Friday, May 31, 2013

Win and Lose: Mckeesport Criterium & Greene County Road Race

Mckeesport Criterium

A couple of weeks ago I had my first cycling win ever.  I raced the cat 4/5 criterium at Mckeesport, PA (ABRA race) first, and the cat 3/4 race later in the afternoon.

I had raced the Oval on Wednesday the week before in Pittsburgh with some guys from the team.  Because of the weather they decided to combine the 3/4 and 1/2/3 race together- 32 guys, and I got 10th.  I was very happy with that, since it was my first time there and the competition was pretty serious.

However, coming into the race, I was pretty tired.  My legs just felt flat and sore.

That, and we got there later than I probably should have, and felt off my routine.  I was running around doing stuff, and next thing I knew it was 45 minutes before race and I still had jeans on.  I scrambled to get my stuff together, ate a bagel, and went out to ride the course and warm-up.

I met team mate Devon on course and he showed me a hill to do some harder warm-up intervals on.  It worked perfectly for that, but I felt horrible.  I was actually a bit shaky and just felt "off".  I went back to the team area and took a Honey Stinger gel and got my bottles of Clif electrolyte drink.

If cyclocross has taught me anything, it is that sometimes feeling bad means nothing.  So I just kept my mindset positive, and told my team mates I wanted the win.  They said they'd help me best they could, and we all went out for a couple more laps of the course.

The course was a bit like a triangle, with 3 90 degree turns.  From start you rolled up to the first right hand 90 (corner 1), then slight down to a slow sweeping right that led into a sharp, short hill.  Then, false flat to a sweeping  right handed 90 (corner 2), then scream down a hill to a stop light, 90 right here (corner 3), and then about 200m to the finish on a slight up (false flat).  It was all around a park, and the course was very quiet and interesting- lots of little features that made it fun.

At the start, I just rolled to the front.  30 seconds into the race, team mate Jeff attacked, and there was a modest chase.  He stayed out for 2 laps, but we caught him.  I stayed pretty well on the front all the way until the first prime.  On this lap, I attacked from about 5th position up the hill and got a big gap going into corner 2.  I looked over my shoulder and saw no one so just sat up and took it easy down the hill.

Oops.  A racer was on my tail, and I missed him.  He blasted by me and I didn't even react.  I didn't want to waste any more energy, the attack was more to see how I felt anyways.  So he got the prize, and I just kept on moderately as I had been doing.

When I caught him, I asked if he wanted to keep working and try and stay away, but he said he didn't.  I stayed out front for almost another lap, and then that was that.

The next prime, I jumped out after the same rider as he went for it again.  This time, there were 4 of us that broke free.  But I didn't challenge for the prime, I just wanted to make sure these guys didn't get away.

The race then felt pretty slow.  Actually, it felt slow the whole time, which was good, because I didn't feel well at all.  I think if people had been trying to blow it up, I wouldn't have faired so well.

On the 3rd prime the same rider attacked and we let him go.  I think if he had just kept going he had the strength to stay away, but he didn't.  So we caught him.

At this point, we had no more than 4 laps left.  I stayed right at the front, in 1-4th position, even though I was probably wasting a little energy constantly jostling to get up there.

With 2 to go, team mate Jeff came up in front of me, and it was 1 rider, him, then me.  We stayed like that the whole 2nd to go lap, then on the last lap Jeff pulled around the 1 rider and we were 1-2.  I was getting pumped for the sprint, and focusing on sticking to his wheel.

But on the little climb on the last lap, a very strong rider (think, pro-mountain bike licence) jumped out for an attack.  When this happened, I knew I had to go with it.  I pounced on his wheel and we swung around Jeff.

He was going hard, but I definitely felt I could hang.  And as we approached corner 3, I took a chance and fired the afterburners and went by on the right side.  I came into corner 3 first, screamed down the hill, and took corner 4 hard.  My Kenda's stuck hard, and I launched my sprint from the front of the group, from the corner.

Was this smart?  Nope.  It's a risky move starting a sprint that far out, especially for me, and especially when you're in 1st position!

But it didn't matter- I pulled away from the group, and even though I let up a little because I thought I was alone, I won by a couple bike lengths.

So, a fairly boring race, but everything went right as we had planned.  My first win felt great, and I was very happy considering how I felt that I had secured it.

After much sitting around, helping with the race, I then raced the 3/4 race.  My job was simple: attack when you can, make sure no one got away, and help teammates Todd and Devon in the end (if I was there).

I won't go into the detail, but I attacked after a bunch of very fast laps, and stayed out front for 2 laps.  That felt great.  But when I got back into the group, I got dropped.  I dangled for several laps, and then finally got back on.  I fell off again, and worked hard to get back on for the final 5-6 laps.  I did, barely, and stayed in the group until the final lap.  Coming into the hill, I messed up, and slid back, and then I was popped off again.  I finished as the last man in the main group, just by the skin of my teeth.  But, Devon got 4th, and Todd 7th, so it was a good day for the team.

I might also add, that Stephanie had a great race, with a 2nd place finish in the womens cat 1/2/3 field.

So that was that.

The next weekend was the Greene County Road Race.  It's my favorite road race.  It was my first road race ever (2 years ago) and it was my best road result up until this year (9th in 2012).

The course this year was a bit different, but generally the same.  42 miles, with a very steep climb at 4 miles, then the next doesn't come until 24 miles, then 29, and then finally 38.  Nothing crazy, nothing exceedingly long (although the climb at 29 is certainly not short), and lots of flat and rolling terrain to keep me happy.

I drove the course morning of, just to make sure I knew what I was up against.  Race day routine was the same otherwise, bagel, cliff drink, honey stinger bars and chews and just milling around and trying to stay calm.  Lube everything up with progold, and check over the beautiful SuperSix

I did a really good warm-up riding the first and last hill with team mates EJ and Todd.  I didn't feel very good, but I hadn't for some time (more than a week) and figured it was just a little nerves and feeling flat from taking it easy before the race.

I really wanted to podium, and thought maybe I could win.  After all, I felt this was my course.

At the start, things started to go wrong immediately.  Jeff's wheel exploded only a mile into the race (and he had to go back to get another wheel), and not long after that, the whole field exploded.  When we hit the first climb, we went from a group of 40+ to a group of 9.  And we're only 5 miles into the race.

I was doing well, but feeling horrible.  I didn't get in the first group immediately, but fell off with 1 other rider and had to chase for a bit.  I told the other rider to hold off chasing hard as the course drops again and then levels off.  I knew on the descent we could catch back on.

And we did.  Team mate Jonathan was in it when I caught them, but after a few miles of seriously hard tempo riding, he got dropped (he was having back trouble).

So now I'm in a strong break away of 8.

But the folks at the front were being stupid.  Attacking, surging, not riding smart.

So naturally, I just started yelling at everyone.

I got it pretty organized, but there were a few guys in the group that were strong but either didn't have any experience, or just didn't care, or couldn't handle their bikes.  Which I think all were true.

After not much time, we dropped 1 rider, and then after not much longer after that I was also dropped.

It's funny how it happens, you look down, you're fine, you look up, and boom- you're off the back.

So for a while I dangled about 200 yards off the back...but soon it was 500 yards, and then they were out of sight.  I rode along for a while alone, but kept glancing back.  I knew I needed someone to ride with if I was to stand any chance.

After a few more miles, I could see a rider far back in the distance.  I immediately slowed up and let him catch me.

Upon catching me we exchanged pleasantries and immediately hatched a plan.  20 seconds on the front, no more than a minute at a time between rotations was the plan.  Keep the tempo high, but don't got crazy before the next climb.

It was working great.  We were both tired, and working hard, but we were sticking together.  I didn't feel too stellar, but it was working.

When we got to the next climb, I could tell the other rider- Rich- was going to ride away.  He tried to be encouraging- after all, he needed me too- we still had a ways to go and a solo break would be tough.  Who knew how many folks were behind us.

So he gapped me up the climb- I just was not feeling it.  I couldn't get it going.

But coming down the other side I put it into pro-descend mode, and caught him in no time at all.  I told him to give me just a minute or so recovery and I'd start rotating.  I drank some water, and took a gel.  After only a minute or so, I was ready to do some work again.

And so we rotated back and forth for quite a few miles.  Through the flats we tried to keep short pulls, as the wind was really starting to wear on us.  However, we were also catching Cat 3/4 racers, and this was motivating to both of us.

Going up the big climb at mile 38 (???) my fellow rider broke away from me again.  But this time, the climb was long and my tempo/TT abilities paid off, and I caught him well before the top.  We rode side by side the rest of the way, and then dove hard down the other side.  I lead as we screamed along, and I thought, very confidently, that there was no way anyone would catch us now.

I was wrong.

Not much longer after that, a group of 4 or 5 caught us.  They were strong, and had been working well together and had been part of a larger group.  They were fresher than we were, definitely more than I.

We all rotated through until the final climb (5 miles from the finish).  At the bottom, I was dropped by the group, but worked into the climb, and ended up cresting right behind the little group and in front of another rider.  Screaming down the other side (at 50mph!) I tried hard to catch the little group.

On the flat at the bottom, one of the riders in the group of 4 or 5 caught me and I grabbed his wheel.  I held on best I could, but was absolutely dying.  I was falling apart- no power, and no energy.

And then I made a fatal mistake.  He surged to latch onto the back of the small group- only 100 yards ahead of us- and I was looking down at my water bottle.


I tried to counter, but I couldn't.

And so for the final 3 miles, I watched them slowly pull away, with any hope I had for a top 10 finish.

I rolled across the line alone except for a Cat 3/4 rider who had just been riding with me, as he'd been dropped off his category (they had started 10 minutes in front of us).


I was disappointed, but I knew it wasn't my day.  I could tell from the start.

Still, all things considered, it was one of my better road races (in fact my 2nd best) and in retrospect, I did well when you take all the factors into play.

I'll just have to do better next time.

(and I did- blogs coming on my 1st place finish at WISP Mountain Bike Race and 7th place finish at Tour of Tucker County)