2008 Race Report #15: Evanston Pro Race

Race Report #15: Superweek Stage 12, Evanston, IL, Sunday, July 20. Category: Pro 1/2.  Weather: 87 degrees, light winds. Course: flat, 0.8 miles/lap, 6 corners, Distance, 70 laps, 100 kilometers. Average speed 30.4 mph, Average pulse 181.

 

I had intended to fire up the RV about a week before our annual trek up north, but got busy and of course ended up doing it the night before. I was pleasantly surprised that it started immediately: that is, immediately after about 45 minutes of sweating and cursing as I lay wedged underneath the front end of the vehicle, with a cement parking block neatly wedged directly under the center of my back, arching it into painful contortions I as I lifted the 3 heavy batteries in place and attached the leads.

 

The life of Riley: The generator fired right up as well, as did the A/C, refrigerator, microwave, TV and stereo. I was pleasantly surprised that I had left myself ¾ tank of gas last year at those super cheap $3.25 prices, and as I tooled out of storage with 10,000 lbs of 1987’s finest beneath me burning gas at 6 mpg, I felt I was living the life of Riley.

 

The Tribulations of Job: However, it is never quite that easy with the RV – from tires, to A/C to the generator to the brakes and exhaust the vehicle has never made things quite that easy. After I brought it home and began loading I also began filling the 100 gallon freshwater tank – but it leaked like a sieve and turning on the water pump only made things worse. Late that night, and then again the next morning I crawled underneath the 20 year old rusting undercarriage to try and determine the root cause of the issue, but merely succeeded in getting rusty water splashed in my eyes that took the better part of the night to clear.

 

By late morning the day of the Evanston race I threw in the towel and decided we’d go without running water for the shower, sink and kitchen. This was to be the last ride of the RV and I was determined to make the most of it so loaded up everything I could think of.

 

Until midnight I was running back and forth to the RV with blankets, groceries, bug spray, music, movies, pillows, the grill and everything you’d bring if you were moving and then the same in the morning. I didn’t properly hydrate in the hot humid weather and my lower back began to spasm – most likely a combo of the time arched under the RV, carrying lots of heavy objects cantilevered out in front of me, improper hydration and not very much rest. Honestly, there probably couldn’t have been worse preparation for the Evanston race. In theory I should have been quietly hydrating with my legs up all day… That, and I had already challenge the Roadie Gods….

 

 

Tribulations of Job: So, I guess I asked for it. In a previous post I challenged the roadies to “keep a fast pace, shake and bake me, form breakways and single file paces.”  So, of course so what else should I expect other than that they should answer – punatively of course. Over the next week I suffered the lash of their whips, their accels, their shake-n-bake tactics desperately holding onto wheels and hoping for the pressure to be relieved, for air to refill my lungs, for the burning asphyxiating pain to leave my legs. They showed little mercy…

 

 

Evanston Start Line

 

 

I just described Evanston – a relentless onslaught by the Pro teams on the front of the Peleton. The race started fast and never slowed down. With 6 fairly smooth corners, the course is actually pretty decent for me – except for the one achilles heel that I was to rediscover over the coming days in several races: my criterium kryptonite comes in the form of a long, slightly uphill straightaway with a headwind.

 

 

A corner early on

 

 

Now that I’m more aware of my strengths, this just makes sense. A small hill? I can power over that and leverage my strengths. Straightaways between 200 and 400m? Perfect again – short sprints, followed by a lot of coasting. I’m quite good at coasting (a natural corollary to my wheelsucking abilities). However, a tight corner followed by a really long straightaway requires pedaling well beyond my little tiny strength of 6 – 10 seconds of power: on each finish stretch at Evanston I found myself going well beyond my aerobic threshold and creating lactic acid on the 45 second haul up the long, slightly uphill finish stretch with winds swirling around me.

 

 

What a 160 rider field looks like

 

 

“Hot Goosebumps” – that’s what I began to feel as things stretched out I began to enter that oxygen deprived, lactic acid filled world that haunts my dreams – a place of sheer agony and repeated lies to my body – “you can quit next lap – just one more lap”. As my body processed less and less oxygen my legs experienced that ugly symptom of ‘hot chills’ where the leg felt half asleep and as blood continued to course through the veins it would feel hot despite showing goose bumps on the outside.

 

 

A long, single file death march

 

 

I continued my lies and internal mantra: “just make it 10 laps.” Then 20, then 30, then halfway to 35, then 40, then 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, then 50, and then, for the next set of lies, the all consuming goal was to make it to lap 60 (out of 70 laps).

 

 

Staying mid-field

 

 

Usually by this point in a given race, I can stop lying and realize I’ll make it to the end, and usually my mind set re-enters the proactive zone where I begin planning my attack for the final laps. But, like Downer Avenue last year, these thoughts were given no oxygen to formulate and instead I merely followed the wheel ahead, using my strengths effectively on corners one through five, and then hanging on for dear life each time down the long, bumpy, slightly uphill, single file finish stretch.

 

Mid-race I had moved to the middle of the 160 rider field – maybe 60th place or so. With about 30 laps to go after a particularly hard acceleration I was surprised to find only a dozen riders behind me or so – nearly half of this field of top category riders and professionals from around the country and the world had been dropped.

 

I remained even more dedicated to finishing and tried to move up again. I stayed in the middle front for another 5 laps but the race remained stretched out, single file and I was losing position. Just then a split occurred on the long finish stretch and suddenly I was bridging a fairly decent gap. I started faltering and riders swarmed by attempting to reconnect. It all broke up into confusion and a couple riders made it across but I found myself in a group of 10 that fell off the back and then disintegrated as we crossed the line with 12 laps to go.

 

 

Gaps begin to open

 

 

Bridging a gap...

 

Really suffering

 

I had not yet made my most recent goal of lap 60 (10 to go) so I continued riding, alone, as fast as I could go. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was averaging about 24 mph all by myself – that’s as fast as I can ever remember riding alone – and then I decided to check average speed so far – 30.4 mph – the fastest, ever, in a race that I’ve been in.

 

 

Agony... (why's he smiling?)

 

 

(Yes, roadies, I have a low VO2 and my typical wattage at my aerobic threshold is probably about 240-260 watts – no where near your 300, 330, or even 400 watts. That ‘book of matches’ you talk about burning during the race? If you flip over the creased white cardboard cover of my matchbook, you’ll find one lonely match – just one. Fortunately it’s got a little extra )

 

So even at my max I was riding over 6 mph slower than the field. That’s the advantage of the draft and the distinction of roadie vs. sprinter. I made it a couple laps alone, and then, just at 60 laps I was pulled from the race by the referees and then a lone Columbian came screaming past – riding 31 mph all by himself. As I pulled off, lapped, I cursed the roadie gods for that incomprehensible ability to ride that fast for more than 8 seconds.

 

 

The life of Riley: I piled into the air conditioned RV and headed off the to beach in Sheboygan for 4 fun and sun filled days at the beach...

 

 

2008 Race Report #10: Superweek Blue Island Pro/Am

2008: Race Report #10 Superweek Stage 2

                                                         

Race Report #10: Saturday, July 13. Category: Pro 1/2, Weather: 81 degrees, 18 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, 1 mile – mostly flat. Distance 62 miles (I made it 46 out of 62 miles) ~140 riders. Average speed, 30.3 mph, Avg. pulse 176 before getting dropped

 

Unfortunately, sadly, the biggest story here was the ‘race to the race.’ While this is far from uncommon in my experience due to the demands of work, home, and an absent mind, this day was different. With my wife and daughter heading up to visit family early in the day Saturday, I had the remainder of the day to focus on prepping properly for my debut pro race at Superweek. I wanted a ‘no excuses’ kind of race – so I cleaned my bike and cleaned my chain and cassette (discovering as a side product, that my chain was too short and couldn’t even go into my big rings in front and back without destroying my rear derailleur). That chain change at Village Cyclesport has been my bane...

 

I got the car loaded, and made sports drinks for before and after the race, ate pasta at exactly 3 1/2 hours before start time and then headed on my way, hydrating heavily. About an hour and a half before the race I was about to exit the highway – a mere 2 miles from the race course – and I called SRAM mechanic extraordinaire and former Wolverine Jose Alcala – and sure enough he was again working superweek. I was glad as my front wheel with its bent spokes was out of true and I have now lost any trust in any other mechanic. He kidded me about ‘showing up 10 minutes before the race’ and I told him, “this time maybe I’ll surprise you…” Sure enough I saw the sign for my exit off 294 South for Highway 50. I did end up surprising him though…

 

There was a wrinkle though – as always… About 5 miles back, the highway, under ongoing construction, had divided left and right and I had gone left. There was no indication of anything out of the ordinary – for instance, a sign saying,  “take the lanes on the left and you’ll be trapped in a concrete barrier from hell for the next 22 miles unable to exit until you drop out onto highway 80” would have been somewhat useful information.

 

And so I drove and cursed and cursed and drove as I watched each of my potential exits fade on the other side of my impermeable, infinite concrete barrier as the My Navigator application on my U.S. Cellular® phone kept saying “re-calculating route”. Honestly – I was screaming in my car – trapped behind a careful tourist driving 50 mph ahead of me and no way to go back or get out.

 

Finally I dropped down to highway 80 and exited Dixie Highway, following the prompts back to Blue Island – 8 miles or 15 minutes away – still 45 minutes left until race time.

 

Then, only a half mile from the course, I hit the train tracks. An engine was crossing with one car – slowly – but heck it was only one car. 5 minutes later and the gates lifted – but only for about 10 seconds – one car got through, and down they came again. The train now backed up and recrossed and picked up about 1000 other cars and they began trundling across the road at a speed of about zero-point-one. 5 minutes became 10 became 15. Meanwhile I had changed into my full racing regalia in the car – but still it trundled along… I considered parking the car on the side of the road and then running through an opening between cars with my bike and then riding the remaining ½ mile to the course. I actually would have done it – but the train was finally picking up steam – probably 4mph now.

 

So I used Google maps on my U.S. Cellular BlackBerry® Curve and found an alternate route and circled several miles around – putting the four liters of my V8 to full use – like a rental car - only two speeds – floored or braking.

 

I screamed into the parking lot in Blue Island with 5 minutes to go before race time. I dropped my wheel with Jose, registered with Chris who seemed amused and expectant over my mad last minute rush, put my number on in the wheel pit, and just as I was inserting the last pin, Eddy Van Guys announced, “and here, ready to shoot the starter’s pistol is the mayor of Blue Island – mayor?”

 

So much for warmup, though I did have an adrenaline rush to fire the muscles…

 

The race itself? Fast. First few laps were mundane, and then it began to string out. As the pack was stretched from 5 abreast to 3 to 2 abreast, I surfed and rode well, but when it became single file I struggled, and my pulse – holding in the mid 170’s the first 10 laps, began to rise and I was riding in the low 180’s – right at my sustainable max.

 

(Video 1 - joins the action a few laps into the race when it is still 5 abreast and the peleton is a still a crowd. By a 1:30 into the video things began to stretch out, and at 2:10 we begin a long painful hammer session down  the home stretch. At 2:40 you can see that the pack has now stretched 200 yards from tip to tail. By the end of this clip (video is 3:20) we are mostly single file...)

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc_3i1pHiiU]

 

Meanwhile the front wheel I had borrowed from Jose was a bit misaligned with my brake pads, and they began to make more and more noise as the pad was starting to bite into the tire. After about 15 laps it began to make me nervous (it was the front) and as the pace continued to lift and I was forced to dive into corners and brake hard, I was using my front break more than ever. Finally I decided to risk a free lap (would it count?) and coasted into the pits where Jose put on my newly trued wheel and let Carl the referee know that it was a legitimate stop – “failure of critical mechanical part”.

 

The one lap rest was incredibly welcome and I swung back out into the field with 45 laps to go already very tired. But my legs performed and I rode the pack as best as I could despite finish stretch speeds in excess of 35 mph, and an average speed (when I dropped) of 30.3 mph. (this did not include the first 16 laps – when I had the wheel pit wheel on my bike without the magnet for my bike computer)

 

(Video 2 – Here I turn on the camera while I'm waiting in the wheel pit after my free lap - note the breakaway rider fly by at over 30mph by himself. I continually ask myself how that is possible. For the next couple of laps I ride behind or near Ken and another rider from bicycle heaven in the blue jersey and blue shoe covers. At about 5:15, I hit a manhole cover and the camera tilts up. Over the next lap, the pace picks up and more and more I'm riding a single file or two abreast line on a wheel where all you can see is the guy's butt ahead of me - pretty boring really. The rest of the video, unfortunately goes off the frame as the camera tilts even farther - nothing much to see anyway)

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta079Nxk2ho]

 

The Columbian team continued to push breakaways and the field was unwilling to let them go, so the peleton resumed the strung out 2 abreast or single file structure for dozens of laps and I began to tire. I had fallen to the rear of the peleton and after passing the halfway mark at 31 miles, I was hopeful that I was going to finish, but the pace stayed high and riders were dropping out ahead of me forcing me to bridge gaps. Several of these were full out efforts pushing my pulse to 187 and 188 for several laps, and with 16 laps to go, after completing 46 miles or 90 minutes at an average heartrate of 176 bpm, another gap opened that I couldn’t close and I drifted away off the back down the backstretch.

 

It’s a terrible feeling – this. Pulse at 188 bpm and watching 100 riders pedal away from you as though it were easy. For a few moments, that deep morose funk hit me – “not good enough”, “couldn’t hack it,” “loser.”

 

But as I made my way back to Jose in the wheel pit, I was able to remember those good moments in the race – those hard accels from the corners where I neatly moved up 10 spots easily, the tight balance of my body over the wheels in the corners where I could swing up several spots by pedaling earlier and later than everyone. I also considered that, unlike last year, I knew, absolutely knew, that I had not killed my sprint by overtraining.

 

So I reframed this ‘loss’ as an, “I almost made it…”

 

When Jose asked me about my fitness, I waxed philosophical… “I think its about right – if I was able to hang easily in a race this fast, then odds are good I’d have overtrained…” and then, “I think, honestly, that all of my best, big races have had two things in common: 1) I was barely, barely hanging on for a majority of the race, and 2) Due to that, at the end I was one of the few with a sprint motor left…”

 

We’ll see if my ‘half full’ approach proves to be accurate.  After the race I was able to chat with the Garrison brothers, and Eddy Van Guys. I was particularly humbled when Eddy, out of the blue, said, “You are a great writer – I’ve been following your blog…”

 

That means a lot Eddy – thanks,

 

-John

 

PS: Coming soon - videos  and picutures from the Olympia Fields Master's Criterium - my friend Matt brought his camera.