Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Masters Road National Championships 2012

Masters Road Nationals Race Report (55-59 age group) - September 5 & 6, 2012
by Jim Langley

Ready for the 9-hour drive to Bend
The USA Cycling Masters National Road Races, took place in Bend, Oregon last week. I thought I'd take a different approach this year and for my report, share what I wrote about the races for my weekly column on roadbikerider

I'll offer some background on the Nationals that might put things in perspective for all you teammates who have never competed at this level. 

My hope is that I might motivate you to put a trip to Bend on your racing calendar next year - after that the Natz could move back to Louisville, Kentucky or some other distant location not so easy to get to as Bend. 

I drove up alone last year, and again this year. The event may be as much as a month earlier in 2013 and it would be fun to go up as a team instead of an individual. If they use the same courses as they did this year, they suit Santa Cruz Country road racers just fine. And the time trial is especially easy, much moreso than our tough Swanton course.

I stayed with teammate Jim Holmes in Bend. Nice garage!
For American athletes over age 35, the Nationals is the big show. And, you don’t even have to qualify. You just have to hold a USA Cycling license and pay the entry fee, about $60 per event.

It’s a chance to line up against the best in the country and see what you’ve got. And I do mean the best in the country. 

There are men’s and women’s categories broken down in five-year age categories from 35 to 40 all the way up to 95 to 100 years-old - when there are entrants.

If you look at the names year in and out, it’s a who’s who of former road stars, like Wayne Stetina, Tom Officer, Tom Doughty and Karen Armstrong. These are racers who’ve competed at the highest level, been on pro teams, the USA national team or on major amateur squads. To me, just riding with them is special.

The Time Trial course: flat, fast, smooth, no wind!
The racing starts with an individual time trial. This year it was on Wednesday, September 5. Next is the road race. And the week of racing concludes with a criterium. In each race there are five podium spots. But everyone dreams of knocking off one of the top dogs and nabbing the title of USA Masters National Champion and the coveted stars-and-stripes jersey that goes along with it.

This was the fourth time I attended the Nationals, racing in the 55 to 59 age group. The first two years when it was held in Louisville, Kentucky, I got killed, a victim of the high-caliber racing and awful heat. When they moved the event to Bend last year, which is a lot like Santa Cruz I did much better. I trained extra hard all of 2012 preparing for my return to Bend.

Here are some notes of interest about the racing and how I got 8th in the time trial and 23rd in the road race.

Jim & Jim on the Crooked River TT course on Tuesday
Faster but still not fast enough
Last year I got 10th in the time trial averaging 24.6mph. I was pretty happy to finish top-10 at this level, especially after coming in almost dead last in the time trial my first try in Louisville. 

Earlier this year I managed to take the silver medal in the Northern California/Nevada time trial, the district championship, averaging 27mph for 40K. So, I went into this Natz thinking I might go a bit better than in 2011. I did, averaging 26.42mph for this year’s 30K course, or almost 2mph faster. But that only moved me up from 10th to 8th!

Speed by age category
Thinking about how I went faster even though I was a year older, I thought it would be fun to compare the average speed of the men’s time trialists (since I’m a man, not because the women aren’t fast). 

My bars are super low, Power Tap is for pacing
Note that the course length changes so the comparison isn’t perfect, but I still find it interesting how fast everyone goes regardless of age and that it’s so close:
35-39: 28.93mph Sam Krieg (Pocatello, Idaho/Idaho Cycling Enthusiasts)
40-44: 29.52 Richard Feldman (Ketchum, Idaho/ Durance-Colnago)
45-49: 28.59 Robert Garwood (Harrisonburg, Va.)
50-54: 29.53 Jeffrey Hartmann (Boulder, Colo./Boulder Orthopedics)
55-59: 27.9 Gary Painter (Ft Wayne, Ind./Ft. Wayne Outfitters)
60-64: 27.51 Thomas Doughty (Aurora, Ill./Scarlet Fire)
65-69: 25.62 Scott Hennessy (Salinas, Calif./VOS Racing)
70-74: 24.11 S Durward Higgins (Chattanooga, Tenn./Scenic City Velo)
75-79: 24.50 Franz Hammer (Oro Valley, Ariz./Team Green Choice/Team RPM/Airpark Bikes)
80-84: 20.7 Albert Piemme (Sequim, Wash.)
85-90: 15.58 James Harrang (Eugene, Ore.)

“Funny” officials, part 1
A highlight of racing in Bend this year was staying with my teammate Jim Holmes who has a beautiful house there. There were two other racers at the house, six-time Race Across America winner Seana Hogan who was in the 50+ women’s field (how would you like to line up against her?!) and her friend Just Dustyn, a 60+ woman from the Sacramento area, returning to racing after a 20-year hiatus. 

Dustyn’s race machine was a late eighties steel-frame Merckx. The final check the official did at the time-trial start was weighing the bikes to ensure they’re not too light. When he weighed Dustyn’s Belgian bomber, he exclaimed for all of her competitors in line to hear, “Whoa, we have a new winner for the heaviest bicycle!” Not what Dustyn wanted to hear.

10 p.m. bar hacking to pass bike check was not needed!
“Funny” officials part 2
In order to race the time trial your bicycle has to be “cleared” by the race officials the day before the race. You wait in a long line in the broiling sun as they lean one bike at a time against a go/no-go jig that tells them if the seat and bars are in the correct position and a lot of other details that must be exactly right to abide by the UCI’s complicated aero bicycle rules.

After waiting for 40 minutes, the official rolls my Cervelo P2 up to the jig, takes a quick glance, and tells me that it doesn’t pass and must be checked before the race start in the morning. Talk about stress. He doesn’t even tell me why it doesn’t pass. I barely sleep that night worrying about it, only to have a different race official at the time trial barely look at my bike before giving me the green light to race.

This might be why the officials were a little off
After the time trial I was chatting with Tom Doughty, who was stuffing all his wheels and bicycles into a tiny rental car after his winning 60+ time trial. I didn’t think everything would fit, but he said he has rented so many cars at races over the years that he can tell just by looking whether all his race gear will fit or not. 

Regarding the wishy-washy bike checks by the officials, Tom said that he thought it was due to USA Cycling’s desire to loosen the rules so that more triathletes will come out and race in USA time trials. Fair enough. But at least have set rules and follow them.

Chris Cerruti warming up on chilly Mt. Bachelor
Road race wobbles
The 54-mile road race was bar-none, the most spectacularly scenic race I’ve been in. It started at the top of snowcapped Mt. Bachelor, flew down it for about 20 miles, covered some rollers around the backside for another 30 miles and then finished with a 4-mile climb back to the top. 

The opening descent was awesome except that a large portion of the pack experienced speed wobble. I had the shimmies too. It was a result of the 50+ mph descent combined with the frigid air that chilled us all to the bone causing shivering that amplified the wobbles. Luckily, the pack slowed a bit, everyone got it under control and no one crashed. But it made for a terrifying start.

Quick sidenote: one of the coolest things about the Nationals is that you have lead and follow cars and motorcycles. They're all there to lead and protect the peloton and provide a closed course, meaning you can use the entire road just like in the Tour de France. It's makes the racing feel completely different as the peloton chooses which side of the road to race on and that's often the "wrong" side, and for miles and miles too.

Mt. Bachelor - epic venue for a RR
As everyone knew, the race came down to the final climb. There were many attempts at solo and small-group breakaways on the middle part of the course but the peloton easily pulled every one back. There were two little rollers on the approach to the longer, steeper ascent to the ski-area parking lot start/finish. The group hit these hard enough that I almost came off the back.

But I was there at the base of the big climb with most of the pack because only a handful of the 73 riders had gotten shelled. I was probably a little too far back though. At the front they punched it at the bottom and a group of about 30 opened a gap. I saw this but didn't have the legs or lungs to go with them at that point. We were at altitude and I was feeling it at that moment.

All I could do was try to pace myself. So, I did that and I started passing guys, and more, and then a little group, and then a bigger group. At that point I was feeling much better. I could see the group ahead and went as hard as I could to try to chase them down. I thought I was only halfway up the climb with time maybe to catch more riders and move up.

But then I saw the pack ahead take the right turn that marked the 1K to the finish point, and I knew I wasn't going to catch anyone. I came across the line solo in 23rd place, the third "group" on the road. My big mistake was not riding the course before the race to experience the last climb and know how long it was. But, there wasn't time with no rest day between the time trial and road race, and I couldn't get up to Bend any earlier before the races. 

In any case, it might not have made any difference. I needed to be able to go with the lead group at the bottom of the hill and I just didn't have it at that point, so they made the perfect move to get rid of me.

The Santa Cruz County road mafia, Jim, Evan, Chris
Technical notes
For you gear heads, in no particular order, here are some of the technical changes I made to improve this year (most in the time trial but these tweaks helped me on the road, too): went from Look to Speedplay pedals (with Speedplay-only shoes); lowered and narrowed my aero bars a lot; went from 175mm crankarms on my road bikes to 170, and on my time trial bike to 160; got a faster helmet (see below); increased my training intensity; improved my pedal stroke; switched energy drinks and got a Power Tap watt meter for my TT bike so that all workouts are quality ones and recorded to see how I'm progressing.

Thanks everyone
As I’ve gotten more and more into racing at the Nationals seriously, I’ve sought out the very best in coaching and equipment and I owe a lot to my supporters. Thank you Coach Mark Edwards for the careful analysis and training program that got me so fit. And for helping me improve my aero setup, thanks to Keith Bontrager and Hed who got me on superfast wheels; Giro who supplied the TT helmet of the pros, their Selector; Sidi for putting me on ultra-stiff Speedplay-specific carbon shoes; and of course, team sponsors Bicycle Trip and Symantec.

If after reading this you're inspired to have a go at a National title next year, I'm happy to answer any and all questions and you're welcome to train with Coach Mark's group, too, that I train with. The time to start training and preparing is NOW! And, I'm looking forward to having some teammates to root for next fall.

Ride safe out there,
Jim Langley


Dennis the Mennis said...

Wow, what an awesome post! So proud we're teammates!

Matthew Werner said...

great report, as always Jim