Sunday, July 8, 2012

Breaking: I Am Not a Climber

Up until the start of this race season, I personally believed that one of my best strengths was climbing ability. Even if not supremely great at it, certainly better than sprinting or similar power-type efforts. There was some evidence to back this up. For example, as a Cat 5, it seemed if the race didn't have some kind of hill in it, I would finish near or at the very back. Last season, as a Cat 4, climbing was a major reason why I was "in" every race, including big stage races such as the Tour of the Valley. Even the one and only break I've ever been in was formed from an attack on a climb.
In reality, climbing ability played only a minor role in my acquiring a Cat 3 upgrade. My best three races from the previous year were the Wake Forest Crit (3rd/29), Wake Forest Road Race (5th/39)  and Fort Classic (4th/35).  All were noticeably flat races or a crit. All sprint finishes. 

Thus far this season, if I have learned one thing, it's this. I am not a climber, suited to long climbs. Here's a short recap.

Morgantown Road Race - Dropped while cresting the first climb.
Greene County Road Race - Dropped about 90% up the first climb.
Tour of Tucker - Dropped about 25% up the first climb (although I saw this one coming). 

Meanwhile, in either flatter races or crits.

Clarksburg Grand Prix (crit) - 8th / 30
Fort Classic Road Race - 5th / 29
Aliquippa Criterium #1 - 7th / 41

Separating from the field in the sprint at the Fort Classic road race.

Not convinced? Here's a little snapshot from every cyclists favorite drug, Strava. One of the neat things about Strava is that it lets you compare times not just by segment length, but during the segment itself. Now, on the Mile Climb segment (a favorite for those training with Rob Acciavatti), I can compare my best time against the current record holder, Todd Latocha (although credit to the true record holder, Rob Accivatti, pre-strava), who is one unquestionably of the strongest climbers in the region. Interestingly, I can put out a time 9 seconds faster on the first third, stay even by about halfway, then collapse miserably and finish out down 20 seconds.

Identifying strengths and weaknesses is an important part of both training and racing. For racing, you only get a couple chances a year to be in peak form and its best to pick those races offering the best chances for success. For training - its important to work hard on the weaknesses as to minimize the odds they result in a race ending poorly. What these results tell me is that, for me, my strengths are in short burst efforts. Not quite sprints, but not exceeding 5 minutes either. Think rollers and power climbs.

Now, with the Tour of the Valley coming up this weekend, and with the new road course having removed the long climb, and replaced with several rollers, while coinciding with my big peak for the year, I can't help but feel more excited for the race.