Thursday, February 16, 2012

And Away we Go!

Hello! My name is Brian DeCann and I'm excited to be a part of the Dynamic Physical Therepy Cycling team for the 2012 Race Season. While most people have the luxury of taking the winter months off and relaxing a little bit, I have been in training mode since CX season was winding down. As a student at West Virginia University, I'm able to participate in the collegiate race season, which starts in the middle of winter and runs through April. Since I earned my Cat 3 upgrade after the end of last season, and a corresponding B/A collegiate upgrade there was no time to slack off! To be sure I would be ready, I started working with Rob Acciavatti of Performance Coaching Services to better maximize my training time. No doubt my time on the trainer this winter has never hurt more, yet been more efficient.

February 11th-12th marked the kickoff to the collegiate season in the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference (ACCC). North Carolina State University was the host, putting on a pair of road races in Sanford, NC. West Virginia brought a team of 10 racers, a vast increase since my first season two years ago.

After discussing with Rob how to best maximize the collegiate season for the summer, we decided that it would be worth a shot for me to start in the A's and "see how it goes". For those unfamiliar with colleigate racing, the A category is equivalent to a 1/2/3, which means two things: fast and pain.

On Saturday, the race consisted of an 11 mile loop on mostly flat roads. I think the elevation change was maybe 150-200 feet per lap (a bit tame compared for what we're all used to by ABRA standards!) and the A distance was 6 laps / 68 miles. The A field consisted of about 35 racers, many of whom I recognized from previous years by virtue of being fast. I lined up extremely nervous. I don't think my nerves were on such alert since the first race I ever did in the D field at NC State 2 years ago. Thoughts of "oh my god what am I doing here" were repeatedly running through my head. Not only would this be my first A race, but also the longest distance race I have done.

Right from the start, a group of 10 or so launched an attack to establish a break and the field pretty much just let it go. The break was represented by most teams, so it wasn't a surprise to see nobody chase it down. The first lap was rather timid. It reminded me of a Cat 4 race where nobody wants to work. But, deep down, I knew this was only the calm before the storm.

The second lap picked up some steam, as the field got word that the break was 5 minutes ahead. In an effort to not let it get completely out of reach the pace picked up. Not unreasonably, but it got a lot faster. In the third lap, the pace picked up once again. Attacks were occurring periodically, including through the feed zone and the pace out of each turn was close to a full sprint. I was sitting in the middle / rear of the field, and could overhear App State discussing tactics for the remainder of the race. As former DPT member Todd Latocha will tell you, App State has a train of national caliber riders. Something was about to change.

The fourth lap was incredibly hot. Every opportunity there was to attack, one was made. Anytime there was a slight incline, decline, exposure, feed zone, anything - there was an attack. At the speeds we were going, it was unbelievable how much effort was needed just to stay on a wheel. Even though I was drinking and eating, I could feel it wearing on me. I was still pretty sure I could hang on the rest of the way, but it would take everything to do so. By this point the gap on the break was down to about a minute, and some of its riders were slowly popping off.

At the start of the 5th lap there was once again an attack through the feed zone. Anticipating this, I didn't take a feed. Unfortunately, this attack was sandwiched between at least two others, and the latter of which popped me off. It was tough watching the field ride away as I was giving it everything just to catch back on. While not a new feeling, it had been a long time since that happened to me. I decided to cool down and ride out the 5th lap by myself. I looked at my computer to see that although the sensor got bumped off at one point, it still read an average of 28mph. Until then, I knew A's and 1/2/3's were fast, but I don't think I really got a sense of how fast that really was until being in one. As a sidenote, not hearing the phrase "slowing" at all in the A field, awesome.

After getting popped on Saturday, I wasn't sure how Sunday would go. The course on Sunday was about an 8 mile loop, which the A's needed to do eight times for 65 miles. It was also really cold. It was about 20 degrees (not including windchill) for the C and D races that started at 9:00am. By 11:30 (the start of the A's and B's), it was up to 30 degrees, but it didn't feel any warmer. It was a struggle to figure out what and how much to wear. I was hoping that the field would at least take it a little easy, at least for a little bit.

Well, that was wishful thinking. As soon as the race went out of neutral, the attacks started flying, one after the other. For whatever reason, likely a combination of not getting a good warm-up in, wearing too much and being exhausted from Saturday, I didn't have much in the tank to survive these initial attacks. I was dropped 2 miles in, which was pretty disappointing. I spent the next 2 hours or so riding the course in reverse to at least make use of the time. Turns out one of the App State guys who attacked early broke off and stayed away for the remaining 63 miles. Ridiculous.

Next up is a road race and criterium hosted by Duke University on February 25th-26th. While it was worth giving A's a shot, I think I'll be catting down to B's (3/4 equivalent) where I expect to be more competitive. Unfortunate, but these early season flat hammerfest courses do not play to my strengths. Lots of season to go, with the big climbs yet to come.