2009 Race Report #5: ABR Cat 1/2 Illinois State Criterium Championships

July 5, 2009: I was too lazy to show up for the master's event at Wooddale - the day was just too nice and I was enjoying sitting outside by the pool reading and writing. Finally I dragged myself into the car for the 20 minute drive to Wooddale for the Cat 1/2 race. A few thunderclouds threatened but only threw a few drops our way. The pace was hot and cold - we only averaged 26.8 for the race, and one rider ended up getting away solo with 6 laps to go. Oddly I didn't suffer much and started to realize I might have a shot a the "W" - that is until the solo rider escaped. Still, I felt I had jets on my legs up the small hill to the final straightway and determined I would use them.

My plan was to sit about 10th on the last lap and then hit the afterburners 2/3's of the way down the backstretch into the final two corners with the short hill in between. My assumption was that with a hard accel in the draft, combined with the corners and the climb, I might not get caught despite the long (1 minute?) sprint.

All the best laid plans... Well, the pack was swarming and the pace too low on the last lap so I found myself sitting third across the finish stretch and down the hill into the back stretch. I could sense the pack ready to spring and knew I'd be buried in the swarm so I did the unthinkable - I made a leap from the front into the lead with 700m to go. Instead of the my planned stealth attack from bowels of the pack shrouded from the wind, I was completely visible and had to fight through the suddenly howling gale as I accelerated up to 37mph down the backstretch by myself.

I was already dying by the time I hit the 3rd corner into the hill, but shifted carefully and was able to put some energy into the pedals up the hill and then shifted up just before the final corner and cranked some cold hard low rpms toward the finish line 250 meters up the road. I could feel the chasers on my tail and just before the finish I saw colors to my left, (Ken Delo and Robert Krohn) but I had it - the field sprint win, and 2nd place.

I enjoyed a post race vibe talking to Ken Delo, Ara, and  Robert Krohn and others before finally heading back to swim in the pool with my daughter, the yellow sun and warm water a perfect aperitif to a successful race.

Saturday is my re-entry to the Pro races of Superweek with the Blue Island Pro/Am. Last year I got dropped - I'm shooting for a top 10 this year - but we'll see...

2008 Race Reports 8 & 9: Wood Dale ABR State Criterium Championships

2008: Race Report #8 & 9: Wood Dale, IL ABR State Criterium Championships
 
Race Report #8: Sunday, July 6. Category: Master’s 40+, Weather: 84 degrees, 9 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, 1 mile, small hill. Distance, 45 minutes plus 2 laps, ~70 riders Average speed, 26.1 mph, Avg. pulse 164

As I tell my friend and new racer Matt on some interval, “You can never judge your future performance in a race by how you feel when you line up: some of my best races ever were begun with overwhelming feelings of tiredness, weakness or even sickness.”

This was a bit of my mantra as I rolled to the line for the first of two or three races that day. I was hoping to complete the Dybowski ‘trifecta’ and race and place in 3 races: the master’s 40, master’s 30, and Pro ½ races. As it turned out I only ended up starting the first two. My friend Matt also started both and as the pictures will show, was having a good series before disaster struck.

Masters 40+ start

For myself it didn’t help that the day before was comprised of a pool party at my house:  I blame Mike Dienhart for any wine consumption that occurred that evening. The fireworks I provided myself and we knew it was a good party when the police arrived to politely shut down the 2” mortar display I was in the middle of shooting off over the pond beyond our house.

 masters 40 field

My legs didn’t feel good at first and that, for whatever reason, is typical of any ride following a swim in the pool – it is as though all that freedom to kick and use all the unused muscles in the legs in all directions causes those straight and narrow cycling muscles to get distracted and I ‘pedaled squares’ for the first half of the race. The pace was fairly consistent – not brutal – but never slow. These Master’s 40’s clearly proved their dominance at Winfield nationals over their younger bretheren.

My favorite spot - the back

I didn’t bother even thinking about chasing breakaways considering that I was planning on racing 3 times and over 100 miles. Eventually, a 6 man breakway did get away – I considered attempting a bridge when the gap was within my range, but decided to save that energy for later races.

With two laps to go, Chris Black – a very strong Master’s racer – pulled his signature move and broke away off the front of the field. I watched him go from the middle of the pack and symbolically tipped my helmet with respect - as I decided at the end of last year my job is the last lap – everything else is merely preparation. Luck will have to decide the one-lap-to-go situation – from there I’ll take the reins if I can..

So suddenly it was 1 lap to go and in fits and starts we passed the start/finish line. I surfed the peleton near the middle. My plan was a little different than normal – rather than ‘finding the perfect wheel’ to the line, I intended to lead out the sprint with about 500m to go – due to the proximity of two back-to-back corners with a short uphill in between shortly before the finish.

 

I figured I could get a gap before the corner to the uphill, put all my horsepower out up the hill, and then try to hold it to the line.

 

However, in between, several riders had strung themselves out in front of the peleton in pursuit of Mr. Black. If you watch the video, I stay safely in the bowels of the peleton until about 50 seconds into the video, and then the camera starts shaking as I get out of my saddle and kick off my sprint. In the video it looks odd – there’s no where to go – but what I’m shooting for is a sudden opening up the right side. Meanwhile you can also see the distances to the lead riders…

 

After my accel I swing all the way right with some momentum and then ride the wind shadows of the riders, following the “string of pearls” of the leading riders, passing each in turn, saving the last two for the uphill stretch. The beauty of this approach was that I never really had to face the wind on my own and could instead put in short sprints (my strength) before putting my head down on the final stretch trying to close in on Chris Black.

 

These are the moments of racing I love – that sudden knowledge that there is gas in the tanks and that despite my heart rate being above 190, that the legs and pedals and bike are willing. Its hard to tell from the video, but my full on sprint only started just as the lead rider looked back on the uphill – that’s when I kicked in the turbo and passed him on the inside setting up the final turn. I actually thought I might catch Chris – but he accelerated yet again and I didn’t catch him – what a stud.

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

Race Report #9: Sunday, July 6. Category: Master’s 30+, Weather: 86 degrees, 9 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, 1 mile, small hill. Distance, 45 minutes plus 2 laps, ~45 riders Average speed, 26.3 mph, Avg. pulse 165

Clearly a pattern is developing: there are more 40+ racers in Illinois than 30+, and quite possibly they are stronger as well. Overall the pace was only slightly higher – and that was only from a significant organized chase of a breakway. Otherwise the race was relatively mild.

My friend Matt and I

The first half of the race went quickly and Matt and I rode together quite a bit – switching wheels, sometimes following, sometimes leading. As a breakaway got away, I began to feel guilty for my mentoring of Matt. Yes, for me, a breakaway is a distant target and not something to concern myself with. But Matt’s got an aerobic motor – shouldn’t he be up there?

Matt in the forground of an early crash

As the pace picked up and things began to string out, I swung up the outside on the downhill and said, “we have to get up there” to Matt – and sure enough his motor kicked in and he actually took one of the hardest pulls of the race after a series of hard laps.

 

Ultimately we closed on the leaders and caught them, but in between things went a little haywire. After Matt’s hard pull, we entered the 3rd corner at high speeds and behind me I heard the train wreck explosions that are unfortunately all too common in cycling. I wouldn’t have given it much thought except that Matt had just swung off the lead and was just behind me in the general vicinity of the noise.

 Matt taking the lead

As the next laps unwound, I found no trace of Matt – but neither did I see him on the sidelines, and his 11 year old daughter Rose continued to take pictures – so assumed he was at the tail of the peleton or safely on the sidelines. As it turned either – neither was true.

 Getting busy...

And for a second time it was one lap to go…

 

I had the same general intention of the previous race – to lead out the sprint from the backstretch, but given the smaller size of the field I didn’t move up as aggressively and suddenly found myself boxed in. In the video you can see my switching left to right looking for a hole – I was still intending to lead it out – but when I finally squeezed through a 1 inch hole, I found myself neatly tacked right onto the leadout move - I timed it right and found a hole 58 seconds into the video to follow the leadout, taking the second to last corner at 35mph in 5th, with a lot of power to spare having never seen the wind.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLM94sE1fEc]

Shrouded by the field I still had not used any real juice and anticipated on using my full sprint on the uphill. As always, plans need to be adjusted – as you can see on the video, just as I began to exit the 3rd corner for my big sprint, the rider in 3rd position clipped a pedal, lost both feet, bounced off rider #4, and then careened into me – feet flapping wide, sending me towards the curb, as I locked both brakes up.

Due to the slow frame rate, what is missing from this scene is the absolute terror of that half second…

In those milleseconds I went from an adrenaline soaked anticipation of a sprint to a two handed skid toward the curb, slowing to 20mph from the 35mph sprint speed around the corner.

My saving grace was the parking lot entrance that allowed me to just miss the curb and then immediately get out of my saddle (camera shaking) to attempt to regain all that lost momentum as my 3 leadout men disappear into the distance. So much happens so fast that the camera misses much – meanwhile as they recede, two new riders winging around me as I try to undo the damage and I find myself in 6th with a big gap to 4th

But I had some horsepower to spare, and I furiously put on the afterburners and re-accelerated uphill back to 35mph and entered the 4th and final corner in 6th, swinging wide with a visual lock on 3rd place coming out of the corner.

This is where the camera really misses the most terrifying moment of the whole race for me. As I accelerate up the outside from 6th position, the the rider in 5th suddenly gets out of his saddle and swings 3 feet to the left, hitting my front wheel, to the sound of angry xylophone, and bending several of my spokes in the process. I lock up both brakes again and swing left and manage to hold onto my bucking and endoing bike.

I screamed an epithet at this point and then coasted to the line. (Virtually all this happens between frames or mostly out of view – all you can see is the sudden appearance of the rider to my right and then the sudden ‘backward’ movement of my sprint). 

At this point I coast in for 5th… feeling lucky.. and scared.

I coasted around and found Matt sitting in the grass in turn 3 - right where I almost went down. His seat was destroyed, and his helmet cracked nearly all the way through. With just a couple key questions I realized he had a concussion - "Matt, what city are we in?"  "Ummm  I don't know - how did I crash? I don't remember..."

Matt's road rash was mild, but his hand started to swell up pretty good. In his short term memory state he reminded me and others several times, “I don’t think it’s broken – just some ligaments – see I can move everything”. But even as his memory returned, “Oh yeah – I had a flat – that’s how I crashed!” the swelling in his hand continued. Eventually he had all his memory back as we sat in the shade near the cars after I was able to obtain ice and water from the very helpful promoter Vince.

Even as he recounted the flat, the skidding, and the eventual contact with the pavement I was reminded of my two close calls in my race and considered myself lucky. A day later and he got his X-ray back – and the base of his thumb joint had basically crumbled (see picture)and was impacted into the other joint, requiring the surgical imposition of metal pins and 6 weeks recovery off the bike minimum. Damn. At least it was his left hand.

Matts thumb Xray

Perhaps I’m a bad friend, but I did remind Matt that time trial handlebars use only forearms and that they might provide him a new, safer outlet while he mends. It is amazing that after 32 years of racing I've never actually had any kind of serious injury - I'm thankful for my luck...

Tomorrow begins the 2008 Superweek series – see my 2008 Race Report 2 ½ for the schedule I’ll be attending, I’m both nervous and excited for the races. I’m nervous because of getting dropped at Grafton… I’m excited because I clearly still have my sprint and if I ever get a chance to actually use it I’m reasonably certain it might bring me results.

Til then,

-John

Kenosha, 2005

Fri, July 22, 2005.

 

After Manitowoc, Kenosha is probably my favorite course, and in terms of spectators and ambience Kenosha has it all. The majority of the course centers on a park, that every year is filled with restaurant booths (this year Thai, Mexican, Italian, Brats, Corn on the cob, shaved ham, funnel cakes, cotton candy etc.), activities – including a skateboard and bmx demonstration involving a half pipe, a Disney troup singing and dancing and teaching kids to use a hula hoop, vendors – including bike vendors, banks, real estate agents and… grrr Cingular, and then a host of blow up kiddie rides – slides, bouncy castle, etc.

 

We managed to secure a sweet parking space right off the square across from the food vendors and 10 feet from the course itself by moving a few cones, and I headed off to register. I had a good feeling in my legs and in my mind – the music, the reasonably successful last few days, and the fact is wasn’t overly hot or raining added to my upbeat mood.

 

I stopped by the wheel pit and promised Jose – the head mechanic – my profits for the day – as I have done the last few years, and then went back and got ready. I couldn’t for the life of me find my supply of “Goo” and settled on a half of a Clif Bar tucked under my shorts.  I warmed up a little and then headed to the line.

 

There were a lot of riders – I’d guess about 100, but things started fairly slow, and I stayed in the top 20 for the first 10 of 70 laps.  A breakaway made its way off the front including an old friend Bob Springer, but we could always see it.  Another break started shortly after that one and I bridged up feeling good, but we were caught by the pack shortly thereafter. And so the laps passed.

 

The Kenosha course used to be pretty rough, but the recently re-paved most of the surfaces, and now it is quite smooth. The first corner is huge and wide, and the second corner has a rather sharp camber on the inside and a slight off camber on the outside.  On the backstretch, the road has a little chicane that can tend to crush riders to the inside and then later to the outside when the pack bunches up. Major pileups have been known to happen. Turn 3 is fairly wide, but is where a majority of the accidents happen in the last few laps as everyone tries to use this corner to move up.

 

And so the race went on, and I surfed the pack from front to the very back, but mostly stayed just behind the A*@hole zone – in around 25th place – just in case a breakaway went. Meanwhile I tried my damndest to eat a dry Clif bar. I swear I chewed the first bite for 3 laps before using my water to wash the dry chunks down whole, and then the second bite I didn’t even screw around – I merely broke it up with my teeth and pretended it was a huge horse vitamin and slowed it down with water… And so the laps counted down… 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 15 to go, 10 to go….. 5 to go…

 

And then that magic happens.. something odd happens in these last few laps.  The composition and harmonics of the race change – subtly at first, but quickly and completely thereafter. I would liken it to that feeling on an international flight – you leave the airport, taxi out and head off into the skies, and everything is English spoken, mundane, and ordinary, and then you take a long nap and wake up and suddenly the food is different and everyone around you is speaking German or French or Dutch and while everything is the same – suddenly everything is different.

 

For racing, for me, this change is a good thing. For me it means that the guys that used to be out there taking long pulls into the wind suddenly pull off earlier, saving themselves – but at the same time, there are more to replace them. The pack gets tighter. There is anticipation in the air, and the whole group draws closer together. It feels slower, though the pace rally doesn’t change. A whole new idling, surging, and revolving of riders begins – a series of eddies and flows of inside and outside moves surging to the front only to be absorbed and drained backward through the slower inner current.

 

For 65 laps I’ve been pretty much a lifeless black and white thing – a worn-out  husk of a rider biding his time, trying to finish the laps, and then this magic occurs and suddenly I’m awake and alive – riding the tides of the race. Suddenly the game is on and it is a test of wits and skill and courage and effort to try and maintain the right position. Get too far back and you are out of contention. Spend too much time up front and you’ve spent all of your energy fighting the wind. I have a weird love/hate of this moment – I dread it for the 65 laps or so it took to get there, and then once I’m in it I get a surge of adrenaline bordering on happiness. I’m suddenly aware of the breathing of the riders, I’m suddenly aware of the tiny spaces I can slide into. I notice the crowd and the announcer and the color of the banners. I’ll put my handlebars within one inch of another bike when 10 laps earlier, 10 inches was too close…

 

So, with 5, 4, and 3 laps to go, the whole pack rode this way – shoulder to shoulder, bars to bars, with only a few dangerous moves on the left and the right in the chicane causing any considerable movement in the pack. In the meantime a small breakaway of 4 that was just off the front began to get a few hundred feet, and then few hundred yards… I floated in about 20th, trying to use my usual tricks of downshifting into the corner to allow me to move up quickly into the open wedges out of the corner, but the pack was allowing nothing… I couldn’t find an opening, and nothing and no-one was moving.

 

Undaunted, I closed in closer – moved in nearer, touched a few bars or hips and drew closer to the front as we hit the finish stretch with 2 to go. I was probably in the 3rd row now of an 8 abreast clutter down the straightaway, and then a move went up the left side – fast.

 

I bobbed and bounced and pounced on the first opening in front of me as bars swayed and shot on through joining the chasers and closing the gap into 3rd – not counting the breakaway.

 

The man in red who led – he kicked it for a whole lap and drew us within about 150 yards of the breakaway as we heard the bell. We were heading down the finish stretch fast and stretched out with one to go, and I was in 7th place with a 2 man leadout and a small break of 4 just down the road. My prayer was that one of the two horses ahead of me would lead us to the break – because if they did I was pretty sure I could take this one…

 

Unfortunately horse 1 gave up the ghost and sat up just after turn 1.  Horse 2 took us well into the backstretch, but his efforts dwindled midway down the stretch.  With a half lap to go I was left with a tough choice – bridge the 300 feet to the breakway, or hope that someone behind me had the juice to take me there.

 

I decided to take it myself and launched into a full sprint down the latter half of the backstretch. Oddly, the 4 man breakaway had apparently decided to shuffle and position rather than hold the pace high, so when I did catch them entering turn 3, I was coming at them pretty fast – maybe 10 mph faster than they were going.

 

Again choices – sit up, wait, and try to outsprint whoever led-out the sprint down the finish stretch? Or use my inertia to try and go over the top and gap them before the knew what him them?

 

I decided to use the slingshot approach and I pedaled through corner 3, and accelerated into corner 4 using their draft to slingshot into the lead on the finish stretch. I took the breakaway on the outside of corner 4 and entered the 300m finish stretch in first place - with a gap. It is a lovely notion this - to be in the lead down the final few hundred meters of a race - hundreds of eyes willing you forward. The noise was incredible and I put my head down and prayed I had enough speed to keep me there…

 

And so the next 200 meters went, and I could hear the drumming of the crowd, and the voices to the left and right, and for a little while I thought I had it – my legs were still turning, and I still felt reasonably strong. But as we neared the line I could feel and hear the riders who had followed my wake – both of them from the breakway, and as we hit the line, both swarmed to the left and right and left me third place in the sprint – but not by much.

 

A bit disappointed, I was still pleased with a podium spot and headed up to talk to the announcer after the warmdown lap. He introduced me as “Mr. Stoughton” and I didn’t really care. After my competitors were introduced I found out more about them and was pleased to find out that the race winner was the Junior national road, time trial, and criterium champion. Good company on the podium. We were talking after, and I started describing my Junior World’s experience in Casablanca Morrocco, and then I stopped short saying, “but that was in 1986…. when were you born?” and he said, “1987.” I don’t feel old too often, but I’m often reminded…

 

 

I stepped down and then had to run 100 yards to help my daughter compete in her first ever race (age 4). She finished with “pack time” in the peleton but had a good time, and then we set up camp to watch the pros race.  Robbie Ventura showed, but didn’t finish, and in the end the ensuing battle for the sprint jersey became the main feature as Frank Pipp and Abrams fought it out for the sprint points and the $5000.