2012 Race Reports 1 - 4

2012 Race Reports 1 – 4: It has been a while since I posted a race report – hopefully this season will see more racing and more writing: both are things I find joy in.

So far the season has progressed in a predictable sprinter fashion:

  • Race one (April): dropped, shelled
  • Race two (Early May): last place, exploded
  • Race three (Late May): 10th Place, purging
  • Race four (Mid June): 2nd Place, surging

As a general rule spring racing sucks for the sprinter. First, the roadies have been at it all winter, bundled up in smart wool splashing for hours on end through the slush or languishing through interval workouts on the trainer or doing group trainer workouts or “trainer racing” - whatever that is.

The unvarnished lungs of the sprinter are further shredded by the cold air and winds that rake the early season courses.  My first two races were noted by 15 – 20 mph crosswinds that created massive echelons and I found myself constantly riding in gravel by the curb or through puddles near the grass for much of the race. I lasted only half the first race, quickly shelled when gaps opened up. I managed to finish the second race, but exploded during the sprint setup, coasting through the last 300m having already lit my match. Race 3 saw some suffering, but I had a bit left at the end (despite the 98 degree temps) and a decent field sprint finish landed me 3rd in the pack and 10th overall.

 Race Four: Wonder Lake Criterium, Masters 1/2/3 30+. Distance ~18 miles (timed: 40 minutes) Temp 88 degrees. Wind = light. Avg pace 25.2mph, Sprint finish max speed 37.8mph

My second visit to the Wonder Lake Criterium was held in lieu of heading all the way to Waukesha, WI, to race on a ToAD  (Tour of America’s Dairyland) course that I hate.

I faced some of the usual pre-race challenges spending too much time relaxing over breakfast and not wanting to depart from my family. I finally hit the road without a great deal of buffer time to change, register, and warmup. Proudly though, I thought of pumping up my tires and oiling my chain before piling in the car. I couldn’t find lube, but I did find the pump and proceeded to quickly break off the presta valve of my front wheel. I checked the pressure w/ my thumb and it wasn’t terrible – probably 50 pounds – so I grabbed a spare tube and figured I change it at the race, assuming I arrived in time.

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Sure enough the back roads to northern Illinois were slow going, and the 32 mile drive took an hour and fifteen minutes leaving me 30 minutes to register, pin on #’s, change and warmup.

Wonder Lake is a pretty little lake like the one I grew up on in West Bloomfield, and the smell of lake water & exhaust combined with the sun dappling off small green waves had me nostalgic for Walnut Lake, water skiing, swimming and… bike racing.

No time to change the tube, so I just lined up with the rest of the masters 1/2/3 field and listened to the race instructions. The course was the same as 2 years ago – 1.3 miles around with two long straightaways, one along the lakeside, the other up a small hill then running parallel. A long 4 corner crit, but with narrow roads, and some small changes in elevation. I never noticed the low pressure in the front...

The masters were feeling the sun and scenery and the first lap was luxurious – averaging just over 20mph. Then the attacks came and speeds in excess of 30mph down the straights were common. However, the few times I was on the rivet, things slowed down and I recovered. With a lap and half to go a lone rider snapped off the front, but no one chased. With one lap to go, I moved up to about 6th wheel assuming there would be a surge on the backstretch. Our lone rider was within reach, but with a 100m gap. Finally just prior to turn 3, the inevitable surge heaved out left and I joined a wheel slinging out right and moved up to 5th with 600m and 1 turn to go.

The pace held up front and we headed down a slight incline in view of the lake. The downhill created opportunity for the riders behind to encroach and I could feel but not see the jockeying behind me. I held my spot and exited the final corner with 400m to go in 5th spot, the lone breakaway still 75m out front.

The next 200m headed downhill and the speed increased and the leadout rider faded and the sprint was on, downhill into a slight headwind. I prefer not to sprint until <150m to go, but the inertia of the downhill was important so the 3 of us spread wide w/ 300m to go and for a moment we were 3 abreast screaming into the wind at 38mph w/ 150m to go. However, I had the slingshot from the later move and surged by the other two riders, suddenly closing on the breakaway rider. With 100m to go I was sure I would be second to the breakaway rider, until a sudden surge from behind by another rider who perfectly surfed our 3 abreast draft and shot around me and closed on the lead rider.

Coming to the line the breakaway rider and surging sprinter faded and I was able to regain 2nd position by passing the breakaway artist while closing the gap on the winner.

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A 350m sprint is a really long way for me and when I crossed the line it was with a feeling of every circuit in my body on fire with the agony of lactic acid. As I drifted around the backside and the flames diminished and the embers remained I wondered if this kind of effort had any effect on the cardiovascular system – whether it could clear the cobwebs – or unhealthy deposits of the winter – from the circulatory system.

I circled around the start finish and was apprised of a protest regarding race #s (duplicates) that would take a while to resolve, so I warmed down by riding around the lake dodging in and out of spurs and cul-de-sacs to traverse the lake properties. I found myself wallowing in nostalgia for my lake-bound-youth: boats towing skiers, ramshackle homes with outboard motors mounted to plywood in driveways, the occasional massive home at odds with the cottage feel of the neighborhood, but all around the recognition that summer is for being outdoors – hunting frogs, swimming, skiing, bonfires, riding bikes, ding-dong-ditchit. Upon returning home I immediately commenced a search for lake properties.

2008 Race Report #22: Downers Grove Elite Masters 1/2

2008: Race Report  #22: Downer’s Grove Nationals Masters’ Elite ½:  Weather: 84 degrees, light winds. Course: twisty, dangerous, seven corners, short steep hill, 0.8 miles/lap, Distance, 45 minutes + 2 laps, Average pulse 170. Avg speed - ?

There’s something about the prep for a ‘big race’ that unfolds memories from the cramped spaces of the past – the thoughts, images and feelings fan backward in ever dimming shades and echoes like the outline of your visage in a pair of dressing room mirrors.

In the two weeks preceding the annual extravaganza at Downer’s Grove a corkscrew of subtle déjà vus rotated into my consciousness and receded – flashes of memory, of sounds and scents as I pulled on my jersey over the bloom of sweat, changing clothes in the seat of my car at Bussy woods, as I pedaled circles under the arching late summer shadows on my training rides, or as I coasted into the driveway, cog ratcheting slowly to a stop as I dismounted and leaned my bike against the wall in the garage.

Downer’s Grove holds, for me, an underlying electric current - subsonic vibrations of years past – moments of ‘really living,’ including 2007’s slippery, rainy 6th place, 2006’s battle to the finish line - finishing 2nd by inches, of a 3rd place in 2005 and the subsequent crash in the Master’s race. Another third back in 2004, and a win in 2003 - holding a then-toddler Katelina on the podium.

Earlier memories still: a win in 1995 when I took the sprint out with two corners to go, and the whole peleton crashed behind me blocking the entire road. That year I coasted to the line looking uncertainly behind me and seeing no one (does that count as a breakaway?) I was too confused about the disappearing act of the peleton to use the ample time for a proper hands-in-the-air celebration.

The buckled asphalt, manhole covers, paint lines, metal barriers, short steeps and false flats all re-drew themselves in the etch-a-sketch of my mind and as the day drew near I began an endless play-action exercise to trace the race that was yet to come.

Throughout it all was a feeling… A feeling that maybe, just maybe this race was to be mine. In the weekdays prior, my training reached those perfect moments of motivation aligning with performance. As the days passed my confidence grew with each training ride, until…

…Until race day – despite all the anticipation - of being inspired all week for the coming event, by the time the actual day arrived, for some reason I just didn’t want to go.

Let me clarify - it wasn’t that I didn’t want to race, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to win (or think it possible.)

Actually the malaise I felt was directly proportional to that fact that I thought I could, even, maybe should win. It was this sense of expectation that really made the drive to Downer’s Grove an exercise in discipline. I was steeped in an unexplainable soul deadening funk.  

Being tired was one element that probably added to my lethargy – despite a truly great week of training with ample rest, there was the unfortunate timing of an event on Friday, the day before the race, where I attended (and acted as the photographer) for the wedding of my wife’s cousin up in Wisconsin Dells. The only problem was that it was a 3 hour drive each way and when we finally arrived home at midnight I was wide awake from driving and it took me until 1:30am to fall asleep.

In my own little domain, Downer’s Grove (and to a lesser extent Kenosha) is the only fiefdoms where I can claim the right to have “expectations” – due to consistent podium finishes the last 8 or so visits with the exception of last year in the rain where I ended up 6th.

The psychology of these feelings is completely irrational and an interesting contrast - when racing with the top domestic professionals on difficult courses (Superweek), I usually drive to the race inspired to give it my all, and I arrive at the line loose and ready, my will warming to the challenge and the lack of expectations invigorating my limbs. I have no real expectations - after all by all rights I should be getting my ass kicked (and often do). Conversely though, the days prior to the event are sometimes filled with visions of the suffering to come.

One might think that you might be more motivated when you are quite sure you can win, but for me, and I suspect, most, this proves not to be the case on race day. There is a stark contrast between the mentality and drive of the “what is possible” underdog role vs. the “expected” results of the consistent player. This makes the achievements of a Michael Phelps or Eric Heiden even that much more incredible - they were expected to win, they thought they could/should win, and, they STILL DID…

Despite my funk, I showed up (I had to – my friend Gary was coming.)  I managed the ‘perfect’ parking space not 50 feet from the start line and forced myself to warm up well on my trainer. (For those few that have followed these race reports it should be notable that I have had fewer and fewer ‘races to the race.’ – small self-pat on the back.)

The race itself was reasonably fast, but as expected, all breakaways were pulled back prior to the finish.

I surfed the front 20 riders for about 5 laps and then settled back into my comfortable groove in the back of the peleton. Mike Beuchel and Kent Savit were in the field and made their moves in the closing laps as we moved from time clock to lap counter but their breakaways were brought back.

Sometimes, as we get close to the final laps, I get an anxious feeling that “I need to move up now”. I can then find myself too far forward too early and end up battling the a*@hole zone for multiple laps slinging back and forth through the swirling vortex at the front of the peleton.

Other times, I feel a bit lazy (like Bensenville) and have to move up rather late in the game taking risks. At Downer’s Grove I had a clear, and accurate sense that 2 1/2 laps was the right time to get up front. More than that I also knew where on the course to move up - on the backstretch after the right hand turn on the downhill, and on the short steep hill.

2 1/2 laps to go and I put in a short sprint and swung up 30 places on the backstretch, slotting in and following wheels. As we hit the line, the race swirled all around, and riders were bumping and bruising and riding way to close to the barriers. Rationally I could see all the mayhem and it was terrifying and for sure I was on red alert with both hands on the brakes, but at the same time there was that sick, risk-loving side of me that knows that this is my element… I moved up.

I stayed in the top 20 carefully tucked in for the next lap and a half, and then, as we entered the final straightaway with 1 lap to go I had that old feeling - that “I just know what the peleton will do” feeling

I have written at length about the suffering and agony of being a sprinter, and even on this, one of the best sprinter courses in the country, I still had to suffer just to hang on. I have also written at length about the transformation that occurs as the chrysalis of limited aerobic capacity and recovery are lifted and, after 99% of the race is over, the moment arrives which all the prior suffering has delivered: those few moments where the fast twitch muscles of the sprinter are finally allowed to unfurl and fully flex - knowing that the end is near and no recovery will be required.

(Short video - last lap)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fmgb5ECRywI]

The video shows the story from here:  from seconds 0:010 to 0:30 on the video I dodge left and right, inches from the barriers and then find those opportunities emerging, parting the waters and shooting right through to the front with very little effort, coming around turn one in 3rd. All my life I have variously thought that I was a sprinter, a trackie, a crit racer, a match sprinter. Perhaps the event for my true strength doesn’t exist - I may be one of the very best ‘hole fillers’ on the planet…

After sliding up to the front on the home stretch things remain skittish and dicey around the next two corners and up the hill. At 0:52 on the video we are single file, but not going quite fast enough - and sure enough a move goes up the right and I lose my top 5 position. It is anxious up and over the top of the hill (1:05) and the following left turn and it gets even slower on the downhill (keep in mind slow is a relative concept - we are going at least 33 mph - but we need to be going closer to 40mph in order to keep the swarming moves from happening).

Finally just as we are entering the downhill right hand turn at 1:29 on the video an attack goes off the front (off camera at first) and at the same time a rider comes screaming over the top on the left side chopping the trajectory of the rider in front of me resulting in a near disaster at 1:31. I brake slightly and then burn half my match to accelerate hard and tag onto the end of the train in 8th place (there’s still a rider a ways off the front) as we then swing right to set up for the final two corners (1:48).

On the second downhill stretch the leadout man realizes he’s brought along a 10 man train and swings left and then back right (1:55 – 1:57), and we slow going into the second to last corner and I sense with impending doom exactly what will happen and swing wide: sure enough a rider dives in on me as we enter the corner - right at 2:00 my bars twitch and I see haybales as we bounce off each other going 38mph I but hold my own and slot forward one more spot coming out of the corner (2:06) and then follow the train in a near full out sprint against the headwind to enter the last corner, hoping I have something left.

As we round the final corner (2:16)  I accelerate briefly and pick off one rider on the right and then I follow rider #45 as he gets out of the saddle for his full out sprint, using his draft to accelerate. At 2:21 I light my 5 second torch and pass him to the right at 2:22 and finally see a line opening up in front of me. I give it everything I have left but it was a little too little a little too late - I heave at the leading riders and at the line at 2:27 I’m just coming around the Rock Racing guy to the left and then you can see the winner to right (who had taken off on the backstretch) raise his hands as I coast into the lead: 30 more feet to the race and I might have been able to take it home. As it is I don’t quite catch the Rock Racing guy before the line and end up 5th.

Finish at 2008 Downer's Grove

Something of note here - the video is pretty smooth. That’s because I never get out of my saddle - not once in the whole race nor the finish. I rarely do except to stretch.

(Longer video description)

This video begins with 3 laps to go.  At 1:26 with 2 ½ to go I begin my first of several moves to the front to be “in position to win.” What’s not seen on camera are a series of dive bombs, mayhem, and bumping going on all around.

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNNI3RSafZs]