Saturday, February 20, 2010

Greenville Spring Series - Day 1

First, the team news:

Cat4: Brian Kadiens takes 3rd place in the Cat 4 race. Tim Granger, Randy Hutchinson and Peter Mathern did an excellent job keeping the guys in contention. Peter started a long slow burn somewhere coming up the hill at the end of the runway. Randy took over from him and burned his match until Brian rocketed past to take 3rd by a wheel.

Cat5 (34-): Good race by the guys. Robert went down with some bike damage, but no damage to body or spirit. Tom had a good race and gained some great experience. He was gapped a little in the aftermath of the wreck that took Robert out, but managed to finish with the peloton.

Cat 5 (35+): Good race by the guys (see below for my personal perspective and specifics of how Dave and Ed did). Bryant had a good race as well. I believe he met his goal of sticking with the peloton. I think he only lost ground on the two significant hills. Otherwise, I think the pace (about 21mph) was totally doable for him.

Great Job to everyone who raced today. Now, here's my perspective of the Cat5, 35+ race.

There it is, in the history books, my first ever bicycle road race. I was pretty stoked about this race, and last night my crew from the P3C3 Ride to Austin and I met up for some fellowship at Carrabas Italian Grill. Knowing I had a race today, I held myself to only a dozen beers (kidding - I know how much of a foolish move that would have been ;). It was great to see my buddy Ed, who I have not seen in quite some time - perhaps since the Austin trip. He would be racing in the same race as me - Cat 5, 35+ age group.

The plan was to meet at Donaldson (aka SCTAC) at about 7am so we would have time to pick up our registration and do some warmup. We hoped to get a full lap, alas, we only had a chance to ride the course backward to the base of 3M hill. It was enough as I was able to talk strategy with Ed a little as we rode back. We also rode with one of our team-mates Tom who would be racing in the Cat 5, 34- group.

As we were riding back in from our warm up, the announcers were calling the first groups to line up. Perfect timing really - it allowed me to remove a layer of clothing as it was really starting to warm up out there.

In the last few weeks, everyone I had spoken to about racing had offered me the same advice - stay near the front for as much of the race as you can - it's safer up there. So, I made sure that Ed and Dave were near me, and I lined up on the front row for our group. The younger Cat 5 riders took off first, and we followed about 4 - 5 minutes later.

I was really expecting this group to lay down a serious hammer for the first lap. I felt it really important to be up there at the front so I could respond to any attacks. I had to trust that Ed and Dave would be there.

I ended up in the top 3 coming past the stop sign and the lead rider was setting a good pace, but it wasn't killing anyone. I was ok with that. It seemed like a smart way to ride a race that typically comes to a sprint anyway - be safe, keep the pace reasonable - hard enough to kick out the riders who are going to get kicked out, but not so hard that people make mistakes.

As we came around to the base of the golf course hill, I expected to see an attack. I was surprised when nothing substantive took place. As I was the lead rider for the spinners (meaning simply I was the guy closest to the front), I felt it was my job to respond to any attacks off the front. There was some harder riding up the hill, but the attack I expected never materialized. I stuck with the lead group and maintained a top 5 position.

Through the rollers on the back side, again, no real strong attacks. Yes, a rider or two would put on a little show, but I and the others around me responded and nobody ever got away.

As we came up 3M hill for the first time, a couple of guys from team Metro came to the front. It was good to see my buddy Dan up there on the wheel of his team-mate Mel. I held pace with them and the peloton started to take a recognizable shape.

As we rounded the turn at the country route turn-off, I started to recognize a couple of guys who were taking the same conservative approach we (Spinners) were taking. One constant at the front with me was a Les Amis guy - Bobby. He was riding solo, but really being smart about it. Even with as much attention I was paying to the draft and the amount of time I spent in the wind, I think he was even better at it than I was.

I wasn't sure how things were shaking out behind me, in the front, we were mostly no more than 2 abreast and often had a single rider leading a pair (often me and the les amis guy Bobby), followed by usually another pair before the peloton spread across the road.

As we came up out of the dip at the end of the runway, a guy attacked and I responded. After most of a lap that was quite civilized, I thought this might be it. Of course, he burned his match and backed off the pace. I was quite content to sit on his wheel as we were re-absorbed by the peloton.

At the end of lap 1, I was still in the front 5, and had not spent any real time out in the wind. Perhaps Lap 2 would be different.

Surprisingly, it really wasn't. There was an occasional burst off the front, but always a quick response by the guys in the front. Bobby and I simply matched anything that came past us, while sticking like glue to whoever happened to be punching a hole in the wind. It was as we went up 3M hill for the second time that I had a brief chat with him and found out he was by himself out there.

Just before 3M hill, on the rollers, Dave rode up next to me and we had a little chat. He asked how I was, I asked how he was. I was in total agreement with his response - "I'm feeling good - not breakaway good, but good". Summed it up quite well for me. We chatted briefly about a end-race strategy. I asked him to be the first lead out guy after the right curve on the hill at the end of the runway. I would follow, and Ed would be there for the sprint. His confidence may not have been 100% when he responded, but I asked him to sit in and be ready for it.

The attacks started coming as we rounded turn at the country route intersection. A guy in Green attacked and I went with him. We pulled a little gap, and had I jumped up when he started to fade, there may have been a chance for a breakaway. I didn't think that was a good idea, so again, I stayed on his wheel until the peloton caught us.

The second lap ended with John Frame pulling us through the start / finish line and around the corner. He had attacked on the flat after the runway hill, but the peloton was starting to get antsy and responded quickly.

As we rolled through on the approach to and up the golf course hill, you could feel the energy in the group had risen to a higher frequency. Peeps were starting to go off the front more, and a time or two a small group would get a small gap. I was in with most of this, doing my best to keep a spinner's kit near the front. I trusted that Ed and Dave were keeping things in check behind me.

Despite the attacks, the peloton was coherent as we rolled past the golf course hill. I was still near the front with the Les Amis guy, and we were letting everyone else do the work. And there were guys who were not afraid to get out there and pull. Thanks to them - they kept the pace up at a solid 21mph.

As we rolled down the other side of golf course hill, and into the rollers, the energy of the group had pushed me back a couple of positions. I was still in the top 10, but the group was starting to surge. Somewhere on that back side of the course, I heard what everyone hates to hear the most - the sound of a bicycle hitting pavement. I have no idea how that affected the integrity of the peloton, but I knew that at least one guy was out of it. It was only after the finish line that I realized how many and who had gone down.

The pace picked up for a little while with more attacks off the front. As we went up 3M hill, we were working hard to keep those attacks from making a real dent in us. Once again, after the country route intersection (at the top of 3M hill), the same guy in green kit attacked. I caught his wheel and I think Bobby from Les Amis was there with us. We pulled a little gap - we might have been able to make something stick if we had really pushed it and worked together. However, I had spoken with Ed and Dave and we had a strategy. I wasn't going to do anything that would disrupt that strategy - we were so close.

Somewhere in there, as I got blocked in against the yellow line, I started to get a bad feeling - not about my position, but about my fellow Spinners. I was worried that I was out there by myself. Worse, I was blocked in, outside the top 10 with the surging peloton to my right and the yellow line to my left. I managed to squeeze a position here and there by riding right on the yellow line. Things were starting to get squirrely out there, and I didn't like it.

As we passed the hangers (on the right side, before the downhill into the dip), the lead rider pulled off to the right. I think he wanted to get out of the wind, but everyone else followed him. I found myself with a clear lane in front of me. It was too early to go, but I used that opportunity to get back up towards the top 5.

I had that clear space in front of me as we went through the dip, and as we rode up towards the right hand curve in the middle of that hill. At this point, I should have looked around to make sure Dave and Ed were with me so we could implement our sprint strategy. I take the blame for not doing so, and thus putting Dave behind me when the plan was for him to lead out. I was hoping that those guys were ready to improvise.

As we came around that right hand curve, I still had this very clear lane in front of me. Something was telling me that Ed was not near the front. I don't know what it was - I just had this bad feeling that had persisted since shortly after hearing that crash on the back side of the course.

Regardless, I had to implement our strategy. I didn't want to burn my match (or maybe I can call this a candle...), without someone to benefit from it. John Frame was in about 2nd position or so and I was coming up on his left side. I struck my match and told John "Lets go John". I know he has a good sprint, and that feeling about Ed just wouldn't leave. I thought I could at least help someone that I know.

I put the match to my candle and got down in my best aero position. We were still more than 1000 meters out, but I get a pretty good long burn from that candle of mine. I passed the lead riders and put everything I had into it. I was surprised that another leadout train didn't pass me until after we were within the 200m mark. In fact, we were well within the 200m mark when my candle began to dim and people started to come around. I did my best to keep that flame going, but I knew I was not destined for the top 5. I didn't see any Spinners jerseys coming past me either, so I was a little bummed that our efforts wouldn't put anyone in the top 5.

I crossed the line and figured I would be lucky to be in the top 20, maybe top 15. I looked around for Spinners Jerseys and found Dave right behind me. No sign of Ed. It turns out that he had his front wheel taken out by a rider who rode right across it - he was the one guy who went down in our race. I was concerned about him (note: After getting checked out by the Medics, it turns out he stressed his shoulder ligaments - no breaks or serious seperations)

Lessons learned and / or items I need to brush up on:
1. Everyone who said to stay in the front of the pack was right. Until the last half lap, it was very smooth up front. Only when I got blocked against the yellow line, and lose position did it feel really squirelly.

2. I need to pay more attention to the positions of my team-mates. I'm not sure how to do this when I am in front of them. I'll take any advice. Although my efforts did pay off for John (he got 4th after being blocked in briefly as the first riders started to come around), I need to know if there is one of my team-mates who will be able to take advantage of me burning my candle. If not, I need to save it to try for my own win.

3. I went a little too early today. I was out in front of that group pushing the wind for about 1000m - and I stayed out in front until my candle started to flicker (and peeps started coming around). If I had waited another 300 meters, I might have gotten a podium or a win - certainly better than my 13th place (which I am actually quite satisfied with).

4. There is possibility for a breakaway in a cat 5 race. The problem is in the confidence of the riders to pull it off. The other problem is the experience of the peloton - nobody wants to let anyone get too far out front because team tactics are still a little foreign to the Cat 5 racers. The concern is that the peloton would not be organized to catch a break.

So, how do I feel after my very first road race? AWESOME!!!!.

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