?" The second lap was more of the same, but with a little more attrition through the hills and also some rain. I responded to an attack with a counter on one of the early downhills and covered a few more. My teammate floated off the front at one point and stayed away for a mile or two. A woman from Sweetspot-Cutaway stayed away for I think most of a lap. There were a flurry of attacks to bridge up to her, but enough of us covered those bridge attempts to bring the whole pack back together eventually.

In the penultimate lap, I was sitting second wheel to a woman I've seen (from the sidelines of the 1/2/3 races) to be strong. She took a short roller pretty hard, and I was able to match her pedalstroke for pedalstroke. So I figured, why not? And took the next roller as hard as I could. I went clear of the group and stayed away for I think 5 or 6 miles. I came around and got the bell for the final lap solo, which was pretty sweet; but I didn't really think I would be able to stay away for the 10+ remaining miles on my own. I had time gaps ranging from 20-30 seconds, and my goal was to make it over the "big" hill and into the descent before the group caught me. I figured I would be toast if the group caught me in the hills.

I finally came back to the group just before a sharp left turn, and I was surprised to get kudos from other riders! One of my buddies said she would give me the Most Courageous Rider jersey, if there were one for this race. I felt a little bit like I'd proved my mettle in terms of ability to hang with the 1/2/3 racers. I drifted to the back to recover, but didn't stay there for long. My legs still felt good, and I go downhill so fast that I naturally drifted back into the front 10 wheels.

My teammate and I found each other and discussed the finale. I said my legs were still feeling okay, so we agreed that she would do her best to lead me out. Around the peloton, other teams had similar ideas, and riders were showing up in pairs and trios of matching kit at the front. It was really cool to see! That almost never happens in a 4/5 race, where multiple teams coordinate their individual lead-outs!

Sweetspot-Cutaway and Haymarket were mostly patrolling the front with a pace that was not too high but certainly not soft. Somehow, my VWS teammate and I ended up driving the pace the final time up the short, steep hill, and boy was it hard! I barely hung on to my teammate's wheel for the climb! Neither of us was sure how far away the finish was; I was just going off of my bike computer and the improvised cue sheet I had taped to my top tube. I felt like it was too early to ramp up the effort, but I didn't say anything (why didn't I say anything? Lesson learned: if you're going to be the protected rider, SAY SOMETHING!) . . . I tried to communicate periodically to Robin that I was still on her wheel as she drove the pace forward, the lead-out for ABRT on her right side.

Turns out . . . it was too early. My teammate popped, and I had probably already done too much early in the race. My legs were toast and I plummeted backwards through the field as ABRT's sprinter went for the line and the swarm came around me. My teammate encouraged me to keep going for a good result, but I could not.

Except that we passed the red tent with the lap markers where the officials had been and there were no officials. And there was no camera. A few of us looked at each other quizzically. Then I remembered that the pre-race e-mail mentioned that the finish line would be up by the school, and we hadn't passed the school yet. About that time, the moto official came alongside us and told us that the line we sprinted to wasn't the finish line. I started accelerating, yelling that the finish line was still ahead. No one else responded in time, though, and I got way out front and crossed the finish line alone. Whee!

That was the end of the fun part, for a while. The women who had won the sprint to the first line were understandably upset at the confusion. The finish wasn't marked with signs (1k to go, 500m to go, 200m to go) and the fact that there were two lines with the finish beyond the bells-and-laps line wasn't adequately communicated. The officials asked me if I knew that the first line wasn't the finish line and I said, honestly, no. I'd sprinted with everyone else and (as I said before) did not do well. I was just the one who figured out what had happened first and responded to it before anyone else could. Actually, the fact that I'd done so poorly in the first sprint probably allowed me to do that; if I'd been more of a contender at the first line, I wouldn't have had the legs to go for the second.

It was a contentious half hour or so of back and forth between judges and racers, with the race director and a few neutral observers weighing in as well. In the end, the officials decided to take the results from the second finish line, and I got the win. It felt pretty rotten at first, and I'm sure there are still plenty of women who are angry about how it ended. But I'm proud of myself for meeting my goal of staying with the 1/2/3 women for a hilly 50+ miles and for keeping my head up and responding to the situation as I saw it. I won't be relying on that as a tactic to win races, but I will remember the importance of always maintaining that awareness.

Also, my action camera was an unfortunate casualty of this race. The case broke sometime during my breakaway. I remember hearing some flapping and feeling like something had dropped or flown behind me, but I thought it was the tape from my cue sheet blowing off. It wasn't until I was back in the group and someone asked if I'd gotten my breakaway on my GoPro that I realized it was gone. Fortunately, it wasn't an actual GoPro or a Garmin Virb or something else very expensive; it was a $50 knock-off from China (via Amazon). And by the time the thing with the finish line was sorted out, I was too tired to drive around looking for a tiny grey box in the grass on the side of the road. So if you see a camera out near Clear Spring, Maryland, please contact me. I hope a cow didn't eat it.

I have a break from racing for the next few weeks, then the Tour of Washington County (which I'm pretty sure will be my last race as a cat. 4)!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Race Report: 2017 BikeJam Kelly Cup W4/5

Spoiler photo! Now you know how the story ends!
A Veloworks-Spokes Etc. teammate and I carpooled to the race and chatted on the way about how we planned to approach it. We decided to ride mostly defense, with her softening the field with attacks in the early stages then tucking in to protect me and lead me out to a glorious sprint victory. I called it a no-turn crit course as we pre-rode the course, because there were no turns except for a gentle chicane just past the finish line. The pavement was rough with a few major holes (one of which, I swear, I ran over on every single lap). The hazards were all well-marked, though, and nothing presented itself as particularly dangerous or crash-inducing. The final drag to the finish line was slightly uphill, but at a gradient so gentle I could take it easily in my big chainring. And the stretch just past the finish line had that right-left-right chicane around a park shelter then a downhill just steep enough you could really gather some speed.

Twenty-two women lined up at the start. We made note of the wheels we needed to mark--a rider from Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville who won the sprint at Jeff Cup and another from New York who took second at Carl Dolan. My teammate took off from the gun with just enough vigor to string the field out. They gave her space and she got a small gap right away. There weren't many individuals willing to put their noses in the wind to chase, and only a few teams showed up with more than one rider. My VWS comrade wasn't the only one who tried a solo attack, either; there were multiple women who casually floated off the front in the first half of the race.

In between attacks, the pack ran mostly at tea party pace. Digs from a few key players were enough to stretch the field but not break it. The woman from Blue Ridge that we'd marked at the beginning made a comment about how easy it felt--sort of boring! Hmm . . . Maybe the two of us can make things more interesting? With 7 laps to go, my teammate put in a genuine attack up the left side of the climb. I saw the woman from New York and the woman from Blue Ridge start to bridge up together. I knew I needed to mark that move, so I accelerated to get on their wheels. As I did, I looked back and saw that I had also gapped the field--this was it! This was the move! I shouted up the road that we had a gap and to go! go! go! The Blue Ridge rider heard me and dug in, and we both blew right by the other two. I caught her wheel and we accelerated down the back stretch. I heard "15 seconds!" on the next lap, and it grew from there. My breakaway companion asked if my teammate in the pack would disrupt the chase. "Oh yeah," I replied. VWS ladies have become pros at that this season!

As we took turns in the break, I was realizing that my companion was stronger than me. Her pulls were much harder than mine. Trying to match the speed she carried on her pulls was pushing me dangerously into the red. I started calculating my approach to the finish of the race. It was clear by 3 laps to go that first and second place were in our group; it was just a question of who could outwit and outride the other person. I started to ease off my pulls a little bit, trying to conserve some energy for the end. I allowed my struggle to show; I wanted to telegraph that she was stronger than me and I was doing my best. We took turns pulling the hill to the finish line, and I exaggerated my suffering on each subsequent round to project some weakness.

She took my bait and attacked me on the hill coming into the bell lap. I knew I needed to get back to her ASAP, because I didn't want a repeat of Bunny Hop where my breakaway companion completely rode me off her wheel. So I put in what was probably my biggest effort of the day and caught back on just as we started the downhill on the backside. She flicked her elbow for me to come around and take my turn. Haha! No. Don't think so. I just got the lead-out I was looking for.

I knew she was going to have to jump from the front, and she knew it too. It was my race to lose. She started her sprint near the barriers, but I was ready to accelerate with her. I followed her wheel and kept driving around her. I realized at that moment that I'd left it too late, stayed in her draft too long, and wasn't going to get all the way around her. I threw my bike at the line in a desperate (and kind of silly) attempt to get the win, but I did not. The race was already hers at that point and I came away second-best.

I played the game right, just left the sprint a little too late. Ah well. At least I got second in a different way this time! I think this was the first time I've been in a situation where I needed to time my sprint just right to win. I know if I had started my sprint just a little bit sooner, I would have come around her and won. I'm not sure where I should have started it, though, and how I'll know next time. Fortunately, I have this race video that I can review endlessly to obsess over how I could have done better!

I don't think the speed data from my Garmin is accurate. It seems a little high. It's based on the GPS file, not my speed/cadence sensor, because the wheels I was using don't have a magnet on them yet. This is my first try with using the fancy overlays for the data!

My VWS teammate won the field sprint to take third place and grab another double podium for the VWS ladies!

I'm grateful to be on a team where we can have fun with tactics and race plans in the women's 4/5 field--it makes the racing so interesting and fun!

As an aside, if you are reading this race report to decide whether or not you should race this course, I recommend it, especially if you are a beginner. The course isn't technical, the climb isn't steep, the roads are wide enough to move around through a pack, and the vibe is great. The only downside is the rough pavement, but it's not so rough that you need to worry about it; just stay relaxed and keep your head up and you'll be fine. The race (Kelly Cup) is part of a cycling festival (BikeJam) so it has a festival atmosphere with food trucks and an outdoor cafe and crafts and races for kids. Not many road races have an environment that encourages people to hang out and watch after their own race is done, but this one did. I stayed well after my race (the first of the day) to watch teammates race and to enjoy the vibe.