Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Steel City Showdown Weekend

For whatever reason, it sounded like a good idea to sign up for Appalachian Bicycle Racing Associtation's Saturday Oval Series in 3 classes: Masters 40+ at 10AM, Cat 4/5 at 11AM and Cat 3/4 at 1PM.  I've done 2 races in a morning on numerous occassions during cross and even earlier this spring at the ABRA Training Race #2 and the Clarksburg Grand Prix.  After both road races, I fine afterwords. So, I thought, how bad can another 35 minutes of racing hurt. Well, I survived it but I can tell you that it hurt and it hurt alot.

Race #1
Thanks to Fred Jordan for showing up AGAIN and providing awesome visual reminders of the day. The photo to the left is from the 35 lap Masters 40+ race and pretty much summed up the race... everywhere I went, there was a Chamrahk rider on my rear wheel. Thats the benefit of having a team to work with. There were only 9 riders in the field but 5 of them were all wearing the same kits. Every move, every attack, and every counter attack seemingly involved one of their riders. 1 on 1 I like my chances against any of them. But when they can team up and and make you try to keep each and everyone of them in check, it just doesn't work out in my favor. As it was, I let the one person on their team who I wasn't afraid of get away and somehow he made his break stick.  He was joined by another unattached rider with a few laps to go stealing his win, but Chamrahk got 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th on the podium and I was left to finish 7th.  Truthfully, I still had a lot left in the tank, but I also knew that I would be racing the 4/5 race only moments later and didn't want to get dropped right away.

Shawn is over my left shoulder, Rick over my right

The 4/5 field was larger than the masters (15 riders) and there were a few riders who were also doing their second race of the morning. This time, I was joined for the 30 lap adventure by teammate Shawn Geiger and arch nemesis, Rick Plowman. Rick and I were teammates last year and are both on new teams this year but we still get along as well as ever.  The boy can't climb a lick but on flat ground, there aren't many who can hold his wheel when he says its time to go and he starts to accelerate.  When teammates are few in number for either of us, its an unspoken commitment that we will do what it takes to help the other out, at least until the last 400 meters or so.  Since I only had Shawn and Rick was solo, we tried working together to keep the field in check.  With about 15 laps to go, I drifted back to see how Shawn was feeling and got the OK from him. I told him I would try attacking to try to get the others to respond and take themselves out of their comfort zone. With 10 to go I launched and felt my heart rate rocket. I was caught in a couple laps but I was soon off the front again. This attack lasted even less time before I was caught but I regrouped and went again. And Again. And Again. Finally with 2 to go, just as I was being reeled in for the final time, the eventual winner launched his own attack and the field just let him go. I got close to Rick and Shawn and told them they'd better be there at the end and on the last half lap the field sprint commenced. I'm not sure who started it because I was still seeing blue and red and yellow dots but I grabbed a wheel moving in the right direction and tried to go. I hit turn 3 somewhere about 10th place, turn 4 in 7th, and dug deep into my suitcase of pain and managed to pull out a 5th place finish.  Shawn got a bit boxed in and ended up finishing
Podium shot with me trying to knock Rick off the podium the only way I know how.

Following the 4/5 race was the Womens race and then the 1 lap Kids Race. It was the perfect opportunity to eat a couple Honey Stinger Waffles, wash it down with my Camelbak Elixir, and find a spot in front of one of the heaters that Trek of Pittsburgh so graciously provided.  Let me tell you, after 2 hard efforts it was very difficult to get out of the lawn chair I had commadeered from Gina. But not wanting to to risk taking a DNF, I got up and got on the bike and did an abbreviated warm up. Then I found myself on the starting line for the 3rd time, this time for the 35 lap 3/4 field. Again, Shawn was in the field with me but I knew before we started that he was on his own. The tank was empty, the cupboards bare, or the well was dry. Whatever cliche you wanted to use, it was true. I was just along for the ride and was praying that I would survive.

Really? Head butting in a 3/4 field
because you felt "boxed in"? Really?
The whistle blew and we were off. The first few laps were basically uneventful and I was able to get nto a slight rhythm.  Just when I started thinking that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, it got worse than I ever thought it would get. Kyle Kukeiza and two juniors from a team out east (and a team with less than stellar sportsmanship standards I will add) shot of off the front causing the whole pack to respond. Well, the whole pack minus 1. I started drifting further and further off the last wheel and although I was able to latch back on a time or two, that rubber band finally snapped and I was on my own. The 3 riders in the front had the torches lit and were hauling @$$.  12 laps into the race I was lapped for the first time. Then a lap later here came the field and I grabbed the last wheel and hung on for dear life. That last 2 laps and the rubber band snapped again.  I knew there would be no shame in dropping out but its just not in my psyche to do so. I don't want to quit or admit defeat ever, so I kept spinning smaller and smaller gears trying to get to the end. Again I got lapped by the leaders, then the field, then the leaders, and on the final lap the 2 leaders caught the field, and collectively lapped me again on the finishing stretch. I finished 4 laps down to the Kyle, who won, but given the fact I had just done 96 laps and 48 miles at the oval, I was passively ecstatic.
Still life photography by Fred Jordan

I was happy that the races were over, but to add  further punishment to me, I had previously signed up to race the Steel City Showdown the following day.  When I left the oval Saturday afternoon, I knew in my heart that it just wasn't going to happen. My legs felt like garbage, I was still suffering the effects of a chest cold, and I was thinking about how much the 60 mile drive in my truck was going to cost. I just couldn't bring myself to admit it but I was almost certain I was going to be enjoying some playoff hockey on the couch by the time the 3/4 race started in Pittsburgh on Sunday.  I got home, took a LONG hot bath, and ate dinner. I tried going to bed, but the heart rate was still jacked up and my legs and back wouldnt let me get comfortable enough to sleep, so I turned off the alarm I had previously slept and mad the decision to sleep in. Finally, around 11PM, I was able to finally call it a day and my body crashed into a deep sleep.

Sunday came and I felt like I was run over by a bus. I quietly debated the benefits of getting up and/or sleeping in, and I decided it would be best if I just rolled over and catch a few more winks... And thats when the dog heard me and wanted fed. Back and forth he paced with his nails scratching at the hard wood floors in the bedroom and I immediately knew sleeping in was out of the question. I got up and took 5-10 painful steps and wished I had half the energy of my 12 year old arthritic dog. We were a matched pair as he stumbled down the steps using the wall to support his failing hip, while I leaned on the wall and the banister as I waddle down the steps trying to support my aching legs. As long as Brady was eating, I figured I'd do the same so I made my traditional race day breakfast and chowed down.  The legs were starting to loosen up so, what the heck, I'd at least go pick up the tee-shirt I'd ordered when I registered and off to Pittsburgh I went. I met up with Shawn and Rick (and a bunch of the other Steel City Endurance riders) and we took a few laps of the course following the womens race. I'd forgotten just how much climbing we had to do over each of the bridges. Don't me wrong, they aren't hills by any stretch, but they were gonna hurt as riders accelerated out of the corners.

Turn 3... Thanks for the awesome photos Fred Jordan!

I lined up on the front row, not because I expected to finish there, but I thought that as I fell back through the field, I would stand a better chance of not getting lapped (and pulled) than someone who started on the tail end of an 90 rider deep slinky. We got our instructions and warnings and then we were off. So much for the first 2 turns being neutral... that less than ethical team from out east attacked from the start. Its not that any of us are doing this for the money, but thats just it, we aren't doing it for the money so why act like a bunch of jagoffs. One more reason for Philly to be annexed and given to New Jersey if you ask me. Then again, Newark and Trenton, NJ wouldn't want to be brought down by the likes of Philly.  The line stretched out long and thin and it was a constant battle to hold the wheel infront of me. I'd lose 3 spots, gain one back, lose 2 gain 1, lose another 3 gain 2, and thats how the first several laps went. Then when I was back in about 30th place, the slinky broke in front of me and I was stuck in the field. And we rode lap after lap after lap. Finally, about 8 laps in, they put up the laps to go... I literally almost cried when I say "32". I made a quick self evaluation and knew there was NO WAY IN HAITI I was surviving with this group for that long. 

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Apparently others were feeling the same way, as I was drifting off the front following my turn to pull, I glanced over my shoulder and what had once been a 60 rider pack was down to 15.  I knew the pace was fast because I had already seen a ton of fast riders standing on the sidelines having been pulled by the chief officials. I was disappointed for them and thought that I would soon be joining them. But our 15 man group worked well together. For the most part, people were really willing to work together. Jacob Yundt deserves a ton of credit as he always seemed to take a longer than normal turn on the front. I wish I could have helped him more, but my legs were screaming from my efforts on Saturday and I was lucky to stay with them on some of the bridge ramps. If I hadn't been able to catch the wheel each lap of a junior, Willem DeBoer, who got gapped a little each time but always battled back on, I think I would have been dropped and subsequently yanked from the race. But we rode hard and I painfully watch the lap cards tick down. With about 18 laps to go, I was done. I knew I could hang 4, maybe 5 laps, but the efforts were really starting to take their toll on me. I climbed the Clemente Bridge and and heard Mark Rauterkus holler to us that we were only 30 seconds back and 10 to go. I thought he was just trying to cheer us up but when we came down the ramp, the lap cards showed 6 to go. Did I just fall into a time warp? Was I so tired that I managed to fall asleep on the bike? Was I so delirious that I was seeing and hearing things my imagination really wanted to hear?  We went another lap and this time, the cards showed 5 to go. It was the first good news I had all day. Suddenly I went from feeling like a 4 to feeling like an 8. I looked over my shoulder and didn't see any other riders behind us, looked off to my right and could see the lead group just starting up the other bridge. We kept working as a group, some more than others, but I admit I was one who was probably doing less than my fair share (and there were a few others who were doing even less than I was). 5-4-3-2-1 went the lap cards.  As we rounded turn 2, all of a sudden, the person on the front didn't want to be there and our paceline quickly became 5 wide and 5 mph slower than we had been doing all day. I immediately became concerned about the last two turns and hitting them 4 abreast so I rolled to the front and lifted the pace again. I wasn't trying to make a decisive move, after all, we were probably battling for 20th place, but I didn't want to see anyone hit the deck because no one wanted to be the leadout man. I took them into turn 3, then hammered into turn 4, and gave it all I had up the Clemente Bridge ramp one last time. Riders started to come around me on both sides but I just kept churning and slowly took a couple spots back and finished 4th in our bunch sprint for 23rd overall. After 4 Crits, I was officially tapped out and was looking forward to getting home and hitting the couch.

Next up Cranky Monkey on 5/5/2012 with Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team powered by Pathfinder teammate, Chris Jones, and Travis Olson of Consol Energy. Cant wait.