Monday, May 11, 2009

Berkeley Hills, post-mortem

I raced in this hilly road-race for the first time in 2007, and got dropped like usual back then. This year was very different for me. I was riding mainly in support of my Team Bicycle Trip teammates, and also used this race as an opportunity to learn from my power meter data.

Executive summary

The data I retrieved from my power meter after this race told me that these races aren't any harder than our team workouts. There are lots of brief power spikes, but lots of slower periods too that culminate in a lower workload than one might have expected. I crashed toward the end of the race (minor injuries only), but until that point I was staying near the front, even on the tough climbs that would have shelled me in the past, ready to chase down any threatening breaks.

Racing with a power meter

I have been using my PowerTap since last December, and it has been very helpful in helping me establish my "power profile." That has allowed me to better pace myself during hard climbs and such.

For instance, I already knew that the longest climbs at Berkeley were only about 2.5 to 4 minutes long, so I could then predict that I would be able to maintain at least my 5-minute power on them and even have some power in reserve. It turned out I needed that, because staying with these strong riders on the three big climbs, nicknamed "Mama Bear," Papa Bear" and "Baby Bear," pushed me to my limit... but, more importantly, not above it!

Another very nice aspect to knowing my power profile is that it kept me from overestimating my workload. Since I always seemed to get dropped in these long, hilly road-races in the past I was always nervous about pushing too hard and then getting dropped. Knowing where the line between working hard and working too hard lies gives me the confidence to know when I can push the pace or just "sit in" and try to conserve energy. My heart-rate monitor always painted a more bleak picture; it was always somewhat elevated in races, or maxed out, so I was always afraid I was just seconds away from "blowing up." Now I know better what I'm actually capable of, and the picture is always more reassuring when I use the power meter because the low Wattage numbers I often see remind me that it ain't all that bad.

I have also noticed an interesting discrepancy between how my heart-rate monitor and power meter calculate my calorie expenditures. In the past my heart-rate monitor would often report that I burned as much as 1,000 calories per hour in these races, while now I am seeing lower numbers from my power meter, more like 600 to 700 calories per hour... I'm still not sure why. Though much of that discrepancy might come from being a more efficient rider now, I also suspect that the heart-rate monitor does a better job of factoring in the energy burned from muscles other than the legs. Who knows.

So, in the end, racing with my power meter was very interesting and very helpful. I may start to use it in races more often.

The race as I saw it

OK, I can't help but add my own two-bits worth. The five of us on Team Bicycle Trip were arrayed against at least 12 riders from Morgan Stanley (with National and even World champions registered), 4 from VOS, 5 from Alto Velo/Webcor, and others. Since teammate Mark Edwards was the defending champion from last year, he wouldn't be able to sneak off unnoticed this time. So, outnumbered and "marked," we were definitely not in an easy spot. Yet we still somehow managed to pull off another spectacular win for Mark. How? By doing all those hard team workouts, and by being willing to sacrifice our own (hypothetical) placements, Mark could conserve energy for that final climb to the finish line after 54 miles of constant attacks from the others. We also had some potential winners with Geoff, Russ and Jim in the mix, so we didn't put all of our eggs in one basket.

I stayed near the front of the pack almost the entire race, on the watch for any attempts by other teams to initiate a break. Since we all knew that Mark would probably be the victor if he was in the lead group at the base of the final climb, we just had to make sure the lead pack stayed together, with him in it. The course does have some narrow, twisty sections that make it hard to see what's happening ahead and that can allow breaks to get away. But I saw Russ and Geoff at the front almost the entire race, so I stayed back just a bit behind them most of the time, moving up occasionally to maintain my place and conserve energy where possible. I am still one of the slower guys in anything but an all-out sprint, so I still have to be somewhat careful about overdoing it.

I did spot several attempts at breaks, one of them a solo rider, a few with two or three guys including Morgan Stanley and VOS, but none of these groups seemed to have much power and we quickly caught them all. I suspect that our team's strength also showed. I bet we prevented a lot of attacks simply by being there and looking strong as it's very unmotivating for the other teams when they can tell that we're all ready to go, even us sprinters!

With 46.69 miles behind me (out of 54), my race ended with a stupid crash. I thought it was from the pack veering to pass some riders dropped in the Women's race that started ahead of us, but apparently it was just due to some oxygen-starved rider in our pack who caused a ripple through the peloton that resulted in about five of us going down. I hit hard, but not too badly I guess, because all I suffered were some minor scrapes and my bike was almost untouched. Oops, forgot to mention my right knee; I could immediately tell that my race was over when I tried to stand up. It hurt and was really swollen just above the patella on the right side. I couldn't extend my leg or bend it. I'd have to pedal single-footed! I also worried that it might be like one of Bob's dangerous hematomas and I wanted to see the First Aid Nurse A.S.A.P.

Fortunately I got a ride back in the "SAG" wagon (thanks Darryl!) and was even able to watch my race finish, with Mark crossing the line, index-finger raised in victory! I whooped and hollered; How awesome to overcome all those hurdles and see him win again, and it made all our hard work worthwhile!

Today, the day after the race, I am happy to say that my knee is doing quite well and I will just be riding easy for a few days, icing the knee and taking ibuprofen, before getting back to the usual heavy lifting!

No comments: