Thursday, April 18, 2013

Domestique: Morgantown Road Race

I raced the Morgantown Road Race again this year.  My 2nd year; actually really this is only my second real season of road cycle racing period.  I've been riding a bit, but was struck with one of the worst chest infections of my life about 3 weeks before, and was suffering right up until the race.  I'd say I was 97% going in, but couldn't ride at all for 2 weeks and my fitness, and much more my sharpness, suffered a little.

So going into the race, with it's "rollers" at the beginning, and it's 3 major climbs and kicker finish, I was on domestique duty.  Todd and Jonathan were the stronger riders, with Jeff, Shawn, and myself left to do what we could to help in the 4/5 race.

That morning I had my bagel with peanut butter, then stopped at the Rising Creek bakery for a cookie, and a brownie for later. Before the race started, I had a Honey Stinger bar, waffle, and drank a bottle of electrolyte drink.  Other than that, just some water.

It was a very nice day, and my new Nalini gear and Swiftwick socks made me feel like I was racing in my pajamas.  No really.  I'm not kidding, I like the new stuff we have so much, it's like lounge wear.

At the start, we all decided: everyone needs to stay up front.  In a field of 75, slipping to the back could finish you really quick.  My job on the day was to get Jonathan and Todd to the climb in the top 10 or so,  and then hopefully get over the first climb with them or near them so if there was trouble I could sacrifice myself to get them back into the race.

Did a good warm-up with few of the guys on the team, and made sure to line up early so I was up front.

The first portion of the race has a bunch of "rollers" which are seriously painful if you ride them hard.  Which is what happened.  The first 10 miles of the race was much faster and tougher than I really had expected.  I wasn't at redline, but I was putting in some effort for sure.  People were getting dropped almost immediately, which was surprising.  I actually decided to take a gel after only 30 minutes as the effort was hard and I knew later I might not have the chance.

However, as we rolled along 218, I started to realize I was hanging in pretty well.  I was doing a great job staying in the top 5-20 guys in the pack of 75.  I was often right near team mate Todd, and we chatted a little too.

Can you find me?
When we hit the first small climb, the kicker as everyone refers to it, I was right in the front, and feeling good.   Things were going well.

And then I almost wrecked.  Yikes.  I was flying down the other side and just lost a bit of concentration and went over the white line and caught the dirt.  My back wheel went sideways, and I started to slide at 35 mph.  Someone yelled crash, and I wasn't even down, and the whole pack flew into the other lane.   The bike came around and the the front wheel slid a little, but I just stayed calm and didn't touch the brakes.

I kept it upright.  Somehow.  I felt like such a jerk though.  Everyone was eyeing me and and I felt so stupid.

It took a little while for me to recover, but I got back into it.  Todd rolled up to me at that point and said he had seen me almost go down.

Not long after that is the first real climb.  It's a good one.  But first, you take a right and have a pretty steep little kicker.  Right before we got there Jeff rolled up next to me and I asked if Jonathan was still in the race, since I hadn't seen him since the beginning of the race.  He said he was, and I had a decision to make.

I was in a good position in the field, and I was feeling good again.  But, I knew my job was to get Todd and Jonathan over the climb.  And if Jonathan was in the back, he was never going to be able to react to any moves made up front.

So I pulled out of the field, and drifted back.  I found Jonathan, told him, well, yelled more like, GET ON MY WHEEL.  And I took off.  I pulled him up the whole group past everyone, hammered hard to the top of the steep climb, and slotted in at about 5th position.

This was a little of a mistake.  Since I knew there was a downhill and corner at the bottom, and I know Jonathan isn't as comfortable descending, I should have gone right to the front with him.

So leading into the climb, I was in a good spot.  I hoped Jonathan was too, but I was watching for attacks and we concerned with someone taking off early to hit the climb.

But no one did, not really.  Once someone half-heartedly tried and me and a couple others shut it down.

So at the bottom of the climb I was probably in the top 10.  But as soon as it went up, I went back.  I was happy to see Jonathan was at least close to the front, at the back of what looked like was going to be the lead group (it was).  Todd also slotted in on the back of that group.

As they pulled away, lots of rider passed me.  But, as we continued up the climb (it takes something like 12-15 minutes if I remember correctly), I started to reel them all back in.  And then I started passing folks.

Next thing I knew, we were getting towards the top, and I was in a great position.  I actually caught Todd and as I swung by him, I yelled to him.  I knew what we had to do.

"Jump on Todd!"

I then put some power down and tried my best to get by some stragglers and pull Todd towards the lead group.  We could still see them.

There is a good descent and then some rolling terrain.  I was very happy with my position in the back, given last years trouncing.  So I was thinking- if I can get back in that main group...I might have something here.

But I also knew I had to really work for Todd as that was my job.  So I did do some longer pulls and kept the tempo high.  We picked up some riders, but nobody really wanted to work or get organized.  I just kept coming to the front.

Before the turn towards the next climb, I just burnt out.  In retrospect, I probably should have just buried it and gone for broke, especially for Todd, but at the time I was concerned with finishing "well".

So I fell off that group.  I dangled for a while in no mans land before they eventually did ride away.

At the finish.  Always concerned about data,
I'm trying to stop my Garmin.
Check out those high Swiftwick socks!
I rode by myself for a while, and when I was at the base of the next climb I looked back and there were two riders behind me coming up on me.  So I slowed up to let them catch me, thinking we could work together...

...but then my chain dropped from my inner chain ring and jammed.  I had to get off and pull it out, and the little metal gaurd that protects the chain stay was stuck in the chain.  I took some effort to get it ripped out.  And as I was cranking on it, the two riders passed me.  Damn.

Got back going now, and probably went a bit too hard.  Got caught and passed by 3 more riders.

After I calmed down a little and got my head back into it I caught those three again and passed them up the second climb.

Then on the descent I caught those two riders that had passed me.  We worked together all along the rolling section at the bottom, all the way to the final climb.  At this point, I was shelled.  I was so done.

I let them ride away.

On the climb I looked back and it was a string of solo rider as far as I could see.  I kept my effort hard but steady, and at the top I was ready for the race to be over.

The rest of the race is flat and actually trends downhill I believe.  I went into TT mode but really my mind was out of it- my job was done for the day.  I got caught by two more riders, and tried to keep in contact with them as we roared towards the finish.

The finish is right after a small steep hill.  As I flew up it, I was gaining on the two in front of me. I had them!  But then...

...dropped my chain again.  Damn.  Why was I even trying to shift to the little ring anyways?!?!?!

So I rolled across the finish line alone, just coasted across.

Turns out I was 34th.  Last year I was 56th, so I'm ok with that amount of improvement, given that road racing is not a strength of mine.  Total time was about 2:08.

But- what really mattered was Jonathan got 19th and Todd 20th in a stacked field.  I feel I had a part in both of those places and I'm happy with that.  I think they both wanted to do better than that, but things happen and to 20 in a field of 75 with lots of strong guys is certainly not bad.

In retrospect, I should have gone harder to try and get Todd back to that lead group.  But I was being a little selfish and wanted to save something.  Also, I think if the on the rollers the group had been organized, we could have caught that lead group.

But, I did my job, and it's on to the next race!

All photos courtesy of Fred Jordan's Photography