Saturday, February 27, 2010

Day 3 of Greenville Spring Series - Fork Shoals

Today was a big day - the third in the Greenville spring training series races. Of course, this was also my third road race ever so it's interesting for me to see how things shake out. First though, I want to comment on my compadres racing in different categories than I.

Cat 5, 34-
Not the best day for our younger cat 5 guys. Allen had a good finish, but Robert, who won at last week's BMW race crashed and didn't finish. I don't know how it really played out, but Allen ended up 11th or so. I'd say that was a good finish, but he wasn't satisfied when I spoke to him after his race.

Cat 4
The Cat 4 guys had a great race. Early in the race Tim Granger was out with 3 other guys on a breakaway that lasted for definately an entire lap, and perhaps more before they got reeled in by the pack. Randy, Kirk and Brian stayed with the pack throughout the race. Randy and Kirk did a lot of work near the front to help control the race - especially when Tim was out on the breakaway. When it came to the end, Brian, who has a pretty good placement in the ominum rocked it in for 6th place. Listening to those guys talk about it, it was a really strong effort by Brian coming from 20 something position up to 6th in the last 1000 meters (or so).

Cat 5, 35+
This of course is the race in which I participated. We had a relatively small field for this race - something on the order of 20 - 25 riders (guessing here - it wasn't huge). There were three Spinners guys out there today. Abhay, Dave and I lined up to see what we could make happen.

As in the previous races, I lined up on the front. Something about being in the back doesn't sit well with me. Abhay was on the front with me and we enjoyed listening to Glenn give us the pre-race low-down (Glenn has worked as the announcer in each of the Spring Series races so far). He's got a good sense of humour and we all shared some laughs as he spoke. Dave pulled in to the back as Glenn was wrapping up his spiel.

Today's race started off with an immediate attack. We weren't 2 miles down the road before a couple of guys tried to go off the front. Me and one other guy latched on to their wheels. There was a small chance of a breakaway, but despite the fact that each of us pulled through for at least one rotation, we weren't really getting anywhere. At best, we might have pulled about a dozen bike lengths, but it was relatively short lived. Perhaps our little breakaway was out there for about 3-5 miles. Good effort, but it just didn't happen that early in the race.

In fact, when I latched on to those guys, I even thought it was too early. I knew I should not be working so hard so early in the race. However, since they did pull a little gap, I felt it was important that a Spinner was out there to cover it. And, because I'm arguably an idoit, I like to be near the front to cover these kinds of things.

There were a lot of attacks today. There was two teams that seemed to be making their attempts at controlling the pace. I have to say they succeeded. The teams were the Harris Teeter team and the 'spirited cycling cycling club' team. It seemed they were swapping attacks. None of them really ever got away, but both those teams had a strategy.

What was I doing when these guys were attacking? Well, I was up there near the front reacting. For the first lap, I was there with them, responding to their attacks. I spent a lot of time (too much really) being reactive. My team-mates were much smarter than I was - they recognized that none of these attacks were going to amount to enough to be concerned about. They sat in and conserved. Meanwhile, I'm being stupid out there.

Some interesting things happened with these teams - more than once, one of the team-mates of the attacker pulled us up to the breakaway group. I have made that mistake before, but it happened probably 5 or 6 times today. That's a lot of mistakes being made by those guys. Whatever, it saved me and my Spinners team-mates (and everyone else) from having to work to make the bridge.

Speaking of making the bridge, one of the guys who I have mentioned in my previous race reports - the les amis guy Bobby - did his share of work today. He got out front and pulled, and he was involved in the early breakaway attempt as well. He worked hard. I don't know how he ended up, but he was there for pretty much the entire race.

I did my share of making bridges today. My tendancy is to not let anyone get too far ahead. With these two teams out there, they were actually blocking when their guys were out front. I saw it happening, as I'm sure others did. More than once, I pulled the peloton up to the breakaway group. I tried to moderate myself - keeping in my best aero position and doing my best to minimize the work I had to do. Still, I was out there actively participating in that race. I enjoyed it - every minute of it. Even when I was out front making the bridge or pulling the peloton - working much harder than I really needed to. As it turned out, none of the breakaways ever amounted to anything. Would it have been any different if I had sat in? Probably not, I'm sure there is someone else out there who would have made the bridge if it wasn't me or one of the several others who put forth the effort.

The pace was fast today. I didn't see my computer to get an actual average pace, but we (all of us) worked hard. Even the guys sitting in had to work to keep with the pack. The hills were definately a factor today. There are two significant hills on the Fork Shoals course. One of them is just past the half-way point on the course. It leads up to Dunklin Bridge Road. There was an attack on this hill on each of our two laps. Again, nothing really came of these attacks, but they were excellent efforts from the attackers.

The other hill leads up to the left turn and the final 1500 meters (or so). This was a hill that could make a difference in this race. Randy had warned me about this hill and given me some advice on how to handle it in the closing stages of the race. This course and this hill is well suited for those who are climbers. While it was not a horrendus distance to climb, at full race pace it would prove to be a deciding factor.

As we made the final climb up to Dunklin Bridge road, there was two off the front. One of them was from the Spirited Cycling club. I'm don't recall who the other rider was. We kept them in sight, and I was near the front.

I like climbing, and I feel I have a pretty strong motor for making those climbs. It didn't surprise me when I found myself at the front of the peloton as we finished the climb and turned on to Dunklin bridge road.

Dunklin Bridge road is not a difficult road to ride, but it is uphill more than the casual cyclist would recognize. I tried to put my climbing skills to work to bring the peloton back up to the two riders on their breakaway. Mostly what I mean is I tried to let my legs do the work while not stressing my heart and / or lungs too much. I was reasonably successful - we caught them just after we made the turn onto Cedar Falls road.

After making that turn, I dropped back in the pack a little to see about making some recovery. I didn't drop back too far - still within the top 10. We had less than 5 miles to go and I wanted to be in striking position if it came to that.

Abhay and Dave rode a really smart race. They covered my back as I was out there doing my best to cover the attacks. I felt good knowing they were there with me. I was hoping to give a leadout for one of them to get a good placing in the race and through that some points in the ominum.

The final 4 miles of this course is through rolling hills along this Cedar Falls Road. At one point (a very critical point), you get an incredible view of 'Fork Shoals' - or at least I think it is fork shoals. It's cool, no matter what it is called. I think that is the Reedy River we are riding along.

As we caught the two riders who had a small breakaway since before the hill leading up to Dunklin Bridge road, I tried to stay near the front. I was hoping that Abhay was working his way up as that is what we had discussed prior to the race. The plan was that he and I would get together after the turn and I would give him a leadout as we approached and went through the final turn.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out as we had planned. As we rolled through Cedar Falls road I found myself near the front of the peloton. Not a major problem, but unfortunatly, I mis-timed my attack.

There are actually two hills leading up to the last left turn. The first hill is relatively short, but certainly can begin to break the pack apart. As we approached this hill, I lost track of where I was on the course. While I didn't go full out on this hill, I did find myself pushing pretty hard. In fact, as we crested this hill, I found myself at the front of the pack. This is not really where I wanted to be at this point. I was hoping to have some peeps to draft off of as we made the descent to the final hill.

Without those peeps, I did what I could - I tucked in and did my best to find opportunity to recover. As you make this descent, you have the awesome view of the shoals off to your right. As I coasted down towards the bridge, I found myself looking over at these shoals and I really felt a sense of peace. Funny how you find these moments in life, especially when I realized the mistake I made by pushing so hard up that first hill.

As I approached the bridge, I started spinning again to make sure I was in the appropriate gear for the final hill before the turn. I crossed that bridge leading the peloton and started pulling them up the hill on the other side. I felt pretty good, but I questioned my own sanity. What was I thinking pushing so hard up that first little rise???

I continued my climb up the last significant hill on the course. Perhaps half way up, I was passed by an unknown rider and my team-mate Abhay. He was killing it! I picked up my pace and tried to stay on his wheel. At least one or two others got passed me as we made the final approach to the last left turn.

Abhay had a strong pace up the hill, which I was not able to completely match. There was one or two guys between us, and one guy in front of him. As they made the left turn, Abhay had the advantage and was first through the turn.

While there was still a couple of riders between us, I still felt strong and those guys faded quickly. Abhay was out in front by himself and I felt it important to get up to him. I thought if I could get in front of him, perhaps I could give him the leadout we had discussed prior to the race.

It's amazing how the wind can affect your efforts on the bike. There was only about 2 bike lengths between Abhay and I, and we had just under a mile to go. I had to do my best aero tuck to gain advantage on him. I was really hoping I could help him to the finish.

As we passed the 1000m to sprint sign, I saw that I was gaining on him. We were still leading the pack, so I felt pretty good about what was happening. I wasn't sure how Abhay was feeling, but I knew where I was - I was feeling it for sure. One thing is different today from last week - I was going to 'play to the bell'.

Perhaps it is obvious, but that phrase 'play to the bell' really means that you go as hard as you can until the race (or game in the case of this phrase) is over. I was determined to go as hard as I could today.

In my post-race analysis from last week, I realized that I really didn't give it everything I had. On saturday I let up when the sprinters started to pass me. On sunday, I let up about the time the peloton caught me. Today I wasn't going to give up.

I saw that Abhay was starting to drop off the pace, so I pulled harder and as I passed him, I said (if you can imagine my effort, I was completely out of breath, so the fact that I could say anything to him amazes me) "C'mon Abhay". I was hoping he would still have some reserves.

I kept pulling as the road continued uphill slightly. As we passed the 200m mark, I was still in front, and I was hoping he was still on my wheel. Shortly after that, the sprinters started to show their wheels. I redoubled my efforts and tried to maintain my position. I didn't see Abhay pass me, but I was pretty occupied at that particular moment.

Several riders got passed me. Determined not to repeat the performance of last week, I kicked it up a couple of gears and started standing up. As I approached the finish line, I was wheel to wheel with another guy. I feel good about my effort - I didn't give up, I pushed until we crossed the line.

In the aftermath, I finished in ninth position for the day. I am really stoked about this finish as it came after a lot of effort throughout the race. In chatting with my Cat 4 team-mate Kadiens after the race, I realize what I now need to learn - Patience. Had I spent less time pulling the peloton I might have had a better finishing position.

The other important part of today's race is the obvious strength of my team-mates. I think both Dave and Abhay are very accomplished riders. However, I think they are more conservative than they need to be. I think with the three of us, we can respond to any attack, and still put someone in the top 10 for every race. The only thing we need to do is continue to learn each other's strengths and begin to work those strengths to the team advantage.

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