Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Winters 35+ 4; CCCX 35+ 3/4, 45+ 3/4

Winters Road Race 35+ 4

My last weekend of racing for the 2013 road season. There are more races on the calendar, but this weekend features the last that is likely to favor my strengths. I had kind of decided that I was ready to take on the hill at Winters, but only the race would tell. I was signed up for the 35+ 4 race because the 45+ 4 race had filled before I registered. No 55+ race on the board. I knew I would be giving up more than 20 years to some of the guys in the race, but both Ed and I felt that the 35+ group wouldn’t hit the hill any harder than the 45’s. I figure that much, at least, turned out to be true.

The drive to Winters is enough to turn a number of racers from our area off. 2 1/2 hours, and with an early race time, I had to get up around 3 to leave a bit after 4. No teammates, but I was excited enough about this race to head out on my own. I didn’t encounter any problems on the trip up, so I got checked in and began my preparations. I had eaten some nuts and a banana before leaving home, but I like to eat 1/2 a PB & J about 1 1/2 hours before my race. I did that and got my number pinned on my jersey. I consider number pinning one of the more challenging facets of bike racing. Nobody wants to have their number flapping around in the wind, but you also don’t want it so tight that the safety pins are being ripped through the jersey material. After much trial and error, I have found the method that works for me, but I’ll leave that description for another time. I set up my trainer, got dressed and began to warm up. I have recently developed a preference for warming up on the trainer over doing so on the road. Most promotors want to encourage the least amount of bike traffic possible being associated with their race, and warming up on the road also presents the opportunity for flat tires or other road hazards. I used to avoid warming up on the trainer, but I have recently adopted a program of simply spinning myself warm for 20 - 25 minutes. I find that suits me as well if not better than a structured warmup on the road with short intervals, jumps and one or two sprints. So far, since adopting my new routine, I have yet to find myself unprepared at the line.

Our group at Winters was off on two 24 mile laps in our race. The hill lies in about the middle of each lap and it covers about 4 1/2 miles. It is mostly a rolling climb with chances for recovery, but the last 2 minutes are 10 - 12 % on legs that have already been pushed. As we began the climb on the first lap, we were catching the Pro 1/2 women who had started before us. I could not understand why they were not climbing at a faster pace, but we just moved on by. I did not feel our pace was that hard. As we moved up the climb, I felt pretty good until we got to that last steeper section. At that point, I was in my big ring and had to shift onto my small ring so I could keep my cadence up. I thought I had let up my pressure to the pedals, but when I made the shift, my chain dropped. I called out the problem, raised my hand, held my line and tried to shift the chain back onto the big ring. No dice. I had to unclip from my pedals and dismount after waiting for all of my group along with most of the women to get by me on the narrow road. I got my chain back on and began to chase. I was passing lots of stragglers, but I was worried I wouldn’t have time to catch back on before the top of the hill. It had been several years since I had last raced this course and I was not sure how far the top was. I asked a guy on the side of the road and he replied, “Don’t worry, you’re almost there!”. Not the words I was looking for. I thought my chances of catching back on to my group were better before the climb had ended. Still, as I found myself with a couple hundred yards to the top, I could see the back of my lead group. I pushed hard, but I couldn’t catch back on and had to chase down the treacherous descent. When I reached the bottom, I had the group in site, but I was on my own and probably 30 seconds behind. I chased hard, but I could only make up minimal ground on the group. After a total of about 15 minutes of chasing, uphill, down and in the flats, I was beginning to lose confidence. Then I got lucky. A group of kids on horses were crossing the road ahead, and my group had to stop to let them pass. I was back on. I had plans to stay on and recover, and I was able to do just that.

When we got around to the hill on the final lap, I made a mistake. I allowed myself to fall too far back in the group, so that when the attack of the hill began, I was pretty far from the front. Still, I found myself to be strong enough to bridge numerous gaps that opened in our group. As we passed through the feed zone about 2/3 of the way up the climb, I had worked my way up into the top 15, but I think I may have expended too much energy in doing so. When we got to that last steep section, I found I just didn’t have the energy to stay with the leaders. Over the top, I was 15 - 20 seconds off the back. I caught a couple of guys on the descent, but the lead group was building its gap on me. I began to chase again, but this time it was not to be. I didn’t lose sight of the leaders, but I couldn’t bring them back either. I caught 1 or 2 stragglers, and 3 or 4 guys chased us down, but even together, we could not shut down the gap. I have to admit I got a bit discouraged. I thought my fitness was good, but it had let me down in this race. When my chase group of 6 came to the finishing straight, I couldn’t even bring myself to sprint. I just let the other 5 have it. I finished 20th. Still, by the time I got back to the car, I was able to find a positive spin to this race. Yes, I had been dropped twice, and finished 20th in a race where I had hoped to podium. And yet, I knew that my fitness is really good. I also know that my weight has been on the way down, naturally. This time, I think it is going to stay down. Plus, the second time I was dropped very well might not have happened at all if I had maintained better race awareness. It gives me something to work for in the off season.

CCCX 35+ 3/4

Sunday was a different animal altogether. I didn’t have any expectations for myself after racing the day before at Winters, but I did want to ride in support of my teammates, Dennis and George. Plus, the drive from my house in Watsonville to the course was about 1/2 hour, a great improvement over the previous day’s travel. There were a variety of races that I was eligible to enter, but I had decided on the 35+ 3/4 race as my main race for the day because both Dennis and George were in it.

I had raced this course with Dennis in the first CCCX race of the season. He had won that race, and while I don’t remember where I finished, I do remember that I had been completely unable to help him. Dennis is a sprinter, though I find that he has tendency to portray himself as merely an average one. I am an average sprinter. In the right circumstances, I can provide a good leadout, or I can usually compete for top 10 in a field sprint. When Dennis sprints, he is very likely to win. When he goes, guys like me can’t hold his wheel. I’d love to learn how.

George is what guys like me call, “a young man”. When I see George at the Saturday team workouts, his is one of the wheels that I would like to be able to hold. George is not as big as me, but he is a bigger rider. He has great power and he is a good climber, but all of us who aren’t 140# are challenged in the hills by those who are. I don’t think George has raced a lot of races this season, and he was looking forward to this one. I think that George, like me, simply wanted to see how he would do, and I think that all three of us were looking for the opportunity to ride as a team.

A word about that here. People who don’t race bikes can sometimes have a hard time understanding why there is any value to racing with teammates. Indeed, I have watched a lot of teams at my level who don’t have any grasp of the concept. Bike racing at my level can certainly be every man for himself, but it doesn’t have to be. On a given day, a given course may be more suited to a single rider who is not on my team, or another team. On my own, the possibility of prevailing over that rider or team is small. When I have teammates to work with, I can possibly change the equation that might give that other rider or team it’s advantage. Our tactics, properly implemented, can serve to conserve my team’s energy while expending the other team or rider’s energy. That simple idea is what can make team bike racing so much more fun than racing on your own. On this day, we all looked to Dennis as our best hope. Our simple strategy was to take turns covering the attacks of other riders.

I think we were about a group of 20 as we left the line. After racing hard the day before, I had planned to sit in at first, but I found myself right at the front from the line and pushing the pace. I finally smartened up a bit before we reached the first time up the leading hill, and allowed myself to recover. As we began to go uphill, the attacks began and Dennis was out to cover while I dropped my chain for the second time in as many days. I let my anger give me the energy to chase back on. I think George covered the second attack and I covered the third. By that third attack, we were well into the backside rollers featured on this course and the pace was torrid. I think we averaged over 23 mph for our first lap, and over 22 mph on our second. I expect we were all suffering, but I could tell that George was not in a place where he could cover any more attacks. From that point on, I took turns with Dennis in covering the attacks. I think I covered a total of 5 before a lone rider got away in a break. It happened before the top on the leading hill climb, and I continue to kick myself. I chose not to spend the energy to go with it at the time, but I know I had it at the moment. Dennis made the point later that it is unlikely that I would have been able to stay with that guy, and I suspect he is right. Still, for the next 1 1/2 laps, our whole group chased. At some point, George got dropped, and not too much later, I lost focus and got dropped on the first of the backside rollers. I chased as hard as I was able, but all was lost. I rode the last 1 1/2 laps on my own, but I was happy to have helped cover some of the attacks for Dennis. Dennis finished 5th. I am stoked to have been a small part of it. This was a very fast paced race. It was lots of fun to do it with teammates, even if I did get dropped. I’ll hope to have more opportunities to ride in support of teammates in the future.

CCCX 45+ 3/4

I also entered an afternoon race just to round out the weekend. In all honesty, I don’t have a great recollection of this race. My energy was less than premium and I found myself doing whatever I could to just stay on a good wheel. A couple of guys got dropped along the way, but it was on the leading hill climb on our final lap that a couple of guys got away. The group was chasing, but it wasn’t happening. Then, I got gapped on the first of the backside rollers. I was determined to get back on and chased as hard as I could. I finally made it back just before the last of the rollers, so I was on with the group for the final dive down the hill before the finish. With two guys up the road, and me already blown from chasing, I didn’t make any effort to sprint. I was very happy to finish with the group in this race.

Many thanks to Rod and Keith for putting on such a safe, fun and well organized event. I am going to try and be more supportive of their races.

Monday, August 26, 2013

CCCX Circuit Race #10, 35+ 3/4, Fort Ord, 8/25/2013

By Dennis Pedersen

Bob Montague, George Janour and I decided to join forces in a race we could all enter. In my case that meant racing with the younger group rather than my preferred 45+ group... but racing with teammates ended up being more fun.

The race course is the usual 4.3-mile loop on the closed roads of this former Army base, and we were to do five laps. We were determined to make this a fast and fun race. So right at the start, on Parker Flats Cut-Off Road, Bob took a nice hard pull at the front of the small group of 18 racers, and I pulled through right after him. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but some guys from Leopard-Sapporo then pulled through even harder than we had... game on!

The race was full of attacks which we had agreed we'd take turns marking. I was impressed at the number of attacks and how well-timed they were, but also with our ability to mark them. If I'd had to mark them all I would have been exhausted very quickly; that's a major plus to having teammates. Bob showed tremendous spirit when he lost his chain on Eucalyptus Road's climbs but managed to rejoin us and continue his hard work. Wow!

The 35+ group definitely races harder than the 45+ group (we had several laps under 11 minutes!). The attacks really tired us out and a few times I was worried about my ability to continue... but I didn't want to let Bob and George down and I always managed to dig a little deeper to stay in contact with the main group.

We ended up having a few breakaway groups form, always with one of us in it, but they were all reeled back in like fish. Until we started our fourth lap; that's when a guy (I think from Dolce Vita Cycling) soloed off the front on the climb up Parker Flats. Nobody followed him and soon he was well out front.

The rest of us took a few pulls and eventually the breakaway guy was brought a bit closer. On the last lap Dave Porter (Bicycle Blue Book Racing) bridged up to him on Parker Flats and the pace picked up. I looked back and saw we'd dropped five or six guys in the process. I was nervous the duo would stay away, as they still had a nice gap on the final climbs up Eucalyptus. By then I was so exhausted from trying to maintain contact that all I could do was gasp for breath as I followed at the very back of this chase group as we descended from the top of Eucalyptus for the last time. But I was relieved to spot the duo about 100 meters ahead as we hit the bottom of the descent, on the long, fast straight leading up to the last two right-hand turns on Parker Flats.

Somehow I managed to make the strong draft of the riders ahead of me work to my advantage and I flew around them all on the right, past the duo and into the lead. It was a long sprint, but I figured it was my best chance vs. trying to fight them all in a bigger field sprint. Well, it almost worked, but four guys managed to counter-attack me at the finish line, with Erik taking a well-deserved win.

So, finishing 5th in a tough race like this was still an accomplishment for me and I was very grateful to Bob and George for the work they had put into this cool team effort. Thanks guys!

Monday, August 19, 2013

San Ardo 55+

My road racing season is winding down, and this year I have been gratified to find myself with a second wind in August. The early season races are generally better suited to my strengths, with the exception of these few races that I often attempt towards the end of the summer. In past years, I have had a let down in fitness after competing hard through the spring and taking time off for family vacation in June. Although I have gone through that same letdown this year, the dynamic was a bit different due to a change up in schedule. In early May, at a time when I would normally be geared up towards racing hard, we went to Europe for 2 weeks. That served as a signal to my body that it was time to go from racing mode to recovery mode. I put on weight and I found myself unwilling and unable to engage in the hardest high intensity workouts that I typically do on a weekly basis. I recognize this change from past years, but typically it has begun with our June vacation. Having it start in early May has allowed me to have a resurgence in fitness that is peaking in mid August. My weight has come back down and I have found myself looking forward to and enjoying the weeks’ hardest workout.

That workout is an interval effort that many on our team engage in on a weekly basis throughout the year. I do the workout a lot, but I also allow myself to step away from it if I feel my body is telling me to do so. When we returned from our family vacation in mid June this year, I was feeling fat and fully recovered from my early season racing. I decided to see if I could get fit again for 3 races on the schedule in August; Dunnigan Hills, San Ardo and Winters. I wanted to bring my weight back down and increase my ability to ride with intensity. I began in mid June by doing repeats on the back side of Hazeldel, in the same direction that the Saturday ride does it. Rather than use my power meter, which is currently broken, I decided to use time along with weight as my measurement. The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many watts you can put out, and it also doesn’t matter how much you weigh. What really matters is the combination of those two factors and the resultant time that it takes you to get through a given interval. My given interval starts at about 10 mph from the bridge at the bottom of the Del to the Stop sign at the one way traffic control. The effort is to repeat this interval 6 times, with my perceived exertion the same at the beginning and end of each interval, as well as being the same across all intervals. I restarted doing these intervals in mid June, weighing in at 197# (Clydesdale material). My first week out, I found I could only complete 4 efforts before I was done. My best time was 5’ 45”, with my slowest effort at 6’ even. The next week out, my weight was down to 193#, but I continued to hover in the same time range. I think I had one effort in the 5’ 30” range, but I did complete all 6. After that, I found I was beginning to look forward to my weekly interval session on Tuesday mornings. It continues to be painfully hard, but I am now completing 6 efforts each week with a best time of 4’ 45” and at a weight of 186#. The truth is this is still not good enough, but I know the deficiency is weight related more than power related. I think it is an important fact about racing to explain how I know this.

I regularly do the Saturday ride. Many of the most competitive riders in our county do that ride, and I find it a good opportunity to test my fitness and race readiness. The normal Saturday ride route does not include any huge hill, but it does include this effort that I have been using for my interval work each week. There has never been a time, during the season, that I have not seen this section on the Del used as the means for separating the contenders from the riff raff. They always hit it hard. I am never going to make it over that climb with the 1’s, 2’s, pros and youngsters, of whom there are always at least a few. My goal is to make it over that hill with the guys in our area who I know are as good at climbing as the best race climbers in the 55+ age group. I have identified several riders who fit that description. Some of these guys weigh 40 - 50 pounds less than I do. It takes too many watts to make that up, more than I can train for. For me to get over with them, I have to do 3 things. I must train my power as best I can, I must lower my weight to the point where I will not sacrifice any of that power, and I must make the effort to hold those wheels that I want to get over with. That last is a key point that I think is often forgotten in training. While the value of drafting off of another rider is not as great on a hill, it can still be substantial enough to make the difference in making it or getting dropped. It is almost always worth the effort to stay with a rider you know is a leader in your category. When I began engaging in interval training in mid June, I would round the last corner heading up to the stop sign on the Del during the Saturday ride, and see those riders heading out of sight beyond the stop sign. I was more than 1’ 30” behind them and discouraged. Now when I do that ride, I am still behind them, but the gap is more like 30”, and my time with other riders is at 4’ 30”. It’s faster than I can do it on my own, but it’s still not fast enough. There is a place, not far from where I currently sit in this, where I will know that I can reach back, dig deep, and bridge that last remaining gap. Right now, I know that to try and do that would blow me up, leaving my body too devastated to continue at race pace. I also know that I have somewhere between 6 and 10 pounds that I can lose without giving up any power, maybe more. The challenge I have is that when I reach for these lower weights, my mind has a tendency to send me towards panic mode, even though I can tell my body likes it. I just keep working on it and I know that I will get there eventually.

I am rambling through this because next weeks’ race at Winters, has a hill. I haven’t done it in a couple of years, but I seem to recall it being a hill similar to the Del. I am signed up for the 35+ 4 race there, because the 45+ 4 race is full and there is no 55+ category. I thought about the E-4 race, but their course is too long considering that I am also planning to do the CCCX races on Sunday. I do not expect the 35+ 4 race to hit the hill as hard as the 55+ racers would. The 4 races tend to stay together more and come down to a sprint at the finish. My hope would be to alter this dynamic by attacking as often as I can, but I will sit in the first lap to see how I do on the hill. If I get dropped, I will have to chase, and that will change my plan. Still, I am realizing that this course at Winters is really what I have been targeting in my late season training. I want to use it to prove to myself that I can climb with my peer group, perhaps even punish most of them. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

My race at San Ardo was way fun. After entering the E-4 race at Dunniigan and finishing well, I was excited to enter this mostly flat race with the 55 open group. I was a bit disappointed to see that the race was not going to be a big group with only 10 guys preregistered. Still, one of those guys was Steve Archer, one of the best racers in our district. I knew he would make sure the race was animated, but I had a few plans of my own. At the line we had 12 total, as two of our team, Kem Akol and Jim Moran, had made the trip down and signed up for the race. I am always stoked to get to race with teammates, but in this race, it was not to be for long. The course meanders uphill from the start for the first mile plus and then proceeds to roll through about the first half lap. By the time we had gotten through that section, I looked around and saw that there were only 8 of us left. Both Kem and Jim had been among those dropped, but I give kudos to both of them for making the effort and for remaining on the course and finishing the race!

For my part, I was feeling pretty good and I wanted to do my part to make the race competitive. Dave Montgomery from the Sierra Nevada team had animated the first part of the race and his effort had shelled the early riders. He had recovered and attacked again, staying off the front of our group for 10 or 15 minutes before Archer and his teammate made the effort to reel him back in. Our race had pretty much ongoing attacks, and I did my share, at one point staying away for 10 - 15 minutes. Pretty much everyone recognized Archer as the favorite and made either he or his teammate chase down the attacks. Still, he is a very strong racer and was able to launch a number of attacks on his own.

Our race continued on in this fashion until the risers at the beginning of our second lap. At that point, a guy from San Jose Cycling went to the front and attacked really hard. I had a gap open up in front of me and had to chase very hard, but at no point did I feel like I was in danger of getting dropped. However, we did lose one more racer before it was over, and we were down to 7 in the lead group vying for 6 places in the medals at the finish. Dave and I continued to attack, along with the rider from San Jose Cycling, but Archer and his teammate chased us down each time. Then, an opportunity presented itself. Archer saw that he had a slow leak and was flatting. He told the group that he was pulling off, and his teammate pulled off with him. At first no one acted, but I suggested that we needed to ride hard and lose both of these guys. We began to do so, but it was late and never in an organized way. Before I knew it, I looked around and Archer was back with us. His teammate, sacrificing himself, had given Archer his wheel and remained behind. Archer had chased us down and was back in the group. Pretty impressive.

The attacks continued with no overall impact, and we began to contemplate the finish. I knew Archer was a force to be reckoned with, but there was also a Cal Giant rider in our group who I thought I remembered as a good sprinter. What was more, he had not taken a pull or launched an attack all day. As we rolled through town and began the uphill effort to the turn for the finish, I was sitting 2nd wheel behind the San Jose Cycling rider. I was giving my best effort, but I think I should have been in my small chain ring for this. The big ring effort was starting to grind and I couldn’t keep up as Archer and the Giant rider came around me. I was trying to chase, but I ended up getting in Dave’s way in the process, for which I am very sorry. Still, I regrouped and continued with Dave’s encouragement on my wheel. I was starting to make up some ground, as we entered the corner for the last effort to the line, but I did not have enough. Dave came around me and took 4th behind the San Jose Cycling rider in 3rd, the Cal Giant rider in 2nd, and Archer with the win. I finished 5th as the last guy in our lead group had nothing left for the effort to the line. Kem came in a bit behind in 9th, and I think Jim was 11th. I think Dave may have taken 3rd if he had not been on my squirrely wheel. I’ll do better in the future. Still, it was a really fun day of racing!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dunnigan Hills E-4 August 10, 2013

I have grown somewhat tired of racing the 45 4/5 races. I do not particularly think it is anyone’s fault, except for maybe my own. Every time I enter a 45 4/5 road race, we ride around at a non race pace for the entire race until we get to the last few miles. Then things crank up for a sprint finish. I think the thing that gets to me is my own inability to change this dynamic in my own favor. When racing in this group, I am likely to be among the top finishers, but I am unlikely to finish in the top 3. There have always been at least a few who are better sprinters than I, at the finish. The other tactic I have tried is to attack the group and try to get a break going. I continue to think that this is likely to be my best and most successful tactic in the long run, but as of yet, I have been unable to achieve any success.

In an effort to learn what I could from a similar but different group of racers, in a longer race, I decided to enter the E-4 race at Dunnigan Hills. I found even the prospect of entering this race to be somewhat intimidating and challenging. It was scheduled for 2 laps of the 43 mile course rather than my typical 1 lap. Plus, being an E-4 race, it meant that most of those who entered would be less than half my age. And yet, I was probably more excited at the prospect than I should have been. I’m pretty fit currently, and I wasn’t looking for a win at Dunnigan. I was more interested in testing my fitness in a long hard race, with an eye to developing a more informed point of view towards tactics in future races. My fear was that the kids would simply prove too strong for me, and they would ride away from me on the first lap, leaving me to ride alone for the majority of the 86 mile race. I think I have entered 1 or 2 E-4 races in the past only to get dropped early. A few years ago, I pre rode the course at Panoche with Robert Ameteli when he was a 4. I found I could not even keep up with him on that day when he was only riding a preview. Still, I was able to put my fears aside and focus on my goals. I made the decision to have a goal of staying with the lead group for the entire race. I felt this was a big enough challenge. I also knew there was likely to be at least 1 guy in this race who would have the talent to punish the group.

I made the long drive to Yolo, checked in, got my number pinned and got dressed. I warmed up on the trainer for about 20 minutes, but did not do anything more than spin myself warm. I figured this race would be plenty long, and I expected to need all my energy. Team manager, Ed Price, had asked me what I planned to eat during this race, and I had not really thought about it. For most of my races, I take a couple of goo gels and 1 bottle. At around 50 miles, I know that is all I will need. 86 miles is a whole different animal. Thanks to Ed’s prodding, I realized that I needed to be better prepared in this longer event. I stuffed 1/2 a PB & J in one pocket, 3 goo gels in another, took 2 full bottles of coke, and mentally prepared myself to take further bottles as needed at the neutral feed zones. I rolled up to the start line about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled race start and found we were running about 10 minutes late. No Problem.

As I joined in with my group to await the start, I saw 1 guy who looked to be in his 50’s, a couple of guys who might have been in their 40’s, and the rest who all appeared to be under 25. On the side of the road, I recognized John Albrecht from Santa Cruz, the father of a young mountain bike rider who has gotten a lot of local press for his accomplishments in the last few years. I said hello to John, and asked if his son, Jacob, was racing. He told me Jacob has developed an interest in racing on the road, and had been working on earning enough points to turn pro. I said that was great and asked which race he was in. “Yours”, was the answer. At that point, I spotted Jacob in our group and realized I was probably in for a tough ride. John told me that Jacob had won the E-4 race at Patterson the week before. His power file from the race had shown a 5 minute period where he had averaged over 450 watts. I expect that’s where he broke away from the group on the final climb, never to be seen again. Jacob appeared to be a big rider and I asked John if he was 190#. He laughed and said the young man was 160#, and racing age of 19. I was hoping the group rides I had done with Tobin and Sam C were going to have me prepared for this.

Our race started about 10 - 15 minutes late and we were neutral for the first mile or so. Once the flag indicating the race was on went up, the group began to surge. The surge would last between 1 and 3 minutes and then things would slow down a bit. Anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes later, the pattern would repeat. This continued throughout the race. About halfway through the first lap, we made a left turn and passed over the freeway, turning I think from a headwind into a crosswind. A split opened up in the field at that point and I found myself on the wrong side of it. Though the gap was no more than 50 - 100 yards, the lead group was surging. I jumped as hard as I could and dug deep, only to match the speed of the lead group. I was not making up any ground, but I continued to chase and at least held the gap. Finally the group’s surge subsided before I blew up, and I was able to get back on. I immediately drank a full bottle of coke and ate a goo gel. Luckily, the group was recovering from their surge, and that gave me time to recover as well. A few riders of the 50 starters had been dropped, one or two of the older guys among them.

Early into the 2nd lap, our group was passed by the 35 1/2/3 group. I was more than a bit surprised to hear a number of guys in our group calling for a natural break. I was more surprised when everyone pulled over to stop. I would expect this in my 55+ races, but it surprised me in an E-4 race. So much so that it made me laugh and I told the group I was going to attack. But I didn’t. Our whole second lap was slower than the first, and that surprised me. I was feeling pretty good, and a lot of these guys were running out of gas. Still, as we approached the turn that would lead to the finish, I realized that my goal for this race were going to be achieved. At first, I thought I should try to move up for a higher finish, and I moved up in the group until I was near the front. There was a guy riding near me at that point who gave me pause. He had started the race in a torn and obviously crashed jersey, his demeanor was clearly somewhat belligerent, and he was a somewhat squirrelly rider. After experiencing his riding style for a while, I chose to allow myself to drift back into the group a bit. I had a fundraiser to attend that evening, and I wasn’t willing to risk becoming a crash victim to maybe finish top 5. I was already aware of the possibility of a crash going through the chicanes that would lead us to the finish, so I just decided to sit in a bit farther back in the group and do my best when the sprint started.

Probably a mile before the turn towards the finish, a guy to my left hit a bump in the middle of the road and went over his bars. I was in the unfortunate position of watching his cheekbone drive into the asphalt, followed by his shoulder and his bike. I did not look back, though others did. I did not want to see the pain that guy must have been going through, but this event did confirm my decision to simply sit in for the finish of this race. Another guy went down as we went through the first chicane going to the finish, but the rest of the race was safe. When the sprint started, I was probably sitting about 35th. I sprinted in the saddle and found myself passing lots of guys. I was very happy to find that I finished 16th. Jacob had seemed to do little more than spin throughout the race, but when the time came to sprint, he rode away with the win. Its funny how obvious that kind of talent can be. I think I got some tactical ideas for future races.

Suisun Harbor Criterium, E4/5

After a two month hiatus from racing (and a 4 month break from my last crit), I was back in action last week at the Suisun Harbor Criterium. I've been eager to get back into racing since I've been training really hard these past few months, but unfortunately every race I've targeted has either been canceled (What construction, UCSC?) or I've had to miss it for the never ending stream of weddings, some of which I was the Reverend (officiant). Nevertheless, with a family birthday party in the East Bay Saturday evening, I had a great excuse to travel North and get a race in.

I had to get up extra early since being a cat 4 racer means you get the unfortunately early racing times that other people have earned the right to avoid. Still, the weather was great, and I was pumped up to give it a go. The field was about 45 riders, and my plan of attack was to follow the three guys from Audi as close as I could, since they had two guys who had seemingly taken turns winning every other crit over the past few months. The course was fairly small (~0.4 mile), really your most typical flat four corner clockwise circuit.

The race started off fast. I quickly found myself near the back using way too much energy to stay in contact. More than anything, I felt rusty riding in a fast pack and flying through corners. Though my legs were in pain (thanks George, Nils, Mark, and crew on Saturday...), I felt ready to go. I was more or less chasing the first third, but then midway through the race, I found myself smiling, willing to the embrace the pain, and a sick desire to inflict hurt on the pack. After a few laps, I had worked up to the front, and bridged up to a guy off the front. When I got up to him, he had this look on his face like he was going to cry, and he had stopped pedaling, so I knew a break at that point wasn't feasible. The pack caught up with us again fairly quickly and I was mid pack so I could save energy for the last few laps.

Towards the end, I decided my goal was to be no less than 5th wheel on the last lap so I could have a decent shot in the sprint. As the laps ticked away, I moved up slowly. On the second to last lap, I was indeed fifth wheel and was trying to hold it desperately as we approached the line with one lap to go. Unfortunately, a Team Mike's Bike's guy surging up the side on my left haphazardly gave me a Cavendish like shoulder bump (see: Stage 10, 2013 TdF) and my left hand fell off the drop. After a few moments of terror, I managed to keep the bike upright, but the real damage was that I had dropped 10 or so positions back. I hammered hard, but on a small course, it's hard to gain that much position that fast, particularly on the final lap.

The results haven't been posted yet, but I imagine I finished 15th or so out of the 45 racers. Frustrating to have had such a good race fall apart in the end, but I'm happy that I was able to get back out there and put forth a good effort, and it felt like my training had helped out big time, particularly the anaerobic efforts I've been focusing on. Definitely the first race where I felt like a contender instead of just a competitor. And there's a number of crits that I plan on doing over the next month (Giro di SF, Concord, Oakland GP), so at least I'll have other opportunities to place well.

Result: 17/42

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

CCCX Circuit Race #9, 45+ 3/4, Fort Ord, 8/3/2013

By Dennis Pedersen

I really like these road races; partly because they're just a 45-minute drive from Santa Cruz, and partly because the race categories are so friendly to a Cat 3 Master like me with several options of when to race. So this is the fifth time I have raced there this year.

I picked up Nils so he could race the Elite 2/3 race at 12:30, and the gray weather started to clear up after we arrived. I got ready and warmed up, chatted with friends, and took a few photos of Nils while I waited for my 2:00 race start. I think there were barely ten racers, which is fun, because there are fewer variables which allows me to focus on my tactics to a very specific degree.

Our first lap (of 6 total) on this smooth, 4.3-mile rolling course (all on closed roads) was really just a warmup. But on the second lap the chatting riders behind us persuaded Scott Calley (VOS) and I to take some pulls at the front to liven things up, or perhaps initiate a breakaway. I felt it was in my interest to keep the pace higher, and also hoped I could spring a breakaway that would force others to chase into the wind. So on the Parker Flat climb we opened up a gap and, sure enough, some of the fast guys chased us down. I doubted they'd let me ride away in a break, ever, so I couldn't waste too much energy doing this.

So on the third lap Scott went on the attack again and got away solo, while I watched on to encourage others to either go with him or pull me up to him. In this case nobody went and so he started to disappear up ahead. After working too hard in some of the previous races here I stuck to my plan and just waited. Only occasionally did I push the pace, and never too hard. I wanted the gap to be manageable, and also to keep my competitors breathing instead of chatting. Eventually Rob White (Bicycle Blue Book) bridged up to Scott, really digging deep; he's a strong sprinter which made me think some of the others would chase, but still nobody did. Maybe they doubted he and Scott could maintain their pace.

I was able to stay really focused in this race and did a good job of carefully considering when I should force the pace and when to just hold back. I would carefully consider the wind force and direction, where key riders were positioned at any given time, and  how I felt before choosing my place to attack. In this way I was able to put some of the other riders in trouble without putting myself in any trouble. It truly is easier to accept pain when you are the one dishing it out!

On the fifth lap, on the stair-step climbs on Eucalyptus, I opened up another gap so there were only four of us chasing just as we caught Robert, who was gasping for breath. I could see Scott ahead, but closer, so I felt everything was exactly as I wanted it. I was mostly just worried the others in our chase group weren't tired out and could beat me in a sprint; at least John Cheetham (Metromint) was forced to take some big pulls too, though not as many as I wanted, of course. Scott's teammate Courtney Grossman (VOS) hadn't had to pull at all since his teammate Scott was in the lead so long, nor had Mark Bailey (Alto Velo) so both were a potential threat. I guess I still have a few things to learn that would have helped me.

On the last lap I took a pull past exhausted Scott and now it was between the four of us to determine the winner. I was trying to string out our small group just enough to make it harder for guys like Courtney to beat me in a sprint, but mostly I was worried that John would be able to use my energy to his advantage. So I rested a bit on the final descent, watched, waited, and started my sprint at maybe 90% a bit early. I skittered through the last two turns, and prepared to use my last jump to meet whoever tried to come around me. It turned out that John was that person, and my last jump was too little to beat him, but at least I finished 2nd place after a very entertaining and empowering race!

I think we all had fun!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Patterson Pass Road Race - 35+ Cat 5

I went into this race with quite some frustration about my knee problems which had completely shut down my running for a week. And just days after signing up for a local duathlon (next Saturday) and nationals in October...

Great warm up and briefing about tactics with Mark Edwards and Jim Langley before the race. It's such a honor to be able to hang around people like Mark and Jim, and to to get their advice and pieces of wisdom!

The Cat 5 35+ race had about 20 riders in it, and started off at an easy pace, as I was expecting. I found myself at the front of the pack early on, but soon realized nobody was willing to take on the wind howling up Patterson Pass. When I slowed down to invite folks to do their share up front some guys yelled at me to "keep pedaling". Somebody then did go up front, but shortly I was again dragging the whole group, and decided I had no intention to do so, and picked up the pace. This was about 2 miles in. I thought about Mark's advice to listen to the breathing of your competitors, and that was a good indication that at least those around me were already close to red lining. In fact, shortly thereafter I realized nobody had any intention to chase me. I was still going at a good tempo when I saw the Cat 4 (who had started five minutes before us) up the hill, and decided it would be a good idea to catch them and sit in their peloton. Rookie mistake...

At the end of the second climb, after passing the Cat 4 field. Clearly in high spirits.
I worked hard to catch the Cat 4's, but didn't quite make it on Patterson Pass. I had them in sight though, and after working hard downhill and on the second incline, I caught them. But of course a Referee then got beside me and told me I couldn't ride with them and that I had to keep going and pass them. Which was not planned, but ah well!, I felt good and I dropped them before the end of the incline, and started going TT-mode.

The rest of the race was about practicing time trialing, and catching the occasional drop-out from packs ahead (including I think the whole, or most of, the W's field). The second time around on Patterson Pass I had a solid climb, but the strong winds clearly were not ideal for a tall skinny guy like me. Still, the flats back were lots of fun, and Strava tells me that I averaged 37 mph on the 5 miles stretch to Midway Rd (with a very strong tailwind, of course!).

Despite getting off course on the way back, and having a short conversion with CHP, I managed to clock an even split of 1:04 on both laps, finishing well ahead of the leaders of the Cat 4 race. I felt really good overall, and happy about my knee injury not affecting my biking. We'll see what happens running next weekend!
At the finish line, first finisher of the day