28 April 2011

ECCC Championships: TTT, Road Race, Crit

My first (and, sadly, last) collegiate race weekend - well at least as an undergrad - was at Penn State this past weekend. It also was my first Criterium and Team Time Trial! Being Class D has its perks and its downfalls. The major downfall is early ass races: now this wouldn't be so bad in warmer climates - but in the northeast is usually wet and cold. Saturday we had the TTT @ 8:45AM, which was followed by the Road Race @ 10:10AM. Both races were at the Black Moshannon State Park, definitely the most awesome cycling area to which I have been!

As the races were so close together and Kevin, Chris, and I were doing our first TTT the plan was to use it as a solid effort warm up, but by no means to go balls out and hurt our chances in the RR. The real plan was to beat RIT, by whatever margin. It was a 9.5 mile course, with two pretty long, but not too steep, climbs. We hit it from the start at a solid tempo, but definitely not too taxing of a pace. We only needed two finishers - which would allow for the eventual drop of one of our three. Surprisingly, in an extremely short time, we caught the team that started before us - the starts were separated by 30 seconds. Sadly RIT was starting after us so we wouldn't have a good gauge of how far ahead/behind they might be. We came up the first climb at an okay clip and then hit the downhill. Chris took a massive pull for nearly the entire downhill section, which ended up being his last pull. Coming to a bit of a flat, we crossed a bridge and hit another uphill. We started to drop Chris and decided we should let him bridge back so he could give us another pull - but he was pretty toast from his massive pull and the climbs (he's a real solid sprinter, but Kevin and I are much more of climbers) - and we dropped him when we hit the next incline. From here on out Kevin and I took pulls at a solid tempo, neither of us caring to really push the pace. We finished feeling good about the fact that we were so smooth for having only practiced TTT once before. Later we realized we were only 6 seconds behind the winner (Bucknell) and about 2 minutes ahead of any other teams. So had we not waited up for Chris that first time, or actually treated it like somewhat of a race, we likely would have had the win. Oh well, it was fun and a good experience. Oh yeah...and we beat RIT by about 3 minutes.

Now, for the REAL event, 21.5 mile Road Race. Two Category 5 climbs, and one (AWESOME) Category 2 climb! I was pretty excited for this race, as I am a big fan of big hills (aka mountains). The race was split between D1 and D2 - for school sizes, as the road conditions were slick at best and there were some very intense descents with hard turns. And, frankly, D's are not nearly skilled enough to be trusted in a pack of 60+ on such a course. So the race went out, immediately into one of the smaller climbs, at a pretty conservative pace. Once we got a mile or so in people started to actually bike, and some of the guys who didn't ride all season were probably getting strung out already - poor souls. Lots of hills to go solo. We came to the first descent, which seemed to last forever - and at mid-30's MPH that's a long distance. Once we got to the next climb Kevin said, "Oh wow, we get to use our legs again". I was spinning a little during the downhill without actually accelerating, just to keep my legs moving. The second climb broke up the pack some - but mainly strung out some of the riders, many of whom were able to reattach on the following downhill as riding along was very beneficial in our race as no one was crushing the downhills and being alone you had more freedom to cruise. The third climb, as we expected, provided the separation of the field that was purely inevitable. About two-thirds up the climb, Kevin started to work the pace a little - but still within his comfort zone. Many people responded, but only a Lehigh guy and myself pushed the front with Kevin. We came down the next descent still the three of us having a noticeable lead. It was really foggy and we didn't have good visibility. So the hard left leading into the Cat 2 climb came as a surprise, despite knowing it was going to come eventually. I was pulling at this point and barely slowed enough to make it through the turn - I went probably an inch onto the gravel, but only did so because I could use it and the pavement-gravel transition was smooth. Had it been a drop off I could've cut harder to stay on the pavement. However, I heard a wheel lock up and bounce behind me and I turned around just in time to see Kevin go straight into the guard rail and flip over it! While I was still watching in concern/shock I saw he was already on his feet, thank god! He definitely was going to be a little way back, but appeared to be well collected. Apparently he dropped his chain and shifted his handlebars - both pretty quick fixes. And he was 300-400 yards back, on his bike, and hauling ass to get back with myself and the Lehigh guy. I was pretty sure Kevin would be able to make a good effort and catch up, so I made sure to go as slow as possible. Every pull I took, I slowed the pace down. And sometimes I went to take a pull and very slowly decreased my speed so the Lehigh guy didn't notice. Eventually he started taking pulls as he may have thought that I was going to get dropped. But he signaled for me to pull, and I flat out said, "Dude, my teammate crashed and I want him back up here. So I'm not going to put in any work, go ahead and do what you please." So he pulled for a while, but didn't make any moves whatsoever. Shortly, Kevin caught back up - but was toast - as it was over a mile of him kicking it in pretty hard just to get back to us. I pulled for a little while to ensure Kevin some additional recovery. He came up by my side and I told him to tuck his ass in and recover. He didn't come up to take a pull though. He told me to go ahead and surge, that I'd cleanly have the win if I made a good move. I told him I was waiting for him to recover, but he insisted. So I jumped and put in a good 15 seconds of work, gaining 20m or so. Sat back down and kept the tempo up until I couldn't see Kevin and the Lehigh guy anymore as they were lost in the fog. At this point I was pretty sure I had the race in the bag, but made sure not to take it for granted. I continued to ride steadily and comfortable to and though the climb. At this point I started passing an absurd amount of riders from the D1 race, pretty surprisingly just blowing past them. Once I crested the peak - that was about 4.5 miles into my solo break. I just cruised the downhill, enjoying that I had the pace car tracing out my line for me. I hit 45.2MPH somewhere along the way, which is moving along quite good, but was comfortable every bit of the descent. Finally I came around to the last turn - a hard left about 600m from the finish. And figured I'd kick it in and enjoy putting in a solid finish. I cruised home easily to victory by a margin of 70 seconds, over my teammate Kevin, who recovered from his crash and surge - and dropped the Lehigh guy by one minute! Well done by him, for sure. Chris had a good race overall, especially consider climbing is not his forte, finishing 11th.

Now for the exciting race: my first Criterium ever. I was nervous for this race in the sense that I really didn't know how it worked except for off-hand accounts. I had never seen, nor been to, a crit before. So I was both very excited and a bit nervous. I had a lot on my side in that I had two solid teammates with me, some great tight riding work (Portland Velo Club rides, specifically the sprint at the end of the Saturday ride), and was sitting on a win from the day before against pretty much the same field. The course: 30min race, 1K, 6 turn (L,L,L,R,L,L), pretty flat, only one decent straightaway on the start/finish. Turn 1-2 was a little down-up, 2-3 was false flat, 3&4 were a tight S-turn, 4-5 was flat, 5-6 flat, then the slight downhill straightaway 6-1.

The Race: I wanted good position to start the race, so I made sure to get on the front line. I screwed this up when I didn't get my clip completely in, but only lost a few spots. I wanted to be 100% sure I would be within the top 10 the entirety of the race, regardless of pulls it required me to take. I settled in a lot better than I expected to. I took quite a lot of pulls during the race, but I never left my comfort zone - so I figured I'd have the gas to put a real strong effort in late race. I totaled 8-10 laps of pulling, which is WAYY too much had I been in any other race besides D's. The race moved along smoothly - a good chunk of the field got dropped due more to lack of comfort in tight quarters/cornering than actual skill. There were two primes: both of which the Army guy won, neither of which I worked for (although I made him work for the second one just to mess with him). There were no real solid attacks in the crit, but once or twice a few of us got 15m or so off the front and nothing came of it. Slowly the laps ticked away and despite pulling a lot, I was still feeling fresh with 10 to go and started thinking about when to make a move. I didn't want to do anything too early, so around 6 to go I started calling to Chris Jensen (my teammate) to come up and talk to me. I told him I wanted him up in the top 5 as I wanted to 1) give him good sprint position and 2) maybe break away with him. A couple of the guys in the race kept swinging in front of me just before turn 1, which ruined my attacking plan with 2 or 3 laps to go: I wanted to go HARD into and through turn 2, stand sprinting into 3, and take 3 & 4 extremely tight and hard. Then bust my ass to hold it. However, due to people jumping in front of me I had to resort to making my move on the last lap. Hamilton and RISD jumped in front of me going into the last lap, but I made a good turn on 1 and set myself up for 2. The typical line was to blow outside coming out of 2 to set up for 3. I noted this and cut hard into 2 (getting very tight on the wheel ahead/next to me) and just cranked out of the turn. This won me a solid inside position coming into 3, which I took at an uncomfortably fast and tough angle - this resulted in me going onto the 2-foot concrete gutter that separated pavement from curb. But was still in control. I settled and set up for 4. When I got through turn 4 I looked back and saw that I had a comfortable 20m+ lead. I kept the throttle down and comfortably had the win! Best part was, that despite getting pushed back on the later laps - Chris came out in third, thanks to his solid sprinting skills. Army took second - not surprising as he was notably strong in the field.

All in all - I absolutely love my first cycling race weekend. And now I really really want to do a stage race, especially if there is an ITT! The duathlon/triathlon season is now in session, but I hope to still get a few bike races in as they have been so enjoyable! Great job to Kevin Howard and Chris Jensen - going into races knowing your teammates are ready to kill it is a huge help and a massive boost to being comfortable and confident. And thanks to Drew Scoles and Ian Byrd for making sure I didn't get too worried about the minor details of races when it was most important to be confident and patient.

24 April 2011

MIA: In more ways than one.

It's been about one month since I last updated, and I was trying to keep it at 1-2 updates per week. A few weeks ago I started to come down with a little something, and instead of just taking it easy and recovering (water, sleep, etc), which I did, I added on a great deal of mental lapse and apathy that led to a rough(er) week than it would have been. On the bright side, I'm back at it and feeling great again (physically and - more importantly - mentally!). That week also showed me how critical proper nutrition and diet are to good performance. In response to my poor decisions nutritionally, I decided to buy the book Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan. So far (~60 pages) it's a great tool and I just want to get all the way through it so I can utilize the knowledge from it as a whole. However, it has been great as a read and reference (i.e. after my 50 mile ride today, it was good to see what exactly I should do to replenish my fuel stores).

Back to that last week of March: Thursday I came down with 'something' - I wasn't throwing up or miserable, but my body completely tanked it. I literally struggled on an 8:30 pace 2 mile run Friday. That made it very clear that I should bail on the cycling races last weekend (last weekend of Spring Giros...kinda bummed as I threw $30 for 2 races instead of 8. Oh well, health is more important...I suppose). It took a bit to recover from that, but the runs the next week resulted in total leg cramping. Then I got frustrated and had some additional mental lapse. I finally got myself fully back together about 2 weeks ago, losing a good nearly month of quality training. I recovered enough to feel mediocre going into a race last weekend: Bloomfield, NY. Cat 5 (29 and under) Road Race, 22.5 miles (2x11.25mi loop). Mostly rolling hills, but these were nothing compared to the snow and 40MPH winds...which sucked, to put it bluntly (and truthfully). The weather was ugly and not enough people came out to the race, so the two Cat 5 groups raced together, but were scored separately.

Going into the race I felt in far worse overall fitness than I was 3 weeks before at that first Giros weekend. However, I tried to put thoughts of this behind me and focus on the fact that I should be excited to race - not disappointed in my own faults and poor preparation. I didn't have the comfort I normally do at higher effort levels. For what hills there were I could seriously feel the 12 pounds I had gained. Normally I can cruise up a hill with a good rise of the heart rate, which falls pretty quick so long as no one tries to move hard out of the hill. But that day, I was struggling up the hills (rare) and my legs weren't coming back under me (more rare). I sat in most of the first lap, and was fine staying in the lead pack. On the second lap I tried to get my body back into the zone to feel speed, by taking a couple pulls and testing the field on some hills. But this was to no avail. Normally it would shake out the legs and get my confidence rolling, but at Bloomfield it actually cut me down. Nevertheless, I put in all I could as we came down to a field sprint finish. People sprinted out of the corner up the last hill, which was a fairly steep and short one about 800m from the finish. I went, hard, and as I crested the hill felt completely crushed. There were two guys (1 was in the 30+, 1 in my group) off the front by 25m, then myself and another 30+ guy who was just ahead of me, then my teammate, Kevin Howard. We were met with 45MPH crosswinds and snow. At this point myself and the guy with me were trying to battle the winds more than each other (especially as we knew fighting for position would not affect our placings). I pushed really hard but nothing wanted to go. We gained on the two leaders, but only closed the gap to about 1 second, or a good 10+ meters. I finished seconds in the 29 and under category. I was pleased with the result, considering my weight gain and fitness - but there was no reason I shouldn't have won if I were in the shape I was in March. The winner (and of the 29 and under race) was a strong rider, but I had beat him in both Giros that I raced.

Needless to say, I'm now back on track and working hard. ECCC (Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference) Championships were this weekend. Expect a race report mid-week. Races: TTT, RR, Crit.