Saturday, December 12, 2009

Upstate Winter Bike League Rocks!!

Today was the first in a series of rides put together by the capable hands of Steve Sperry and the folks at Carolina Tri. The UWBL was supposed to begin last week but was canceled due to weather. This week looked touch and go for a little while, but in the end, it all came together.

We met at Carolina Tri for a 10am start. It seemed to be a pretty good turnout for a cold and overcast day. I'm thinking about 80 riders or so for the A group. As we gathered around outside the shop, I looked around to see who had come out to play.
I saw a lot of my cycling friends. Gary, Owen, Randy, Kirk, Eric and a bunch of others I recognize but don't know their names. One guy who everybody knows was also there - Big George himself came out to ride with us. That is a cool bonus to living in Greenville - our hometown cycling great is along for the ride just like everyone else.

The first installment of UWBL for the season had a fun sprint zone only for the category 4, 5 and unclassified riders. It started after a stop sign re-group. Sperry asked the Pro, cat 1, 2 and 3 riders to hold back so the rest of us could have a go at the sprint zone. He led us out for about 1.5 miles along a road that was about 4 miles long. I had grouped up with my fellow Greenville Spinners Racing team-mates Randy and Kirk and we talked a little about some strategy.

We didn't want to lead the pack when Sperry released us, but we did want to be near the front. When Sperry released us, we were the only team that was in the front but there was a couple of independents in front of us. There was not a big rush as Sperry pulled to the side. I was leading Randy and Kirk, but I knew we didn't want to push too early at the beginning, so I just maintained pace with the other riders on the front.

It wasn't long before the Globalbike team came up on our left. Randy warned me and I felt a little stupid as I had put myself behind one of the other riders and slightly to his right. This left me with very little room to do anything, but I saw him drifting towards his left side thus opening a small gap between him and another rider (which happened to be Eric Christophersen on his fixie). I decided to move through the gap and Randy cautioned me in making this tight move. We made it through and just started to close the small gap that Globalbike was starting to open when I heard a crash behind. I think it split the field pretty well. I don't think anyone got hurt, but I did talk to a guy whose front wheel had gotten bent. He was still riding, so it must not have been too bad.

Globalbike was pulling hard off the front and we had two other riders between us and them. It quickly became apparent that the two riders between us and them were not holding the pace. Since I was leading our small contingent of Spinners, I made the move to bridge the gap before it got too big. They were pushing the pace, but bridging was not difficult. It did drive up the heart rate, and their pace was definitely keeping it high.

There was about 4 (maybe 5?) of the Globalbike guys up there and as their lead rider tired, he would drop off. In they days of group riding (not racing), I would have let him join his team by pulling in front of me. I made a concerted effort to keep him out of there. No way I was going to give him an opportunity to recover and become another rider on the front. As the Globalbike contingent got smaller, the Spinners got closer to the front.

A couple of other riders came up on our left to make a move and I followed. At this point, I knew Randy and Kirk were still back there. I was doing my best to make sure we were on the wheels of those in front of us. I kept an eye out for the finish and held on.

I saw the sign marking the finish a fraction of a second after an independent rider came up and passed us on the left. I made the move to keep with him, but he really had a slingshot effect and pulled a small gap. I passed one other rider in my chase and there was only two in front - one guy from the Piedmont Orthopedic Associates team (I think) and this independent who got the slingshot.

I was reeling both of them in as I watched the POA rider reeling in the independent. I was feeling good and I could sense other riders behind and to my right and left - I could hear them too as they worked to hold the pace. I was pushing hard, but I think I was in the wrong gear. Had I chosen to stand up and sprint, I know I would have lost ground. I needed to be at least one more gear harder and maybe two. So I kept in my saddle expecting at any moment to see Randy or Kirk come flying past me.

Despite remaining in my saddle, I continued to gain ground against the attack. Unfortunately, at the sign I was one bike's length away from the win. The POA rider was about a half bike length from the win. Of course, that means the independent took it. He had a great jump and a strong sprint to the finish. Although I missed out on the leader's vest, I was pleased to have been in the mix.

I was surprised when I turned around and saw Randy and Kirk rolling easy towards the intersection. I had thought them on my wheel the whole time. I'm not sure when I pulled the gap. The group took a few minutes break at the Possum Kingdom store while the Sprinter's vest was awarded. Sperry and Big George made the presentation. It's a cool vest despite it's pink color!

We continued on our route and George got out front and pulled the group for quite a while. I was sitting on his wheel for a long time. Kind of cool. Shortly after that, I found myself out front pulling alongside Boyd who I met not long ago on a mt bike ride at Dupont. I worked pretty hard on the front trying to hold the pace. I think I worked a little too hard as I started to tire around the time I got up front and pulled alongside George.

After dropping off the front as we approached the Piedmont Hwy, I decided it was best for me to just sit in and do my best to stay with the pack. I managed to do so and we pulled back in to Carolina Tri with an average of about 20.4mph showing on my computer.

A few things I learned out there:
1. I need to carry some nutrition with me on these rides. I had nothing but water. My breakfast was a bowl of cereal that wasn't quite enough to carry me through the 3 hour ride. Despite this, I managed to stay with the pack. Next week they are targeting a 4 hour ride - I won't make it without some nutrition.
2. I need to anticipate the sprint a little more and get myself in a better gear so I can stand up and go for it. Had I been in a better gear, such that I could have stood up to sprint - I may have taken the vest.
3. I don't have terrible instincts when it comes to watching the other teams work around me. I managed to keep with the lead team throughout the sprint zone. However, I made a bad choice early on when I put myself on the wrong side of a rider who I knew would be dropping out of the sprint. Thankfully, we managed to get past that cleanly to stay with the Globalbike team.
4. UWBL is a killer fun time!

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