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