Monday, November 8, 2010

Steve Heaton

Joseph Mendes Masters Districts Criterium Championship M40-44                      March 2nd 2010

“Rusty Crit”

I got the perfect warm up for a 45 min race. 20 mins on my trainer at the car then 4 laps on the course to assess conditions and was ready to go. Or so I thought. I rolled up to the line with 66 other guys and I hear “#556 your number is on wrong.” Oh no, that’s me! I went over to have it adjusted moments before the start.

              Feeling a little stressed at the moment

Bam……race starts and we take off and I can’t find my left pedal. I couldn’t clip into it for the life of me. I’m now feeling like a flounder. I know it’s been 6 years since my last criterium race, but come on. First my number, then I’m looking at getting dropped from the race as we roll off the line?

Rookie patrol!

Finally, “click” I’m in and sprint into a forward position as quick as possible. Instant attacks come from the pack as expected. I make sure to stay forward in the top 10 riders as much as possible. One minute I’m in 5th spot then the next I’m 15th. We go around and around and I look up at the start/finish clock and I see 30mins remaining. Plenty of time and I feel great.

Pointing out a barrier leading into start/finish

Testing the legs and staying hydrated

Next time around I hear “prime lap” and instinctively I set up for the move and go for it. This gives me the opportunity to test out my final (planned) move for the end of the race. The 2nd to last turn goes from a cross head wind leading into it followed by a tailwind coming out of it, then a 250 meter straight away to the final turn, a fast right turn and 70 meters to the finish line. Coming out of the final turn doesn’t leave much room to sprint all out so it’s best to be in first or second position coming out of the corner (35-37mph) then jump to hold them off. Going for the prime I jumped with 150 meters to the final corner with 2 guys coming after me. I was first through the turn, sprinted a few pedal strokes and got it. That felt pretty easy. I backed off and waited for the group while I imagined winning $1000 cash, a new car or trip to the Tour de France. After that move I’m feeling confident in my assessment of where I need to be for the finish. My pre-race plan (as scouted weeks before from knowing the roads, talking to friends who raced the course last year and reading weather reports to know wind direction and speed based on time of day) is playing out just as planned. Now all I have to do is be attentive and go with any threatening breakaways or hold a top 5-8 position until the finish (easier said than done). I look up at the finish clock. 5 laps to go!!!

Pressure is mounting. I get a bump here and there from riders being close in the corners or trying to stay out of the wind while coming up the side. I lose my position one minute then sprint forward to get back. 2 laps to go!!! The pace increases. Attacks from non-sprinters go off the front, but aren’t going anywhere today. We suck them back in with ease. DING, DING, DING ~~~ bell lap! Final time around. The person who crosses the line first is the District Champion. I’m about 6 back with time to move forward (I think?) The pace goes faster and faster as riders come from the sides to overtake us up front. 3 turns to go…….bump to my hip, bump to my arm from guys taking power moves to get into position in front of me. Now I’m 12 riders back (euahh - its getting crazy!) I have to get forward but I’m boxed in. 2 turns to go and I have riders on both sides leaning on me trying to take my line. Think about this for a moment. 3 single file lines of riders trying to merge into 1 line in a corner at an all out pace. I’m thinking “holy shit” and at the same time I keep pedaling hard, hold my position. Phew, I made it. Now I’m around 15 back (not looking good) 250 meters to the final turn. All riders in front of me are going as fast as possible on the right side of the road. I’m thinking the corner is a tight turn and we should be to the left like most of the other times during the race especially since we are going to take this turn faster than any other lap. I also noted earlier in the race when I took the inner line I skipped my back wheel from the double yellow painted line when crossing it at a 60 degree angle. It had an ever so slight rise from all the layers of thick paint. I decided to jump out of the draft to the left starting my sprint with 150 meters to the corner just like the earlier prime move. I did this for two reasons; one, so I could move forward, and two, to take a faster/safer line in the turn. I’m flying past guys. I look at the corner then over at the pack charging on the right. This is going to be tricky. Two intersecting lines totally committed to the corner. I start my turn, crossed the double yellow line and ~ skip, skip goes my back wheel, ~ a slight hesitation but I stay on the gas pedal. Now I’m 10 back and frustrated knowing the win is not possible. I sprint to the line passing guys in an attempt to limit my loss. Half way to the line I see first and second are together with a gap then third and fourth together and me charging around them digging deep to overtake them at the line but ran out of road. 5th place.

Vladan and me discussing post race

A good day of racing!

Race Around Lake Tahoe - 72 miles Sept 25th 2010

My race reports are usually focused on just me since I’m currently on a team with no riders in my category and I therefore race solo. The race I’m about to describe is all about the team, “Team Norton.” Strategy and tactics are very different when racing as team vs. alone so it’s a different tale of my race experience in this report. Team mate John Pollard asked me to race with guys from Symantec, where he works and also our team’s main sponsor. I was told it was all about teamwork! I was excited for the opportunity to support the team’s efforts in the Race around Lake Tahoe. When I think of Lake Tahoe, I think of big climbs and lots of pain. I thought it was a climber’s race until I discovered the hills are small, short and not very steep. The course is mostly flat roads mixed with rolling hills us non climber type’s love. We didn’t have a single climber on the team which I think would be of little use in this race if any. Not to say it was easy, just that it requires riders with legs like Ben (check out that bazooka leg in photo on far right.) Before going into the race dynamics I’m going to give a snapshot on each team member.

Morning just before the start “Team Norton”

From left to right (Steve, Ryan, Enrique, Pablo, John, Chris, Jake, Ben)

Team Captain “Big Ring” Enrique can be found riding in his big chain ring even when he shouldn’t be. Ryan “Ryno” was by our count the largest competitor in the race at 210lbs and is capable of charging like a RynO. Chris “Wood” short for Hollywood. He looks like the guy you see in magazines (tan and buff Pro racer guy.) John “The Pollinator” always in the right place at the right time keeping us hydrated by grabbing water bottles from feed motorcycles passing by then handing to teammates and closing gaps. Ben “Bazooka” has monster legs and so smooth I could never tell if he was feeling good or hurting. Jake “The Bullet” has a turn of speed impressive to watch and a challenge to stay with when the trigger is pulled. He knows how to use it in time of need. Pablo “El Matador” is passionate, strong, focused and committed to conquering our goals. Found mostly in front pulling like a raging bull. Steve (me) “The Heater” trading pulls on the front with El Matador, on climbs providing energy assist to those in need, bottle feeder and camera man.

We arrived the day before with time to pre-ride the first climb and the goal of opening our legs a little. Not a long or hard ride, just enough to open up the arteries and let the muscles know pain is on the horizon. It was also the first time to ride with the team before the race. After the ride we dialed in our bikes and discussed strategy etc. The goal set by Enrique was to finish as a group 5mins faster than the training session a few weeks back. Our time to beat was 3hrs 20mins.

4:45am “Beep Beep” it’s time to get up. 6:40am and 35 deg we rolled to the start line and waited for the man walking around us with a shotgun to send us off. 7am BAM the race is on. We start on a slight climb for a few minutes then into S. Lake Tahoe. Over the top I look back and we are missing a few guys??? Someone tells me he thinks one of our guys got a flat. What the hell? I look back 500m and I can’t see them. I look forward and the pack is charging away at 30mph. I look back again and can’t see anyone. I look forward and the pack is gone. Focusing on remaining calm, I stopped. Then a few moments later I see them coming fast.

Making contact with back of group

Jake leading the charge!!! I jumped as hard as possible so not to get dropped as they fly past. I worked my way to the front to give Jake a chance to recover. I’m not going to let us get dropped at the beginning and turned on the heat. Once we get the pack back in sight Pablo finished it off. I don’t know what the rest of the guys were thinking at that moment but I knew we had a solid group of guys and this was going to be fun. The race was on and I was amped! 

Enrique shortly after his mechanical and return to the pack

I was so excited from how well we responded to the pressure

After we recovered from our first test I communicated that we needed to move forward. Charging up the side I pulled the group to the front area tucking in where the pack fans out after the single file line about 15 riders from the front. It’s best to stay forward before the climb and get maximum wind protection. I look back and everyone is in contact. We had passed the second test. Everyone is focused and watching out for each other. In my head I’m thinking how cool this is racing with these guys. The road starts to narrow and other riders are moving forward to get ready for the climb and we lose a few positions. I see a guy moving forward. I point the guy out to Ryan and tell him to get in his draft and take the free ride forward. Sweet – he is now in a perfect spot for the climb. The first climb is a little steep and I know this is going to be tough as a group. We fell off the pace but remained calm and focused, knowing we have big engines to drive the pace on the flats and rollers.

Enrique &Chris riding all out for the climb into Emerald Bay

Ben Climbing out of Emerald Bay


Team together on climb out of Emerald Bay

Once over the top Pablo immediately went to the front and charged on, catching and passing other groups on the road. I joined in on the action. At one point we came upon a group and I saw a friend of mine from Santa Cruz (Jim Gentes – founder of Giro helmets.) He says, “Good, we need some fire power. This group is slowing.” I continued to push past them and noticed a bunch of climber types in the front (which explained Jim’s response.)

Efficiency – Team Norton – Beautiful sight to see!

Back of our Jersey

Pablo powers on and on!
Pablo committed to our success!

This was taken on a slight rise. Pablo pulling at 424watts 24.9mph

Pushing it on the flats with team in tow (see video)

Around the lake (couple hours into it) headed into the second climb Chris having an off day. He starts cramping and needs to drop off. 
Unfortunately not the moment but a nice picture of Chris in action – digging deep!

Ben looking smooth

A little into the final climb Ben says he is backing off and wants us to charge on. He said he will fight to bridge back later.

John keeping a close eye on our team Captain Enrique

Half way over the final climb the team is holding up well. Enrique gets a surge of energy and begins charging at the front.

Go man go!

Don’t forget to look at the scenery

Picture from the bike cresting the final climb

Ryan hanging tough on Jake’s wheel

Everyone is in the groove, focused on our mission to finish the race under 3hrs 20mins. I don’t know the course but by looking around I can tell we are on good pace. I’m feeling really strong and motivated and so is the rest of the team.

               The camera man

                                                                           Lake view

On the 2 lane hwy. descent into South Lake Tahoe Pablo and Enrique crank it up to speeds reaching 50mph (please don’t tell my wife!) After setting into a comfortable 45+mph I took my turn. We had the right lane and traffic had the left. A quarter mile down the road I see our lane has cones to merge cars to the left lane so we could use the right lane safely. As we approach (100 meters) a black SUV is pulling out of a side road and stops, blocking our entry to the coned off area. I can’t see the driver or tell if it will pull out or not. I have to decide left or right (I’m responsible for making the decision.) The safety of everyone is in my hands. If we go right the car has to pull out. If it doesn’t we are sure to get seriously hurt. If we go to the left lane the car has to stay stopped or we will get seriously hurt. I remain calm, listen for anyone yelling out “car back”…… (It’s very difficult to hear at 45mph with wind blowing past your ears) and decide we must go left and take the lane. Thankfully, the car didn’t move. Thankfully, it worked out fine but was a moment not to forget. No hesitation to our team and off we went descending to the finish. I could smell the finish line and started to turn up the heat! “Gap - Gap” a reminder for me to ease up a little (I feel like a meteor passing in the night sky) “Gap – Gap” again I need to calm down! So I pull off and let Pablo set the pace. I get it together and assist in the action along with Ryan, Enrique, and Jake. Next thing I see is a group of riders half way between us and the finish. Go Heater GO yells our team captain and I jump for the line 400 meters out, blowing by that group with a wide open sprint to the finish line at 40mph. What a rush.

We not only reached our goal we blew it away by 9mins with a final time of 3hrs 11mins.

Ben, after dropping off and riding in solo was able to charge back to finish in 3hr 20mins reaching our goal. Hat’s off to you Ben for knowing your limits. Chris, who cramped much earlier never gave up and finished 3hrs 51mins solo. I know intimately what it’s like to cramp in a race. It’s very easy in that situation to just give up and crawl to the finish. Chris pushed his body beyond his physical limits that day. I fully respect you for your drive under extreme internal physical pressure.

In closing I would like to express my deep satisfaction with how we as a team pulled together with strategy, focus, drive, commitment, passion, respect and a great attitude. I also want to thank Enrique for making it happen and adding to my short list of most memorable experiences. This year has been packed full of excitement and adventure on the bike beyond what I planned. After 18yrs competing on the bike I sometimes wonder how it is I keep discovering new highs. For me cycling isn’t just about racing the bike. It’s about staying in great shape physically, racing when the time is right, having fun, not taking it too seriously, striving for life balance as much as possible, sharing my experiences with others and making great friends along the way.

Until next time

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday Night Racing, Hellyer Park, 9/21

By Dennis Pedersen

The slightly chilly air and gorgeous sunset at the velodrome were apropos for the last Hellyer track race of 2010. I signed up for the "B" (Cat 3/4) races.

Scratch Race (25 laps)

This crit-style race was somewhat uneventful and slow, though a Tieni Duro junior did attack a little while I mostly sat in. I was bummed at the finish though, as the lap card still read "1" as we rounded turn 4. I'd heard the bell but wasn't sure which one to believe. Still, three guys had jumped around me while I was at the front in turn 1 on the last lap, but I was able to at least follow them for 4th place. "Garret," (UC Davis) won.

Points Race (54 laps)

These are my favorite, as the many scored sprints are perfect training and invite constant, exciting attacks. Points were awarded every six laps, with 5, 3, 2, 1 points for 1st through 4th place; highest points total is the winner. The high lap-count brought out a few groans, including from me. 18 kilometers is practically a marathon for a sprinter! At first I sat in for the long haul but picked up a few points in the first two sprints as I found myself well-positioned. In the third sprint I was 1st with a big, 50-meter gap. Yippee! Even though I slowed afterward nobody closed in. So, I figured they were tired and... attacked! I soloed for 1st in the fourth and fifth sprints for max points. But finally they caught me and I sat in to rest.

The pace slowed way down after that, with me soft-pedaling at the front. Then Garret attacked around me... I waited but nobody followed. Soon he was a half lap ahead. Garret took the 1st-place points in the sixth sprint, with me in 2nd, and I again opened a big gap ahead of the pack. It was time for me to leave them again as we were in danger of being lapped by Garret, which would net him 20 bonus points. I maintained my place ahead of the pack, except for the Tieni Duro junior's dad who bridged up to me. We pacelined a bit but got caught.

After the seventh sprint (I took 2nd place points) I took off yet again. I was still leading in points, but each sprint gave Garret more points. Soon he lapped the field behind me and started gaining on me, though the slightly dim light fooled me at first and I thought it was somebody else. With 3 laps to go he caught me (darn, it was Garret) and I dropped in behind him. He stopped pulling and soon we were jockeying for position. With 1/2 lap to go I was just behind him and slightly up the banking. He crowded me a little toward the rail, I half-jumped wobbily, he dropped down fast into turn 3 and I followed him furiously out of turn 4 to win the last sprint, our ninth, by just inches. I got 2nd place overall, in my most fun track race so far.

What a great way to finish the race season! The 2011 track races start in March, but there will be various training sessions, including Beginner Sessions on Saturdays, throughout the winter (check their calendar). See you there, I hope!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Everest Challenge Stage Race

September 25/26 2010

By Mark Edwards


"Hi Mark, it's Scott, I've got a question for you. I'm considering attempting the Everest Challenge in 2011 and was wondering if you'd help me with a training plan to prepare?"

"Sure! That's a great race for you, it'll be fun putting together a training plan….(long pause)… I've got an idea. We're both in great end of season shape, why don't we do it this year for reconnaissance? There'd be no pressure, and we'd have the experience to help us build a better plan for 2011."

And so it started. Less than four weeks, with no specific preparation, before the "The undisputed, hardest 2-day USA Cycling Race" Scott and I embarked on my less than well thought out plan to race the Everest Challenge. For those not familiar, the Everest Challenge is a two day stage race covering 208 miles, 29,035' of vertical gain all between 4,000' and 10,000'+ elevation. And of course, both days would turn out to meet or exceed the maximum recorded temperatures for September 25/26 in Bishop California. 100 degrees most of Saturday, and high 90’s Sunday.

We quickly signed up (non-refundable), booked our hotel room, and panicked! Committed, we got to work doing what we could with just over three weeks until the start. Our fitness was already excellent, so there wasn't a lot to do there, but mentally we needed to do what we could. We both signed up for the Fremont Peak and Mt. Tam hill climbs. Insignificant climbs compared to what we'd be facing, but strong finishes for both of us boosted our confidence that we were climbing well.

The three weeks flew by and we were in the car for our 7 hour trip before we knew it. Crossing the Sierras via Tioga Pass was beautiful, I think… We were pretty darn nervous and talked non-stop attempting to assure ourselves we were ready for the challenge ahead, I'm certain I missed most of the amazing views. Fueling my doubt was the fact that I haven't ridden 100 miles in about 3 years, and I've never raced two days back to back. It's also worth noting that I'm not too keen on really long rides/events. I've only done one, The Death Ride, and swore I'd never try anything like that again. I rank that ride as my most painful experience ever on a bike. Well… it only took 7 years for the pain to fade enough for me to sign up for my second high Sierra suffer fest.

After checking into the hotel, we headed to the County Fairgrounds to sign in, get final instructions, and enjoy a huge pre-race pasta feed. This year's 45+ group was over three times the size of last year's. Scott and I knew several of the racers and enjoyed comparing notes with other racers that had been preparing all season for this race. We got a lot of good tips.

We were the second to last group to start. With the official wishing us luck; we took off at 7:30 AM. Our start time had been pushed back because of the large turnout, this kept our group to a more reasonable 62 guys, but the later start also put us deeper into the day’s forecast heat wave. With 8 miles to the first climb, the pace was brisk, but not hard. At least it wouldn't be hard for a 50 mile race at sea level. As we started to ascend the first 22 mile 6,000' climb the "players" came to the front. I knew several of the guys I expected would finish in the top 10, so it made my pacing pretty straight forward. I needed to go with the leaders and hope I could hang on. The majority of the group didn't have it quite so easy. Sure, in the first 15 miles pretty much everyone could hang on, but probably shouldn't have. So, how do you know when to back off when you've got 100 miles of major climbs in 100 degree heat ahead of you? I don't know the answer to this, and obviously very few others knew the answer either. The ground work for a whole bunch of suffering was being laid in the first hour.

The group thinned drastically to about 8 of us in the first hour. In 90 minutes we were down to 5. At about the three hour mark two riders gapped the three of us. Shortly thereafter my two companions gapped me with their repeated surges. We were 3/4 of the way up the second big climb of the day and I was thinking about the final 6,000' climb. I kept a steady pace and my companions never got more than about a 100 meter gap. As they dueled with each other I hung back and spun nice and steady. Near the summit one of the riders, Carl Neilson, broke and now we were three individuals just trying to survive. I pulled back Carl just as we crested and hoped we'd work together to pull back the third guy (last year's second place finisher). Over the top I punched it and got as low and aero as I could. After a few minutes I looked back for some help and found I'd dropped my friend. Carl lost about a minute to me on the descent, and I was able to pull back the guy that I was chasing. The timing was perfect as we hit a long flat stretch working together. He was extremely strong and we gained a few more minutes on Carl before the final climb.

Up the final climb I was pretty certain my new companion was stronger than me. I held on as long as I felt I could, then I let him slip away. I kept a steady pace and could see he was trying to increase the gap between us. Surprisingly, his repeated efforts to increase the 100 meter gap he held for about an hour, started to shrink. He had blown himself up and would lose four minutes to me by the finish.

At 15 KM there was an orange cone marker. Oh good… only nine more miles of 8% climbing! I'd been racing for nearly six hours in 100 degree heat, 9 more miles of steady climbing was almost more than I could bear.

Somehow I made it to the 3 KM marker. There was a slight easing of the grade, only to be followed by a seemingly endless string of 18% stair steps. This was cruel beyond belief. I had absolutely nothing left in my legs. Basically the weight of my legs was all I could muster on the pedals; I couldn't add any force what-so-ever. At this point, I had no interest in racing; I just wanted it to be over. I didn't care if everyone caught and passed me, I just needed the pain to stop.

The Stage 1 finish line came into view on a short flat section. I temporarily regained my race mind and sprinted (at maybe 8 mph) to gain every second possible. As this was a stage race, I was concerned with my time, not something that factors into the road races I typically do. So, for my effort, I maybe gained 3 seconds. Finishing time Stage 1 – 6 hours 39 minutes.

The race organizer had laid out a very impressive spread for us. Tents, tables, grills, chairs, and a staff waiting on us hand and foot. Two types of quesa dias, PBJs, all kinds of cookies, fruit, and chips. Chicken soup, vegetable soup, and at least 6 kinds of recovery drinks. Relaxing in the thin 10,000’ air, I did my best to replace the massive calories it took to reach the finish.

Scott rolled in looking as tired as I felt. After he’d had the chance to eat and rest a bit, we hoped back on the bikes for the twenty miles back to the car. Once in the car we immediately started complaining, everything hurt (it would be easier to list the body parts that didn’t hurt – if I could think of any), how the heck were we supposed to do this again ten hours from now?

After a mostly sleepless night, we hobbled around the hotel room until we could stand straight, then we drove the 20 miles for the Stage 2 start. At the sign in for Stage 2 we got the results from Stage 1, I was in third. 2 minutes behind second place, and 4 minutes ahead of forth place. How’d that happen? Pretty cool! I had no expectations going in, so finding myself somewhat comfortably on the podium temporarily distracted me from the anxiety of the coming day’s racing.

Stage two would include almost no flat riding. Being on the larger side of the top climbers, I had made up a lot of time on the flats during Stage 1. Today I’d have far fewer chances. The only flat section was the out and back 2 miles to the first climb. At the gun, a big guy went to the front and drilled it. Sore, stiff, and not warmed up, I couldn’t believe how hard this guy was going. Not two minutes into what was to be another very long day and I was already hurting. I was hoping that once we started the climb things would calm down and I could catch a little rest.

Yea…right… My buddy Carl, who was sitting in 5th place 9 minutes behind me, had other ideas. As soon as the road pitched up, Carl punched it. He attacked this 9 mile 8% grade like it was the entire race. 6 miles into the race and he’d passed almost the entire 35+ field that started 5 minutes ahead of us, Carl was on fire. We were down to 8 guys and I had a bad feeling. I decided to back off and let the leaders go. These climbs are long, straight, and steep. I could watch my lead group dwindle for nearly the entire climb.

Near the top there was an unexpected flat mile to the turn around. I got into time trial mode and pulled back a little time. The descent was safe, but scary fast. I was with three 35+ guys who were trying to catch their leaders as I was trying to catch mine. 59.5 MPH. I caught Carl at the base, he’d faded near the top and the six leaders had pulled away. Back on the 2 mile flat section Carl and I were with about four 35+ guys (they actually instructed us at the start that it was legal to race/draft any one from any group). So Carl and I got right in there with the 35+ guys. Starting the second climb Carl had recovered and once again got to work drilling the pace. Unfortunately, he’d left too much on the first climb and soon dropped back. This was the easiest grade at 5% and suited me well. I picked things up and caught/passed a couple more of the guys shed from the lead group.

There were four guys ahead of me, but I was primarily concerned with just one. The guy four minutes back in forth place. It was obvious that the first and second place guys were a step above me in fitness, and too far ahead to catch. And Carl, who started the day 9 minutes back had lost several more minutes already and wasn’t likely to make it up. I wasn’t sure where the forth guy was, but he had to be at least 9 minutes back (turns out he was ~18 minutes back). I just needed to keep the forth place guy close to protect my podium place.

As I approached the turn around I was watching carefully for the forth place guy. You can’t see the numbers on guys coming at you at 35 mph, and even though we were catching dozens of slower riders from earlier groups, they all go downhill pretty fast. It was hard to recognize who was who. Finally, there he was. I looked at my watch, it was 45 seconds to the turn around, he was roughly 60 seconds ahead of me.

Skipping the feed, I accelerated through the turn. Up to speed quickly, I tucked for the long descent. A 35+ rider came by really working it. I had used all the descents to rest, but hey, if this guy wants to fry himself pedaling like crazy down the hill, I’ll gladly sit in his draft. He collected about 4 of us willing to let him do all the work when a tandem flew by a good 5 mph faster. Finally, the acceleration that serves me so well in local road races, but is pretty much useless in an epic endurance race like Everest, was put to use. I jumped and caught the tandem’s wheel; none of my companions could make it across.

Talk about fun, it was like motor pacing. Unfortunately, I only got to enjoy the ride for about a mile. The third and final climb was starting, and the tandem wasn’t going to be any help there. As I rounded the corner to start the climb, there was the forth place guy, about 100 meters ahead.

Whew! At this point I’d pretty much had my fill of racing. With the forth place guy in sight I figured I just needed to keep him close. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I knew it wasn’t likely he’d drop me and take four minutes out of me. So, I settled into a comfortable pace and made sure I drank and ate.

As we approached the halfway mark it was obvious my companion was fried. His pace had slowed enough that I was starting to be concerned about the mystery rider up ahead. There was no doubt I’d beat my companion, but was I losing enough time to the mystery guy that I might lose my third place finish? About this time a young Cat 3 came bounding by me. The guy looked like he’d parked his car a mile back and just got on his bike. Light on his pedals, he danced past us. Once again I called on my acceleration and crossed the gap quickly. Dropping the forth place guy and a 35+ guy that was with us for good.

The Cat 3, who actually had started 10 minutes ahead of us, had won the Cat 4 at Fremont Peak and Mt. Tam this year to upgrade to Cat 3. He was all of 137 pounds and clearly has a future in bike racing. We worked together drilling the small rollers midway through this final climb to 10,000’. Every time the road stepped up, he’d punch it and drop me, then I’d crawl back, just in time for him to punch it again. No respect for his elder what-so-ever.

Once through the rollers the road pitched up at a steady 8%. I pulled my torturer back one final time, as he exclaimed “I’m done” and dropped back – That felt good ;-) With about 3 KM to go I figured we had easily closed the gap to the mystery rider and my position was safe. I cruised in the final 10 minutes thinking about all the food waiting at the finish, and how amazingly happy I was to have survived such a brutal race. Stage 2 finishing time – 5 hours 5 minutes.

Am I happy I did it? Yes. I’ll be reliving these memories and telling stories for years. Would I do it again? Not likely. I much prefer the shorter more intense races. But, from this experience, I have an even greater respect for those riders/racers that seek out these epic challenges. More power to them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Friday Night Track Racing, Hellyer Park Velodrome, September 17th

By Dennis Pedersen

The NCVA race calendar for the Hellyer Park Velodrome includes Tuesday-night races, as well as many Wednesday and Friday nights. The September Friday-night races were held under USA Cycling permits, and were for Category 4 and higher racers only, so we were required to bring our race licenses and adhere to our categories. I was recently upgraded to a Cat 4 track racer so I was able to enter the Cat 3/4 race.

I was very impressed with the production value of the Friday night races. They somehow managed to get enough sponsors that they could provide a DJ, several USAC officials, a video crew, a cool poster and even free food and beer! A really neat atmosphere that gave me a sense of what the old 6-Day-Race scene must have been like. My teammate Nils was there soaking up the vibe, and free goodies, while I tried to warm up and focus a bit. I entered just the basic "omnium" event, which was still a huge chunk of high-intensity racing.

1-mile Scratch Race
This one was a bit scary; just five 1/3 km laps of all-out attacking (actually just a bit over 1 mile). I started at the back, which became standard for me on this night because we racers got called up suddenly, in quick succession, with very little warning. Ken Sato (Cal Giant) and I just used this as warm-up and I finished mid-pack.

25-lap Scratch Race
The usual fun, criterium-style race, which I again started near the back. I finished nearer the front this time, but not impressively. I am certainly still just a new Cat 4 racing against more-experienced Cat 3 racers.

30-lap Points Race
Lots of exciting action, with attacks everywhere. The sprints for points every fifth lap really keep the action non-stop and each sprint seemed to be followed with breakaway attempts that we had to chase down. I started out well-positioned this time and almost took one of the sprints after taking a solo flyer for almost 2 laps, but got caught. I was just happy to be able to follow as they flew by me. Ken did say he thought I positioned myself very well, though I'm not sure I even got any points to show for it. But I was always near the front and my consistency is promising for the future.

10-lap Miss-and-Out Race
A first for me, these races are decided by eliminating the last-place rider on each lap until just three riders remain, and they duke it out for another final lap (usually; the format can vary). I almost missed the start, had trouble clicking in (I didn't even get to hold onto the rail and worried I'd get DQ'd before even starting!) and had to chase a bit. I kept staying near the rear to save energy as the pace was consistently very fast, but was careful to not be last. Then, on about the fifth lap (my last lap it turned out), I passed two guys who were up against the rail so I thought I was safe... they struck by accellerating down the banking out of turn 4 and passed me at the line! "Number 556" the announcer called and I was officially out.

Oh well. Nils, Lauren and I watched some of the other races while snacking, including the "Hellyer Crawl," which was a hilariously confusing race where on some laps they tried to be last across the start line and first on others. Plus they had a fun "Kiddie Kilo" for the youngsters; one lap on the banked oval riding anything with wheels... so cute!

These track races have a very different feel from a road race, or even a criterium, with more adrenaline, tatoos and lactic-acid. It reminds me of the downhill mountain-bike racing scene vs. cross-country. Man, I sure did have fun and am looking forward to the 2011 track racing season. Also, I am planning on attending some of the training sessions during the winter and if any of you are interested in going with me feel free to ask.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fremont Peak Hill Climb 55+ 1/2/3

Fremont Peak Hill Climb 55+ 1/2/3s
September 12, 2010
By Jim Langley

This year was completely different than last with much smaller groups in every category and a much more low-key feel. I rode in the 55+ 1/2/3's which started in wave 3 with the 45+ 4's and the 35+ 4/5's (I think that's right). I think we had less than 30 people all combined.

The pace for the first 3 miles was actually slower than our warmup and I just sat in waiting for something to happen. After awhile, teammate Tim Sawyer (in the 45+) went to the front and took it up a notch and as the climb steepened the group started to shrink.

I came off the back about halfway up the climb. I just felt the pace was a little fast and I didn't want to die since I knew the really steep parts were still to come. I tried to hold a good, hard L4 effort like our training rides up Bonny Doon.

Two guys in my race went up the road but I decided to let them go and hoped I'd be able to reel them in with my pacing. Luckily, that's exactly what happened. As I got a couple miles from the finish I passed the first guy and then the other a little later. There was still some tough climbing to get over but I had just enough left to get over it and managed to catch up with Tim just as we got to the nice section leading into the finishline. It was a fun finish crossing the line right behind a teammate urging him on to tow me faster and faster.

I won my event and Tim got second in his. Scott Martin was 5th. Mark finished second in the 45+ 1/2/3 and Geoff got 6th. For our efforts we got the sweet pint glass shown, plus cash prizes. Nice. If you're looking for a really fun event for next year's race schedule, this is it. The only bad part is that they messed up our times significantly so we can't go by that for next year. But, in a group event you're not racing for time anyway, so it doesn't matter that much.

Tuesday Night Racing, Hellyer Park

By Dennis Pedersen

After racing several times on the rental track bicycles at Hellyer Park's velodrome (banked oval track) in south San Jose, I am happy to say I now have my very own brand new Felt TK2 track bike, thanks to Aaron at Bicycle Trip! I have wasted no time putting it to use, and I raced it last Tuesday night for the first time. The bike, and my races, went very well and I had a lot of fun.

The velodrome was very nicely rennovated a couple of years ago, much nicer than ever before. Larry Nolan runs the September Tuesday night races and we make full use of the stadium lights as the sun sets before the races start.

For $12 I get a bunch of sprint tactics lessons and a great workout. I self-selected the "B" races again, as in my other recent races, but probably needed to enter the "C" races (for Category 4/5s), as the September Tuesday night races are USA Cycling races and I'm still officially Cat 5 on the track... being Cat 3 on the road doesn't qualify... oops.

B Scratch Race

This was a 25-lap race (1/3 km each lap), like any criterium but on the oval track. We started by holding onto the rail along the top of the banked track, and rode off with the usual pacelining. Then we had a few attacks by a Tieni Duro Junior. But we chased him down smoothly every time and in the end he faded and we sprinters won. But I'd timed my efforts and position wrong so while I passed some guys I was too far back to pass the two leaders and took 3rd.

B Points Race

This is a race where we get points for our finishing position every 5 laps, for 35 laps total, like seven 5-lap races; the guy with most points wins. So it's usually sprint, recover, sprint... etc. But endurance guys can do well by keeping the pace high between sprint laps. We had lots of sprints in the first half, I took a 1st and some other points, but then the Tieni Duro Junior attacked as we gasped. I had just sprinted and pulled at the front, so I couldn't chase. It became a 2-man break when the Tieni Duro Junior was joined by one guy and they worked together. The pack splintered and only 3 of us could chase. But... one was another Tieni Duro rider (the junior's dad it turned out!). So me and "Jeff" (Metromint) tried to drop dad. We had different ideas on how to do this so it didn't work. After a big pull that maxed me out I told Jeff to go for it, but then discovered I had just enough energy to draft them and sprinted for the 3rd-place points on the last lap. Not sure what place I took yet as I didn't see the results.

A few special things to bring:
  • Amber sunglass lenses for the twilight.
  • Some light snacks, maybe some food for dinner afterward.
  • Your own pedals and shoes, and tools and tape measure if renting a bike (you should have your saddle height, reach etc. measured and written down so you can easily replicate your usual riding position on the rental bike).
  • Trainer for warmup (it's hard to spin just right with only one gear).
After yacking a bit I got home by 10:00. All in all it was a great way to break in my new bike and race on a weekday night under the stadium lights of the beautiful velodrome!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"I Can't Do A Wheelie": A Giro di San Francisco p/1/2 race report

by Nils Tikkanen

Like a victim in an abusive relationship, I come back to this sadistic race every year. The pavement keeps getting worse, and its end-of-season nature raises the stakes and thus brings out some pretty fierce and somewhat questionable bike handling. This years, the Giro di SF would really get the best of me.

I had nerves while warming up, and I could feel it in my stomach (I'm sure the massive Dim Sum brunch at Yank Sing did nothing to alleviate that feeling). I hoped this feeling would vanish when the whistle blew. I had a great race at CCCX #2 two days earlier and was hoping to end the season well; that said, I was humbled at Vacaville the prior weekend but was hoping that my experience there would help me perform better this weekend.

The first three laps or so, I felt very comfortable, and managed to stay comfortable and keep myself in a good position. I was feeling surprisingly good, and looking forward to a strong, smart race. Then another lap came, and it would be another time over the abysmal pavement on the downhill + tailwind back stretch of the course. But as it turns out, it would be only one more time.

I hit some especially evil pavement, and then I remember the sensation that my front wheel had come off the ground...except that I was going towards the pavement and had lost complete control of my bike. I was more surprised and confused than anything else. I went forward and left, hitting my palm, then flipped over and slid on my right arm. It felt slow motion, but the guy behind me (who fortunately got around without incident) later said it looked almost instantaneous.

When I gratefully realized my collarbone was intact and went to collect my bike and survey the damage, it was immediately apparent what caused the crash:

It's hard to control your bike when the wheel's no longer attached.

Damage report:
* totalled frame
* two cracked Zipp 808 tubulars
* mangled handlebars
* road rash on my left palm and most of my right arm and shoulder

Given the nature of the crash, I'm lucky to not have broken anything. I'll have a new bike soon, but I think my season's now officially over.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giro di San Francisco, 45+ 1/2/3

By Dennis Pedersen

I've raced this 6-corner criterium three years now and really enjoy the location in San Francisco's financial district, right next to the water front. It has a small hill on the course, which is a bonus for a small guy like me, and Margaret and I usually get together with friends afterward and have a nice dinner too, so it's a great way to end the regular season.

As in the past, the weather was gorgeous, almost too warm even, at about 80 degrees. 53 of us Masters lined up at the start line on Battery Street for the 21-lap race (16 miles, in about 35 minutes). The guy directly in front of me was standing next to his bike when the whistle blew, so I had to work a bit for the first couple of laps to get to the front of the pack.

The pace was fairly hard, but I was not in the "hurt locker." The pace went high a few times, and slowed a few times, so I was able to ride well. Hunter Ziesing (Zteam) and another guy (on the Safeway team I think) went on a breakaway but were caught later. There was another break too that was also caught. I mostly just sat in near the front and ignored the prime sprints, but watched a few key riders.

I'm happy to say the race was otherwise fairly uneventful, and only with about 3 laps remaining did a fast surge make things a bit sketchy, with one rider unclipping from his pedal and nearly going down in turn 6. Nobody crashed that I know of, and I broke my 3-race streak of flatting!

On the last couple of laps the pace got pretty slow, to the point where I could almost breath easy, but then the "1" displayed on the big digital lap counter, and off we went for the finishing sprint! Up the small hill on Vallejo Street, down Sansome into the headwind... then more hesitation as guys watched to see who'd lead the sprint out through the last two turns.

In retrospect I know I should have seized the moment to attack there, or at least moved a bit further up, but I didn't. Instead I moved up cautiously and held about 10th place on the inside with two turns to go. Then a big guy moved up even further inside, to my right, bumped me enough to make my bars wobble, and squeezed me back. I lost several places and that put me too far back to contest the sprint, though I did my best and passed a couple of guys on the finishing straight. I finished in 14th; not what I'd hoped for. My friend Chris took 5th. Our average speed was somewhere around 27 mph, but it hadn't felt that fast; I guess I'm getting more fit.

But I got a great consolation prize: Vladan and Dragitsa joined us for a great end-of-season lunch at the nearby Gordon Biersch brew-pub. I had a buffalo burger with garlic fries and a schwartzbier, at one their outdoor tables. That was so perfect!

Monday, August 30, 2010

NCNCA District Championship Criterium 1/2/3

What a change from last year. The Vacaville Grand Prix is a technical asymmetrical figure-8 of a course with little chance of respite: one of the loops is a rapid succession of left-right-right-right-left, the other has a short climb that proves to be the doom of many a racer. Last year, as a Cat 3, I felt extremely capable on this course, using the hill to gain position, and placing a solid 5th (which would have been 4th had I sprinted for the finish line instead of the crosswalk immediately before it--oops). This year, I raced the championships 1/2/3 field (read: you get a fancy jersey if you win), and it was something else entirely. Notes follow:

First: 120 starters. I've never ridden a crit with more than 75 starters. Holding and gaining position in a larger race with more experienced racers, with lots at stake would be a special kind of challenge for me...sort of like trying to move a brick wall by running into it at high speeds. (Or a golf cart, but more on that later.) Second: An incredibly strong fielding by a team sponsored by a certain inferior search engine whose name shall remain anonymous. Third: End of season legs. I've been in a fitness slough since mid-August, and those long autumn rides with apple pie stops are looking mighty fun right about now.

I get to the line a bit late and end up towards the back, but that's OK. In a moment of absolute pro-ness, a bunch of people tried to start early. To the dismay of those of us who knew better, they weren't relegated to the back nor were they asked to replace their helmets with dunce caps. Alas. Soon, the whistle blows, and we're off.

With the exception of a few moments of easing up, the race went from hard to harder to "%@#! my legs are not happy today" levels of unpleasantness. I remember thinking about my great plans to use the climb to gain position, and realizing with almost a sense of amusement the ludicrousness of this strategy in the 1/2/3 field. It was challenging to just stay attached--with each lap, a few more riders met the end of their race on this somewhat innocent looking 30-second effort.

With 13 laps to go out of 33, I became one of them. I went into desperation TT mode and attempted to catch back on, but realized my efforts were in vain. I pedaled through another lap and then heard the "you're pulled" whistle of sweet, sweet release. I ended up placed at 66th, and was even surprised to see a number next to my name instead of a "DN[PF]".

A few random notes:
* Golf carts in the exiting line of a corner turn bike racers into veritable ninjas.
* Lessons learned: Perhaps I spent too much effort initially trying to move up. I should have waited for attrition to shrink the field before working on positioning.
* Thanks to the anonymous rider who gave me a half-bottle of that delicious Clif sports drink. I'll pay that one forward.

Monday, August 23, 2010

University Road Race Pro 1/2

By Mark Edwards

“I’ve never worked so hard to place so low” Scott proclaimed as I walked towards him after his race. Yea… I know how you feel…

This year was to be my 8th time racing the University road race. Each year I’ve done a little better, culminating with my 2nd place finish in 2009. This year, I trained harder than ever and hoped to be competitive for the win. Until, that is, about a month ago when I discovered that VeloPromo had dropped the 45+ 1,2,3 race for 2010.

Now, I understand as well as anyone that bike racing is by category. If you’re a 70 year old Cat 2 you should be able to race a 22 year old Cat 2. If you can’t, you should downgrade. But, its hard work upgrading, no one really relishes the thought of voluntarily dropping their category just because they’ve gotten a little older. So, most of us find ways to race smarter, handicapping with our advancing experience levels.

Most of the NCNCA race courses on the calendar provide ample opportunities for those of us more “senior” racers to exploit our hard earned devious equalizing tactics. But, not the University road race, this one’s unusual. No place to rest, no place to hide, ever. It’s “climb all out for 4.5 minutes, then work your butt off to stay on for the 2.5 minute descent before starting the climb again”.

Without the 45+ 1,2,3 available, I had the choice of the 35+ 1,2,3 or the Pro 1/2. I could likely get a top 6 out of the 35+, but top 3 would be impossible. Now, I’m not complaining, top 6 in such a tough group on such a tough course is something to be proud of. But, with my year long plan to go for victory out the window, I was having trouble willing myself to get psyched up to suffer the way this race requires with no chance of reaching the top podium spot.

So, what did I do? I walked up to the registration tent and said “Pro 1/2". Did that really just come out of my mouth? Oh well… its game on now. I had decided that, if a win is out of the question, why not jump in the deep end and see how long before the Lifeguards had to pull me out. So, off we went. A planned 20 laps, which works out to 60 miles and 7,000 vertical feet of climbing.

For the first time Nils and I would be racing together. I was really looking forward to having him there as a teammate in such a tough field. Nils is a fun racer to watch from the sidelines, racing with him promised to be even more fun.

The first half a dozen laps were fast, but manageable. They all felt well within what I do every week at the Team’s Wednesday hill repeat workout. But, instead of six minutes rest like in the workouts, we were spending two and a half minutes chasing to stay on wheels before the next climb started (University RR is a ~3 mile loop – you’re either going up or down the whole time). Nils and I stayed well positioned in the pack. A couple of times Nils went to the front for the final corner coming into the climb and created a little gap by flying through the corner. Like I said “fun to watch”.

The seventh lap was noticeably harder. A post race review showed an average power output of 433 watts for the climb. This pace would be far beyond almost all the top guys I normally race – even if they had fresh legs! Let alone on the seventh time up that hill. About 25% of the peloton was shed. Unfortunately, Nils was among the casualties.

The next two laps were similar to the first six. Fast, but well within what I was capable of. Then, once again, the stakes were raised on the tenth lap, summiting at 414 watts average. Hoping for a respite on the eleventh lap, I was to be sorely disappointed. A second consecutive 400+ watt lap proved too much for me. Painfully, I watch about 25 guys continue over the crest without me.

It was now time to go into time trial mode – for nine more laps! Not a very appealing thought considering I’d just popped and my legs felt it. I knew guys would continue to be shed from the lead group and hoped to find a few to work with. A good paceline can make the time go by much quicker. I was pulling back about one rider per lap, but each time I’d catch one in hopeful anticipation of working together, it was obvious the fight had gone from his legs. So, on I went looking for my next potential partner.

Around lap 15 my faith in finding another guy to ride with had faded. My back was killing me. Guys I’d been racing moments ago had dropped out and were now standing watching the race with cold drinks in hand. Temptation…

But, I knew my teammate, time trial specialist Nils, would never give up. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was back there, low on his bars, probably dragging three other guys.

The final laps seemed to crawl by. I could have sworn they forgot to change the remaining lap cards a few times. I went through feeling terrible, then a little better. I tried to get aero on the descents, and kept the pressure on the climbs. I was fumbling to find a semi comfortable position on the bike, and trying to avoid cramping, the thought of Joe’s treats, fresh from the Buttery, kept me going.

Throughout the race, Margaret and Michele were there every lap in the feedzone coaxing me to drink more. They succeeded, without them I would have had to drop out for sure. Also, several team members provided almost constant cheer for the entire length of the climb. I can hardly believe their perseverance for nearly two and a half hours, I’m very grateful. It helped more than you know.

My finish was much less uneventful than I’ve become accustom to. I rolled across the finish line solo, very happy to have survived. My reward? 22nd out of 54 starters at an average speed of 21.1 mph. My lowest finish in years, kind of funny considering I was in the best shape of my life, and worked harder during the race than I have ever before.

If I could re-run that day, would I choose the 35+ race instead? No way! Sure, it hurt – a lot. Yea, getting dropped is no fun. And, I wouldn't wish riding 9 laps solo on that course on my enemies. But, occasionally stepping up is good. Yes, I was over my head, but how amazing to get to watch these athletes at the prime of their lives from a truly front row seat. It’s also a great reminder not to take myself too seriously, while simultaneously opening the door for what might be possible…

San Ardo Road Race, 45+ 1/2/3

By Dennis Pedersen

Russ and I raced at San Ardo last year and took 2nd and 3rd, so we were hoping to do well again. He drove Miles and I down to the poor, tiny town of San Ardo, south of King City near Highway 101 for our 8:50am race start (thanks Russ!). We also had Matt Wocasek so team tactics became possible.

My ideas for this 68-mile bike race did not involve initiating any early breakaways. The beautiful, gently-rolling hills of this rural course, and just 5- to 6-mph winds, discouraged such attacks. I did think that a late break, maybe at the end of the 2nd of our 3 laps, might work for my teammates, but not for a sprinter like me.

After we started our race I thought we were still being held back by the motorcycle referee, but we were just riding really slowly! The prospect of 3 hours of that was intolerable (even though the weather was perfect). We can either accept things as they are, or work to change them. I opted for the latter and moved to the front looking for breaks. At worst I'd allow my teammates to rest up for attacks late in the race, while ensuring that one of us was always present in any early breaks so that we wouldn't get shut out if the break maintained its lead to the finish. At best my chosen break would stay away and I could use my sprint to get Team Bicycle Trip a decent placement in the race.

After one moderate effort, about 1/4 lap into our race, I rolled slowly off the front. I looked to my left and saw Hunter Ziesing (Zteam) doing likewise while everybody else sat up. We looked at each other and soon we'd both taken off and gained a nice lead on the pack. I didn't even realize that at first and thought we were just pushing the pace a bit higher. Soon a few other guys decided we meant business and bridged up to us. The next few minutes we really started working hard, with a few of us taking turns pulling at the front while others just drafted behind us. But when I looked back I couldn't even see the peloton. Yikes, I wasn't sure I wanted to be part of a break with 2.5 laps to go!

There were now about 12 guys in the break (out of a total field of 50), but still only a few of us who were contributing to the high pace. I started doubting our chances against the other 35+ guys but then Cale Reeder (Zteam) made a conspicuous entry into our group wearing his US Championship jersey... that was both good and bad news! I knew he'd work hard for our break, but I also knew he'd do well in the final climb to the finish line. Well, I decided to keep working while also looking to see if we would have a good chance against the peloton behind us. The motorcycle ref told us our lead had dropped to 30, down from 55 seconds earlier. Clearly we had stopped cooperating after Cale joined us!

Cale and Hunter solved our dilemma by using the short climb just after the start/finish area at the beginning of lap 2 to attack our break... first Cale took off while we were panting, then Hunter joined him with an impressive effort! We could see them crest the rolling hills as we sped northward, but soon they had a gap of 20 to 30 seconds! And after a half lap of chasing hard I again sensed a lack of motivation in our break as the two off the front disappeared into the distance. But I was still worried the peloton would catch us since:
  1. Cale and Hunter would cooperate well and were likely to get 1st and 2nd even if the peloton caught my break.
  2. I was now the best-placed Bicycle Trip racer and I didn't think that a mass field-sprint would improve our odds at the finish since I would have to sprint against 47 guys instead of just 13 or so.

The next 2 laps were spent trying to get everybody to take turns pulling while looking behind us for the peloton. I never did see them (thanks in part to my teammates who rode at the front of the peloton, discouraging attempts!), but a few guys caught us on the last lap so clearly we couldn't afford to relax. Jess Raphael (Safeway) and Steve Gregorios (Edge), who had been working hard all along, finally got tired of us and each soloed off the front with about 1/4 lap to go. Whenever I tried this I just dragged everybody with me so I held back instead, leading us for long sections into the headwind toward town and the finish because nobody wanted to pull.

As we rode through town I somehow managed to position myself behind Dirk Himley (Zteam)... in second position for a change! We slowly rode over the bridge, then up the hill and under Highway 101. I kept expecting early attacks from behind me, but instead I was the first one to jump, about 30 meters before the left turn onto the finishing straight. I stayed seated but went as hard as I could sustain for the 300-meter sprint, railed the turn, rode my heart out and crossed the line in 5th with a big gap! Woo-hoo! Miles and Matt rode really smart at the finish and attacked the peloton for 16th and 18th.

So, 5th place wasn't what I had hoped for us, after 2 hours and 56 minutes of suffering, but I felt I rode with panache and that is so cool!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Racing at Hellyer Park Velodrome

By Dennis Pedersen

Track races in the U.S. are traditionally weekday evening events for some reason, except Championships and such. Since I'm a sprinter body-type and also work in The Valley, it sort of "makes sense" for me to swing by Hellyer Park in south San Jose on Tuesday evenings and race on the banked oval track there, instead of going home and watching TV. On Tuesdays I usually train my sprint anyway, so this way I get to combine my usual sprints workout with training in the tactics of sprinting.

I have been entering the regular Tuesday night race sessions for the last three weeks and will probably continue doing that for a while longer this season. Cost of entry is $10. I've been riding their rental bikes (just $5!) but am really missing having my own track bike that fits me correctly (road bikes are not allowed). Someday.

The only requirement is that you first attend three Beginner Training Sessions with mentors which I have done over the last few years. They are also offered on Mondays at present. We self-select our race category at the track, since they aren't usually held under USA Cycling permits (again, except Championships and such) so we don't need to worry about our official race categories. I started racing in the "C" races, but after one night of cleaning up I knew I needed to move into the "B" races. The B races are actually pretty intense, like a typical criterium, so I get a fantastic workout. I do well, but by no means dominate since I'm up against a lot of very good sprinters (for some reason climbers don't show up often).

The races have lots of breakaways, attacks, and sprints. And because we get so many races in we can really fine-tune our tactical sense which helps in other racing, even road-racing. The B and C racers usually do a 25-lap "Scratch" race first, which is just like a regular criterium, but on the track (each lap is 1/3 kilometer). That is followed by a 40-lap "Points" race in which we sprint periodically (usually every 5 laps) for points. The winner is the one with most points at the end, not the first guy over the finish line necessarily. They sometimes shorten the race lengths or combine categories if turnout is low. The "A" races are longer.

Surprisingly, perhaps, even a fast track session isn't the same workout as my previous sprints workouts. It is said that "cycling is an aerobic sport, dammit" and so it is, even on the track. We usually push the pace to force a selection so we end up sprinting while we're already nearly hypoxic, with tunnel vision, burning legs and all. When I do sprints on my own I do each sprint separated by 5 minutes of easy riding so I'm fresh enough to do them all at maximum power. Hence my sprinting power on the track is a lot lower, but for a longer duration; more like our team's Wednesday 5-minute "L5" intervals at UCSC, plus some higher "L6" efforts... and a lot of "intermissions" where we try to catch our breath!

The Hellyer Park Velodrome sessions are mostly all put on by The Northern California Velodrome Association. They have a busy schedule, including Beginner Training Sessions with mentors (Saturdays and Monday evenings), various Intermediate/Advanced Open Training sessions, the weekday races and more. Check their calendar.

A very good document to read, if you're curious about track cycling, is available online:
TRACK CYCLING – AN INTRODUCTION. What a roadie needs to know to start racing on the velodrome. Dan Currell.

I hope some of you will join me there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Patterson Pass Road Race Report (45+ 4s) August 8, 2010

Patterson Pass Road Race Report
45+ Cat 4 ~ August 8, 2010
By Scott Martin

After getting schooled at the Masters Districts RR a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to one of the 50+ hotshots. "You have to know how to suffer to do well here," he said.

So I thought what better way to practice my suffering than signing up for Patterson Pass, a hilly road race that climbs "O My God" Road (photo). So named because after ascending for about a decade you crest a steep section and see that the summit is still a long ways off and some witty person has painted "O My God" on the pavement.

As usual there is a strong headwind on the first of 2 trips up O My God, which keeps the speedsters in check. As usual the real action comes on the second, smaller climb where a tailwind makes drafting kind of worthless. I survive, barely, and we start the second lap. Again, no fireworks on O My God. So we come to the second, smaller climb and I am ready to practice my suffering.

I suffer like crazy but 10 guys are riding away from me on the last little bump. I am now like one of those domestiques who blows up on the big mountain passes. I practically come to a halt. I can hear some chasers behind me, so I ramp it up from 2 mph to 3 mph and latch on. Then we descend like crazy and actually catch the leaders who don't seem very organized.

Then some guy gets a blow-out in a corner and again we are chasing, which is something I have a lot of practice doing. We catch the leaders on the last hill and for some reason they don't attack. So we come into the sprint and I find myself behind a strong Cal Giant guy and I'm thinking, "This is a berry good wheel." So he goes fast and I go fast and he ends up second and I end up third.

Bob Montague does a great job to finish in a chase group on a course that maybe doesn't suit his strengths. But aftward he is vowing to get revenge on the "skinny liittle climber dudes" at next week's flatter Dunnigan Hills RR and I am glad I won't be there to suffer the Wrath of Bob.

Friday, August 6, 2010

2010 USA Masters National Championships Road Race

8/4/10 Louisville, Kentucky

By Mark Edwards with commentary by Jim Langley

Let me start with a huge THANK YOU to everyone at the Bicycle Trip, Symantec and all our teammates for making this trip (and last year's) to the USA Masters National Championships possible. Jim and I had a wonderful time and it's a privilege to be a part of the team. We can't thank you'all (as they say in Louisville) enough.

A Full Year of Preparation
Following last year’s Masters Nationals competition, Jim and I committed to a full year of focused preparation for the 2010 edition. In 09, although we had expected the fields to be the toughest we’d ever faced, the reality was eye-opening. So, for the past twelve months, we poured everything into raising our games to new highs. Little did we know just how much we were going to need each and every extra watt of power we brought with us…

Last year in Louisville we arrived to very Santa Cruz like weather. The locals couldn’t stop talking about how unusual it was. Expecting heat and humidity, Jim and I were counting our blessings.

But, this year, the blast of hot humid air as we exited the airport took our breath away. Fortunately the air conditioner in our room was excellent – a huge improvement from last year’s accommodations.

Record Highs in Kentuckiana
As we prepared for our race in our modern hotel room, putting 2 numbers on our jerseys, one on the bike and a timing chip on the fork, the Weather Channel focused on the record heat wave assaulting most of the Country. The local news, covering the “Kentuckiana” area, (their combination of Kentucky and Indiana for this region around the Ohio river) seemed to report on the likelihood of the 101-degree record for August 4th being broken every fifteen minutes or so. Insulated in our cool hotel room, I don’t think we fully realized the magnitude of what we were facing.

Bike Trip/Symantec vikings Mark Edwards & Jim Langley the day before the battle
Last year’s hotel had a nice restaurant conveniently downstairs from our room. This made meals very easy. This year’s hotel didn’t have a restaurant, other than free breakfast each morning. I’m still not sure what the food was made from, but I’m pretty certain none of it was from anything that exists in nature. Beyond these “interesting” breakfasts, it was a minimum four block hike in 100+ degree humid shadeless asphalt everywhere conditions to get to the local fast food joints (apparently fast food is the only available food type in the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken).

Commentary from Jim: On Tuesday morning we built the bikes and rode to Cherokee Park to pre-ride the racecourse. We only did a few hard efforts to time the hills and choose lines through the corners. Things felt almost exactly the same as last year but to both of us the course seemed shorter, each 5-mile lap taking less time than we had remembered it. The photo above was shot after our pre-ride by Aptos resident and top 65+ racer Jim Fox. He had won the TT that morning and was super happy to snap the photo for us. I think that viking ship is some kind of memorial from 100 years ago. Congrats to Jim for taking home the Gold!

Race Day
Wednesday morning dawned with the promise of a new record temperature, by 8:00 AM it was already 85. Around 2:00 PM Jim and I set off for our 25 minute ride from the hotel to the race course. At this point we didn’t know the temperature, but it was clearly hot. Getting stopped by nearly every traffic signal, we alternated between baking on the shadeless concrete streets, then enjoyed the breeze we generated riding to the next traffic signal. They don’t use the magnetic strips to trip the signals, so we often sat in the heat waiting for the green light with no cross traffic. As ambassadors for cyclists everywhere, we wanted to make a good impression. Unfortunately, our resolve to sit and bake with no cross traffic wouldn’t survive the day.

Mark sits in the shade waiting the start
Arriving at Cherokee Park around 2:30 PM, we’d planned to warm-up. Jim had flatted on his tubular about two miles from the park, so we immediately started looking for the Shimano support vehicle to get him a wheel.

Once found, sitting in the shade and drinking seemed like a much better plan than warming-up. While waiting for my start I heard it was up to 103. Nothing like what I normally think of 103 feeling like, this was more like Hawaii (without the ocean). Everything was green, and the sound of the bugs was almost louder than the event’s sound system.
Even Tougher Racers Than Last Year
I’d done some research on my field before the race and felt this year’s group had considerably more depth than last year. Last year’s race was very fast, with about twenty guys that I felt were super strong. The remainder appeared to be mostly locals that came out because it was convenient. This year I only saw one local, and it appeared to me that about half the field was current State/District Champions.

Also, multi-time national champ Thurlow Rogers was here. Not only was Thurlow likely to be a factor, he was one of the only guys with a teammate. I wasn’t familiar with his teammate, but as expected, he attacked repeatedly to soften us up for Thurlow.

And, We're Off!
At the gun we bolted down the opening hill. Into the sharp left hander gaps immediately opened as the leaders charged toward the first climb. Although this is a road race, it’s more criterium than road race. With almost no flat or straight sections, it’s very fast and technical. Last year we averaged over 26 mph for 1:52.

Cresting the first climb I felt well within myself, but the air burned my lungs and stung my eyes. I’d kept my gloves off until just before the start to try and keep them dry, but by three miles in they were soaked with sweat.

I was further back in the peloton than I wanted to be. The start had been delayed and several guys were on the line early to protect their start position. Unfortunately, the holding area was in the direct sun. I’d decided I was better off waiting in the shade and starting at the back than sitting in the direct sun for twenty minutes. Once we started it was now difficult to move up. 65 guys on a very fast and technical single lane road with lots of nerves and constant gaps isn’t ideal for moving from ~40th to the top 10 were I wanted to be.
Strung out coming through the top of the course

Russian Roulette on Two Wheels
Completing the first lap I’d moved to about 20th and spotted the lap clock. We’d done the first 5 miles in about 12 minutes flat. It felt really fast, but not quite as quick as last year, amazing what an extra 20 degrees of heat can do.

Only five miles into the race and things were already starting to string out a bit. The heat was deceptive. Guy’s legs felt good, so they’d attack, only to pop moments later. It was bike racing’s version of Russian roulette.

Thurlow, Thurlow - Where's Thurlow!
About halfway through the second lap things had settled enough that I started looking for Thurlow. Finally I found him… sitting on my wheel! I didn’t really focus on him too much, but felt validated by the fact that we occupied a similar pack position for the first four laps. If my natural position was the same as his, I must be doing something right.

Last year a break of three had gotten away, and held on to the finish. This year I wasn’t about to let that happen without me. There had been a couple of very short lived break attempts when, just before the start of the third lap, three guys got a small gap. They hovered about 15 seconds off the front for a lap. Neither Thurlow nor his teammate was in the break, and with the searing heat it seemed impossible they’d stay away (famous last words).

Shake and Bake
The pace stayed high for the next couple of laps as the heat took its toll. I was suffering from hot foot. Loosening my shoes, pulling up on the pedals, nothing helped. Every time I tried to apply power to the pedals, I felt like a red hot poker was being driven into my feet.

Guys were dropping like flies; someone would attempt to bridge, then pull off the side of the road and stop. I couldn’t push on my pedals and every breath burned my throat. I considered quitting; it seemed we might be doing serious damage to ourselves.

Thurlow Hits the Gas
On the forth lap Thurlow attempted to bridge. I saw him go, felt I had the legs to follow, but feared we’d get a mile up the road only to implode. The heat was oppressive. It was similar to competing at altitude. You felt strong, but an effort that would be fine at sea level could easily take you out of the race. Same thing in Louisville, I felt good, but every effort hurt way more than it should have. It was like I’d lost my ability to know my limits.

Commentary from Jim: I was in the feedzone and saw Thurlow power off the front of Mark's group. People were impressed by how fast he opened the gap and a few said that he would easily catch the leaders who looked spent when they went by. As Thurlow passed the start/finish the announcers commented that they would bet Thurlow would run down the leaders and go on to win.

Thurlow suffered 10 seconds off the front for about two laps. It looked painful. Eventually he increased his gap as we squabbled over who should chase, but he never made it to the three leaders. Knowing Thurlow’s ability, combined with confirmation of his form, (winning the 2010 National TT title by over a minute) he should have been easily able to chase down the leaders. Like the rest of us, the heat fouled up his body’s finely tuned feedback system.

Time To Attack
Coming into the ninth lap the group was starting to play games, no one wanted to work. I shifted tactics from working to attacking. I wasn’t feeling any better (I’d missed a couple of feeds, dropped one water bottle because my hands were so sweaty, and only drank two bottles), but I figured the group was tired, and even if I blew up I could finish two laps.

There are four main climbs on the course. I attacked all four on the ninth lap, splintering the remaining ~15 guys each time. But each time they chased back on. On the tenth lap I held back from attacking, but stayed in the top three, hoping to keep anyone from getting away. On the one flat section a guy attacked from far back in the group. He went by the front fast enough that no one wanted to chase. As I was sitting in second position, I knew that if I jumped I’d pull everyone up to him. I decided not to, and his well-timed attack ended up earning him 5th place.

At the base of the final climb, about ½ mile from the finish, I found myself on the front. Not where I wanted to be, so I tried to slow enough to get someone to attack. No one would go, and the other half of the group than had been dropped was about to pull us back. Liking my chances better in a group of 8 than 15, I attacked off the front. I knew attacking off the front pretty much never works, but I was frustrated and tired, I just wanted the race to be over.

Sprinting for the Line
Surprisingly, I had a pretty strong jump left in me. Four of the eight popped off the back immediately. I had three on my wheel and was giving it everything up the final climb. The finish was different this year. The line was on a curve and our path had been narrowed to a single lane with the steel barrier feet protruding about a foot into each side of the road. Out of the saddle, rocking my bike hard left and right, it took focus to keep from clipping a barrier.

Mark takes 8th with a strong sprint!
Two of the three were able to pip me at the line, giving me 8th place in the nation; One better, and much harder to earn, than last year’s ninth place finish.

Was all the focus and training worth it? Yes. An unequivocal YES! Never once in the race did I feel anyone was stronger. With a little more confidence, a couple of better tactical choices, and a little luck, I could win this race.

In case you were wondering, my hot foot never did improve during the race. Finishing my race, I quickly drank three tall bottles of ice water, and poured two over my head. At which point, both of my feet cramped so badly that I couldn’t walk (two days later… I’m still limping in considerable pain).

Notes From the Feedzone on Jim’s Race
I filled the bottles to hand up to Jim and then headed for the feedzone, only to find I couldn’t walk. Leaning on my bike I made it to the edge of the course where I sat on a rock. I figured I had a minimum of two laps before Jim would need water, hopefully I could walk by then.

At 12 minutes and 12 seconds, Jim’s group came around absolutely flying. Other than the first couple of guys, already the entire peloton looked to be in serious trouble. At this point I was under the impression that the temperature had miraculously dropped to around 80 degrees. Seems I was so hot and dehydrated that I’d lost the ability to sense the temperature. I was assured by the several volunteers who stopped out of concern for my health that it was really still 103.

On the second lap I could see that Jim’s bottles were still full, I yelled at him to drink and saw him reach for a bottle. This lap was also done in just over 12 minutes!

Jim: This was a crazy race compared to last year where we settled into an attack and chase, attack and chase game. This year it was strung out after the first corner and I was constantly closing gaps and struggling to recover. With the fitness I brought into this race, even as it was happening to me, I was incredulous that I was about to get dropped.

After they passed I tested my feet. No way! I still couldn’t stand or walk. Okay… I’ve got another 12 minutes, giving me nearly an hour after my race finished, surely I’ll be fine by the next time Jim came around.

Like clockwork, with local World Champion Rob Anderson (he lives in Mill Valley) still on the front, the leaders came around on lap three at 12 minutes again. But this time there were only five guys. Following nearly a minute later, 19 more, 30 seconds behind then was another group of six. After these six, individuals were strung out for about three more minutes. I can’t possibly explain just how bad everyone looked. Really strong guys with World Champion stripes were shattered after only three laps. Rob Anderson was single handedly destroying the best riders in the Nation.

Jim: Cool tech note - apparently Rob was wearing a frozen Camelbak strapped to his chest somehow beneath his jersey and drinking the frozen water. Brilliant! 

I was able to hobble to my feet and get Jim a bottle as he came by. To his credit, he ramped back his effort, kept drinking lots of water, and paced himself to stay safe and complete the race. Many others weren’t nearly as smart.

Jim: Mark actually saved me from disaster. He was hobbling up to the top of the course to find ice and refilling the bottles so he could hand me up cold water. I couldn't drink because my Cytomax was way too hot and tasted disgusting. Same with my water. When Mark handed me up the first cold bottle it didn't register at first that it was cold. When I realized it though I gulped the water down, poured it on my head and back and immediately started feeling significantly better. It was Mark's finding that ice that saved my day. We still can't believe that USA Cycling had NO neutral water on the course. Crazy, huh?

Jim rolls across the line in survival mode
As Rob continued to shred the group, guys would pull up to the feedzone and collapse. Unable to even clip out, they’d just roll up and fall over – kind of like the old Laugh In TV show – except that medics were running up, stripping off shoes and socks, pouring ice down their jerseys. It was actually quite disturbing; I was very concerned that someone was going to be seriously injured… or worse.

Again, I can’t stress how well Jim handled the situation. I know how capable Jim is of hurting himself, and I tried to suggest he drop out knowing the problems he’s had in the heat before. But, he rode within himself, and actually seemed to be enjoying himself (okay, enjoying may be a bit of a stretch).

Of the top four guys that easily walked away from the peloton in Jim’s group last year, three were back to defend this year. One dropped out on the fourth lap, Wayne Stetna (last year’s winner) blew up on lap 5, and David LeDuc finished second – only to collapse on the finish line – paramedics responded and rumor has it that it was touch and go for quite a while before he regained consciousness.

Jim: I got to talk to an official who had been at David's side as the medics worked on him. He told me this funny story. I guess the medics thought David had had a heart attack until his wife came running over and told them that she's seen this happen to him before. She explained that he does have a heart condition that incapacitates him and she asked if they had dumped ice on him. The medics said that they had but it hadn't done any good. She then asked if they'd put any down the front of his shorts? They said, of course not. She told them to try that. So, they take her advice and a few second later, David sits up and exclaims, "ayee, my nuts -- they're FROZEN!"

Through it all, Rob Anderson rode aggressively on the front. It was the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen. In a 45-mile race he put nearly 10 miles into the final guys that finished the race (not counting the many that dropped out). Not to mention riding multiple World Champions off his wheel… in a record setting 103 degrees.

The weather forecasters use a heat index to compensate for humidity in the Kentuckiana area (renamed, very appropriately I might add by Jim, to Indi-ucky). With humidity, they calculated the heat index to 112 degrees!

Jim: Here's maybe the worst news we received at the race. At one point the announcers were talking about the awful heat and one of them said, "Actually, it HAS been this hot before at the Masters Nationals, and that was back when it was held in Bend, Oregon! Which is the site of next year's race we were all looking forward to. Oh no, not again!

I did not list the full results from my race because it's missing a bunch of names. Maybe because they lapped us and so many people dropped out they decided not to list everyone. I believe 49 riders started - and I was the last to finish in 35th place!

OFFICIAL RESULTS 50/54 (top 10)
1 Terry Duran (1 - Cat1)  Birmingham, AL    2:02:07.300  82946   597  Birmingham Velo/Tria Market / D
2 Gerald Finken (1 - Cat2)  La Crosse, WI  2:02:10  49239  551     St Paul Bicycle Racing Club
3  James G Wenzel (2 - Cat1)  Auburn, AL    2:02:59.600     59328     562     Velo Voodoo
4  Thurlow Rogers (3 - Cat1)  San Diego, CA  2:03:52.500     30417     552     Amgen-UBS Elite Masters
5  Kevin Hines (1 - Cat3)  East Wareham, MA  2:05:33   6266  557  Corner Cycle Cycling Club
6  Arthur Brown (4 - Cat1)  Washington, DC  2:05:38.300  63036  535  Battley Harley-Davidson/Sonoma/
7  Robert Downs (2 - Cat2)  Madison, WI  2:05:38.500  9947     621     Planet Bike
8  Mark Edwards (3 - Cat2)  Santa Cruz, CA  2:05:38.800  236580     603  Team Bicycle Trip/Symantec
9  Anthony Taylor (5 - Cat1)  Brooklyn, NY    2:05:39.300     47684 579 Century Road ClubAssociation/D
10 Malcolm Hill (4 - Cat2)   Corona Del Mar, CA    2:05:40     156650     605     Amgen-UBS Elite Masters

OFFICIAL RESULTS 55-59 (top 10)
1 Robert Anderson (1 - Cat2)   Mill Valley, CA    1:50:28.1  1688  429  Team Specialized Racing Masters
2 David LeDuc (2 - Cat2)  Willow Springs, NC  1:52:45.6  45583  479     Atlantic Velo-Virginia p/b Walt
3 William Kellagher (3 - Cat2)  Boulder, CO    1:53:04.1     45530     461     Natural Grocers Cycling Team
4 Wayne Stetina (1 - Cat1) Mission Viejo, CA    1:54:27.2     34063     474     Amgen-UBS Elite Masters
5 Dennis Rainear (1 - Cat3)  Richmond, VA  1:54:28.6     156093     427     Team Nature's Path/3 Sports
6 Robert Gregory (4 - Cat2)   Brentwood, TN    1:54:31.1     50141     475     Team Gran Fondo
7 Gordon Paulson (2 - Cat1)  Cottage Grove, WI    1:54:34.2     176866     445     Planet Bike
8  Ronald Wilson (2 - Cat3)  Seymour, TN    1:55:58.1   46380  473   Southern Cycling Operations (SC
9  William Watkins (3 - Cat3)  Lawrenceville, GA 1:55:58.1 294788 434  US Military Academy/Team
10 Richard Distlerath (4 - Cat3)   Bluffton, SC 1:55:58.7 216139  469 Racer Heads Sports and Leisure