Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cyclocross Upgrades

Cyclocross is all about tradition. In the Midwest (where former pros have no problem racing and winning on the road as Cat 5s) sandbagging is the greatest tradition. Who am I to stand in the way of tradition?

Cyclocross upgrades
4-3: Experience in 10 qualifying races or 10 points in 12 months
3-2: 10 points in 12 months (two wins is an automatic upgrade if the field had at least 11 competitors)
2-1: 20 points in 12 months (two wins is an automatic upgrade if the field had at least 40 competitors)

I've seen the standard of racing improve noticeably where the local associations were strict about upgrading. Cat 3 races were much more competitive, Cat 4s were much more likely to upgrade sooner because they felt less likely to be out of their depth. Cat 1/2 races had bigger and better fields.

Exceeding the minimum points or experience requirements entitles you to upgrade - it's optional, you're not forced to.

Hitting the wins requirements compels you to upgrade.

Plenty of Cat 3s out there who have two wins. That means you must upgrade.

Plenty of Cat 3s with 20+ points. That means you're well able for the Cat 2s - why not upgrade?

Automatic does not mean optional. It does not mean waiting for the end of the season, or States or Regionals.

It'd be nice if USA cycling put a points limit in the upgrade requirements, ala the road rules. As it is, you can accumulate points forever. Making the points go a little deeper would be good. Very hard to accumulate points if they're being taken by those who have no intention of using them. It'd also be nice if the local upgrade coordinator scanned the results every now and then and acted accordingly. But that's not his responsibility, it's the rider's.

btw, upgrade coordinators have a lot of latitude. They can refuse an upgrade if they wish, they can force an upgrade if they wish. An automatic upgrade can always be refused if the coordinator has a good reason. Safety, and integrity of the racing are always priority.

Road upgrades
4-3: 20 points in any 12-month period; or experience in 25 qualifying races with a minimum of 10 top ten finishes with fields of 30 riders or more, or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade.
3-2: 25 points in any 12-month period
40 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade
2-1: 30 points in any 12-month period**
50 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

The rules are clearer.

Again, automatic does not just mean that your application, should you choose to submit it, will be automatically approved. It means that failing to submit an upgrade application when you have met the automatic upgrade requirements makes you a sandbagger. In other words - a true Midwesterner.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wheel Build

Kinlin TB-25 25 mm Tubular rim - 429 g
Join barely visible. Can't detect by touch.
25 DT Revs 280 mm- 2.0/1.5/2.0 - 114 g. 4.55 g each
12 DT Comps - DB 2.0/1.8/2.0 - 76 g. 6.3 g each
281 mm DS
286 mm NDS
100 Brass nipples - 1 g each
100 alloy nipples - 0.3 g each
24H Novatec Front hub. 77 g
24H Bitex Rear Hub. 211 g.

Expected weight: (hub+spokes+nips+rim)

Front - 77+110+7.2+429 = 623 g
Rear - 211+152+3.6+12+429 = 808 g

Total: 1431 g

(Parts sourced from Bdopcycling, bikehubstore, Icycles, Mandala bicycle products)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tour of Galena

The demeanour expresses everything.

(Still editing this. Expect some changes. Others may have seen it differently. But it's how I remember it.)

Time Trial:

Violent. The only word I and most others could use to describe this. Violent start, violent effort, violent recovery. Violence done to legs, lungs and will.

Pro tip: don't eat breakfast.

The course was a roughly 3 mile out and back over deceptively steep rollers for wave 1. Wave two had a scary winding descent and climb approaching 20% grade tacked on for 4.3 miles.

Short efforts require long warmups and maximum efforts. No time to go out easy. You won't get the chance to make up time later, you've got to push it from the gun. But push it too hard and you will pay doubly for it on the return leg.

I knew that key to the course as to take as much speed as possible into the base of each hill, downshift rapidly, spin up and sprint over the top to hit maximum speed on the way down and bring it into the next incline.

With all the rapid shifting and out of the saddle efforts, it probably wasn't worth using a TT bike. Which is fine as I wouldn't have space for one anyway. I did opt to slam my stem and go with an aero helmet and skinsuit. I also installed a set of clip on aerobars, but wasted so much time getting in and out of them while shifting that I doubt they were any benefit. I don't have even a semi-aero wheel available so had to go with my 32 spoke box section rims and 25 mm tires - at least I had my get-out excuse already lined up.

Warming up is key. Shorter the event, the longer the warmup necessary. Ideally 45 minutes easy spinning followed by 10-15 minutes with jumps and short hard efforts. 7 am starts are not conducive to getting my stuff together. I managed 10 minutes on the course and a few jumps while waiting around to start. Not ideal.

Starting off into the first hill I gradually increased pace and shifted sensibly through the gears. However I just couldn't find the jump to bring me over the top at speed and I knew that, even though I was in the 11 tooth, I should have been spinning faster on the downhills. So it went, into and out of the drops, shifting, into the aerobars, back out sprinting and spinning - but missing something. The turnaround was a bit weird, there's usually a volunteer right there pointing at the correct turnaround cone. Instead there were a couple of officials and a volunteer standing in the ditch and a line of two cones, a 55 gallon drum and one more cone. Nobody indicating anything in particular. I've never seen a barrel used as a turnaround marker before, but I guessed this was the particular marker and went round this, not without scrubbing way too much speed in the confusion.

Heading for home I realised some urgency and forced myself to concentrate better. Smarter shifting, exaggerated crouch, more pain on the uphills. Threw no more time away. When the finish line at the top of the last hill came into view I shifted into the highest gear I could turn, and did an all out maximum standing effort up the hill. Crossing the line with a final throw and knowing I had aced the return.

The next ten minutes were a violent silence of empty heaving stomach, crouched over bars, blurred vision. Joined in the concert every 30 seconds or so by the next rider to finish. A silent cacophony of pain.

Definitely not a bad effort, but I left a few seconds out there.

It might be surprising that such a short effort could have a long effect, but the damage done to the body was definitely to be felt in the road race later that day.

Road Race

Herd: A collection of animals acting together in an unplanned fashion. Each individual choosing behaviour corresponding to the majority of other members.

A herd tends to group together to protect against predators. even though they present an easy target, the principal motivator is risk-dilution.

Herds can be controlled by other species. i.e. sprinters or trackies. Or even motos, but motos tend to be more effective.

By definition, herds are preyed upon. Usually by sprinters or sandbaggers, or both.

Pack: A pack is less well defined. The big difference between a pack and a herd is politics. Packs have hierarchies. Packs have leaders. Packs have competition for leaders. Pack members will have different roles, such as workhorse, climber, sprinter. Packs split, self destruct and get absorbed by other packs.

Pack members have personalities but will work together for a common purpose. Usually attacking a herd. Packs sense weakness and attack. Sometimes packs attack anyway just to weaken the herd. When the herd is duly broken, it gets savaged and the pack will fight amongst themselves for the best spoils.

When folks like Druber and Little Lord Sprockula use words like outstanding, classic and brutal to describe a course, you can expect it to be a leg-breaking and selective with the pack shattering into drabbles of ones and twos and only riders who are willing to suffer and try hard getting to the finish to fight it out for the win and top placings.

My goal was to get a break going, or whittle the pack down, to a lead group of 5 or 6. That number I am confident I can work over to get a good result. More than that then it's just too hard to get away, too easy for others to hide in the draft and keep the legs fresh to respond. It didn't work out. I have two regrets. Not attacking more and turning up to race.

When cat 4 races on such a course end in bunch sprints, with fewer than half the starters shed, then you know that 'racing' is a loose term for the activity and a truthful account of the 'racing' that took place would be a very blank page.

I don't really get the herd mentality, so I turned to my best friend, Lucy, see above, and her telepathic skills to channel the thoughts of some of the participants during the event. She's an expert on herd dynamics and has years of experience and participation with the pack, so she could provide some useful insights.

The Weenie: "Ok, here we go! Mantra: Don't get dropped! Don't get dropped! Don't get dropped! ok, stay out of the wind. Need to be further back than 20th place at all times. Here's the first hill. Good. Nice and steady. Barely feel it here at the back. ... Crap! there goes a guy up the road! He's joined up with two others who were gapped off the front. Don't like the look of this. Better yell something and then pretend it wasn't me. Good. Two guys jumped across and slowed things down. That'll teach him.

Hills. I'm scared of hills. Better set an example from the back. Go as slow as possible. Yell that there are hills coming up. Conserve. Make sure everyone is as fresh as possible so that we all get over each hill together. Worst thing that can happen is that we shred the group. Then I would have no where to hide.
..ok, got through almost all the race without a problem. That last big scary hill is coming. better slow things down even more for that. oops! looks like 3 or 4 guys are sliding off, including the big TT guy and that scary fast sprinter. Can't have that. Sit up over the top. Soft-pedal, eat and drink. comment on how hard that was. Took a couple of minutes but they're back on. Can't risk diluting the herd. We need those guys to hide behind at the end. Nice. Five mile downhill to the finish. We're almost all together. Lots of shelter from the big guys. That guy punching it at the front has no chance. Last few curves. Cross the line. I did it! I didn't get dropped! Still in the bottom half of the field but at least I did what I could to emphasise the groupthink; and I didn't get dropped!"

The Sprinter: "Hills. Hate 'em! But the cat 4s have been good to me so far. They've handed every race to me on a plate and I've barely broken a sweat. Even though I'm 15 kilos over weight and have may be two accelerations in me, I'm sure they will figure out a way to keep me with them to the end. They always do. ok, rolling along nicely. I'll just stay her in 10th position. Out of the wind and keeping an eye on things. Uh, oh! There goes that guy, hammering over the top of the hill into the false flat and joining up with two others. This looks bad. Better bite the bullet! Ok, I jumped onto the back. There are 4 of us. Now let's kill this thing. That guy is pulling through like a monster but the other guys pulls are barely hard tempo. Here's my turn. Two quick spins of the pedals and pull to the side. Put that guy back in the wind before he even knew it and took a good 1 mph off the pace. Nice! The pack has nearly caught us. Hope that puts the dampers on
things. If one or two others really wanted to work I could be in trouble.

Alright, first lap over. That hurt. But I managed to haul my ass up those hills. Now that we've dropped all the non-climbers it's going to be a Sunday stroll to the finish. Anyone who ups the pace is gonna be made pay dearly in the end.

... Not looking forward to this. Steep hill. Sliding off the back.... Knew I should have stuck to crits. Too far from home to DNF, better struggle on. At least I have some company. Was really expecting to win this weekend.

what's this? They've all sat up over the top. Drinking and chatting! What a well-mannered bunch. Just a minute or two of tempo and I can catch them before the downhill. These guys sure don't like dropping anyone. Knew they'd find a way to help me out. This is too easy. ok, one big effort for the last hill. Don't lose the wheels. Now the downhill. Lots of shelter. Move up gradually. 500 m to go. Thanks for all the help. Time to go to work!"

The Cat4ever Altruist:
"There he goes. Jump on his tail. Nice and smooth so that the pack can follow me. He sits up. Good. The cheek of him! Thinking he can break away in a cat 4 race and subvert the order of things. You're gonna have to cat up buddy if you want to race like that! And I'm going to do my best to make sure you never do. You're staying with me in the 4s forever till you give up or learn to play the game.

What the heck? Attacking over the top of the hill? Doesn't he know there are strong riders off the back. Guys who could win this race if we agree to stay together. Better put the dampeners on that. Nice and smooth acceleration, get on his wheel make sure to drag the others with me. Good, he's given up."

"Very interesting Lucy. Any more insights?"

"Dude, you have to learn to play the game. It's dead easy. Run with the herd. Dilute the risk. Your motivation is racing, theirs is fear. Fear of getting dropped, and fear that not everyone is socialised to the groupthink. Be patient and do nothing. Someone else will do it for you. Just bark and growl a couple of times and watch the sprinter. It's that simple.

"Thank you Lucy. But I'd rather die."

"Your loss. Racing is for fools. Now, how's about my walkies? Woof!"

The Crit

Pointy oval. Turn were manageable. Only sketchy part was where the backstretch narrowed, widened and narrowed again. Cat 4 races are always a minefield, and on such a course where the field would keep together one false step could result in many of us losing limbs.

I wrote in an email to a buddy the night before: "I will attack three times, the field will chase me down each time and Stan the Sprinter will win". So it went.

We started off at a fast pace and attacked every corner, as cat 4s love to do. I hung at my customary place at the back, just barely hanging on. About 10 minutes in a bit of zip went out of peoples legs and I could sense the pace starting to fall off and the field beginning to bunch. The previous Cat 4 race resulted in a massive last lap crash with ambulances called, collarbone breaks and multiple carbon fiber fatalities. I value my life highly these days ($200k according to work insurance), so I wasn't going to take any risks. A fast race equals strung out equals a safe race. Slow race equals bunching equals banging equals unsafe with too many fresh legs for the last lap.

You don't get upgrade points for cat 4 omniums, but it's nice to get some exposure for the club jersey all the same. I don't start with the aim of finishing second (see my Leland report), so the only way to win the overall was to win the race outright. And the only way to do that for me was get in a break or win solo. Never seen a successful break in a cat 4 race, but I believe one may have happened back in 1985 - so might as well give it a go.

I jumped to the front where the alley widened for a few yards, and hammered it out of the tight corner. Got a gap of a few seconds. Got aero and as I passed the announcers, did a maximum gurn - complete with full teeth clench and slobber out the side of my mouth. Gives a good photo op and impresses the ladies. Keeping up the pace into the wind on the backstretch proved difficult and the field worked hard to close me down.

Next time round I jumped again, increased the gap and hammed it up for the announcers again with my best Tod Hetzel impression. This seemed to tick off the chasers and they worked even harder to close on the backstretch. My hope was that if I could do this four or five times, then they might just give up and let me go for a solo attempt and force some of the omnium guys to chase. Or maybe the field would break apart on a corner and I would be joined by a smaller, more manageable group. But at least the speed kept up. Third time around I jumped again, did my best batface with drool out of both sides of my mouth this time, but the exertion of the previous day were taking their toll and pretty much died into the headwind - the field finally made contact. Of course another guy jumped immediately, the field ignored him, and he won the upcoming prime. A couple more primes kept the pace up and we were into the endgame of the last few laps.

Thankfully, the pace never really dropped, things were kept reasonably strung out, we had put the hurt no some of the weenie riders and it was pretty easy to move to the top few riders when we heard the last lap bell. Five riders took off, I tagged on but got gapped slightly and was never able to close. Amazingly, two of the riders ahead blew up, and after negotiating past them, I was 5th wheel into the last corner. The rider in third then spectacularly failed to read the bend and headed straight for the curb, a couple of us were forced to brake check to avoid him and his sketchy recovery and that was the end of that. A line of fresh riders flew past me on the inside and I wasn't able to wind it up to speed again.

As predicted, Stan, Stan the Sprinter Man won the race (and the omnium overall) with embarrassing ease.

Carlos - GC threat!

There were a couple of riders marking me during the crit. While I'm complimented by being considered a GC threat, why on earth would anybody bother marking someone who has never even gone top 15 in a crit? Why would you blow your wad chasing me down? Shouldn't you be letting me die out there, or trying to bridge up to start a break? Are you surprised when you blow up in the final lap, but not before giving a free leadout to a rider who has never lost a crit?

When one starts the race in first in the omnium standings, shouldn't one try to hold on to first? Keeping the race together meant conceding the win and the overall to the best sprinter in the field. Why not work to drop him? As it was, the marking didn't work too well - I was ahead into the last corner. If I had sat on for the full duration, instead of vaingloriously trying to race, I'd have been relatively fresh and maintained my lead - the odds are you'd have been bumped down even more.

That's how I remember it anyway.

That's cat 4 racing. My regret is not attacking more. The one place I should have attacked, but didn't, was over the top of the steep hill on lap 2 of the road race. It was the only part of the race where I went to the back to rest for a bit. Both the top 2 Omnium guys had been dropped and we allowed them to catch back on. Had I been able to fight my way to the front in time and pushed the pace for a minute, they would have been dropped to minor placings. With a conservative crit ride I could then have won the overall rather handily. But if you ever see me sitting in for the sprint, please shoot me.

Anyway, I was hoping to win enough to cover gas money and a six-pack. I failed. I need to drive a Prius and develop a fondness for PBR.

Some conversations:

Racer One: "I've seen you do that off the front thing in other races as well. Why do you do that?"
Carlos: "I'm not a sprinter. It's a race. You're supposed to race"
Racer One (with confused expression) : "Oh?"

Racer Two: "Those were some really strong pulls you took in the road race yesterday"
Carlos: "umm.. They were attacks actually" - (hangs head in shame and slinks away)

IL State RR - O'Fallon Grand Prix

O'Fallon Grand Prix - Illinois State RR Champs

After the Cat 4 fiasco of last year, and the predicted record temps for today, I wasn't too keen on doing this race. But it being only 3 hours away and being the State Championship, and being exceedingly well-organised, I felt obliged to support it. So off to O'Fallon I went, albeit somewhat unenthusiastically.

I got out of bed... many didn't.

It wasn't a strong field that lined up for our 2 lap, 50 mile race. Noone particularly strong from Chicago, bar one guy who I had been told was a good crit rider. I didn't know the STL guys, but there were 5 from Momentum and they're always strong riders with usually one good sprinter hidden in there somewhere.

We lined up, received the usual centerline and no passing the pace car orders and were off. Just after the first corner, into a mild grade, I took off. It wasn't planned but I often do this to test the legs - it acts as a good opener - and here I hoped to set the tone for the race with a fast tempo from the gun. I got a good gap, was able to choose my lines around a few corners and down a descent and settled into fast TT mode - on the edge of getting out of sight, out of mind. The legs didn't feel good though, I just wasn't spinning freely. After a couple of miles I noticed a rider trying to bridge up, I was happy to slow and wait for him, but the field sensed danger and closed him, and me down pretty quickly. Not to worry.

There was a solid crosswind on what seemed to be the majority of the course, so there was some guttering action going on. This made any break very hard to initiate, but at least it was pretty easy to move to the front if you wanted - it wasn't a popular position. The momentum guys went to the front and set a fast pace. I had a couple more digs when the pace slowed, but Momentum closed the gaps pretty quickly - I was guessing they were trying to set up a solo flyer of their own - anytime anyone tried to attack. They didn't attack, not sure what they were doing, but at least we managed to keep up a reasonable speed for the first lap. My attacks didn't get anywhere - legs never really opened up and I could feel the burn of the excess work, but I wasn't too concerned, my endurance is excellent these days and even my bad legs will usually get me to the end of the race in decent shape.

For the whole race I never dropped back further than about 8th place, and spent quite a few miles at or off the front. This costs a bit more energy, ut I felt it was worth it in that I could monitor any attacks, not get caught behind stupid crashes (which happened in 2009 in the last few miles), have a better choice of line through the 50 corners on the course and set tempo to suit myself if I wanted to. The other motivation for staying at the front was, after one hard effort I dropped to 2/3rds of the way back for a rest and the littering that was going on really got to me. Water bottles, half-eaten bars still in wrappers, used gels were being thrown into fields and ditches. Race organisers go to huge efforts to put on a much-needed road race and fools do their best to show disdain for our countryside and give killjoys an excuse to object to the running of the race next year. After bawling out a couple guys, I found myself starting to get really upset
about this, so I resolved to just ride near the front where I couldn't see the littering anymore and people might be a bit more interested in racing. I'm truly ashamed at the activity of some of my fellow riders - you know who you are!

We hit the feed zone at the start/finish line, I stayed to the left and out of the way, - you could have made a blooper highlight reel of all the missed hand ups - everyone was well-behaved and we sportingly regrouped to commence lap 2. The wind and temps had increased, it was over 100F on the road, and a lot of the fight had been knocked out of us. An unattached guy, I'm guessing a triathlete doing his first road race, took off at the same point that I attacked on the first lap. He wasn't going very fast, but we were going slower, and noone had any interest in chasing him down. I was sure that if I tried to bridge I'd get chased down, so if he felt he could solo 25 miles in that weather for the win I was happy to let him go for it. It took him quite a while to get out of sight, but out of sight he did go.

Strangely, all the Momentum guys retired to the back for the rest of lap 2. Not a lot happened. It was just too hot and windy. A couple of solo guys got bored and took long pulls, myself and a teammate got a good rotation going with two Team Mackers and started to make good time but noone else would pull through so we gave up after a few rotations. The single attack was from Todd from Team Mack, who took off over the top of a hill, put his head down and went for it. I was happy to let him go and did a false chase. Going fast enough to keep him in sight but messing with the tempo by doing a few false jumps out of corners and then soft pedalling a bit. If anyone wanted to catch him then they were more than welcome to come to the front and actually do some work. Todd wasn't able to last out there alone in the wind for very long and he came back to the group after a few minutes - but the increased pace and tempo changes had successfully burned off some of
the hangers-on.

Shortly after that we spotted the pace car up the road and we very gradually caught up to the solo guy, still plugging away optimistically. He had stayed out there for 15 miles. He then obligingly pulled us at a reasonable tempo for the next five miles or so.

By this time Death March 2011 was in full swing. The temp was hitting 105F on the road, we were all out of water, and the 100F wind was doing a fine job of parching us. The speed was getting slower, the wind was increasing - it just wasn't fun. I must have more Belgian in me than Spaniard - several times I contemplated calling it a day and just finding a nice shady tree to embrace and rest under. But then I started to notice the ever increasing tide-lines on the bibs of some of the other riders, even over a few minutes the extra salt loss could be seen. I looked around, some guys already had goose bumps. I was still sweating, had a couple of gulps of water left and my heart rate was under control - others were suffering more than me. What would Sean do? Gut it out - that's what!

About 2.5 miles to go we hit the last right hander on the course. I knew it was long straight to a windy descent, then on to the last hill and the turn onto the final straight. As we made the turn a gap formed and 6 riders went clear, I started to jump but felt, for the first time ever, my calves starting to cramp. I let a couple others come around me, jumped onto the back of them and closed to the first group. I shouted at the leaders to punch it, we did, and after a short effort the moto came around to sit on my wheel. Now we were ten, and with one slight acceleration had shed the rest of the field.

We kept a fast tempo, everyone's mind on the tactics for the finish. Some just hanging on, some waiting for the sprint, some planning to attack on the hill. Down into the valley we swooped, me at the back, and kept up the speed on the approach to the hill - too fast for me to make up any places. We hit the base of the hill and the group imploded. Gears grinding, pedalling squares, cursing. I worked my way gingerly up the white line, making my way past the popping riders, trying to get to the front before anyone got away. A big Team Mack guy had the same idea but decided to take route one into third place. The moto wasn't having any of this and, rather bizarrely, veered into the pack, grabbed the guy and told him he was DQ'd. This is with 700 m to go. It took a few seconds to negotiate past the slowing moto and confused Macker, with some riders forced to trackstand, and this gifted the front two a nice gap.

I hammered for all I was worth, but rounding the last corner with 500 m to go I was in third place, with 3 riders on my wheel, two of which had spent the full race in the back and out of the wind, and a good 4 second gap to the first two. I could have flogged myself silly to catch them but would then have been worthless in the sprint, as well as dragging up fresh riders to jump around me.

One of the first two was from STL, the 2nd was unattached, so the only choice was to concentrate on winning third place and hope none of those ahead were from Illinois.

400 m to go, I take a couple of seconds breather and then do a half-assed jump, two riders bit on it and came around. The second guy was whupped and couldn't pass, I tucked in behind the first, recovered for a second and started to come past as he faded rather quickly. Fooled you!

Then James Psimet, who definitely had done less work than anyone else in the race - it must have been a phenomenally boring 50 miles for him - flashed past. He got a good jump and a couple of bike lengths on me. But I still had 150 m to reel him in. This I duly did. I hammered as hard as anyone who's ever done a gruelling fifty miles in 100F has ever hammered, caught him with 20 m to go and beat him to the line by a full wheel, my 32 spoke box section rims to his fancy deep section carbon - didn't even have to use my bike throw!

As all this was going on I somehow was able to take in the sprint for first unfolding 60 yards ahead. The unattached guy got a nice gap then did something I have never seen a cat 2, 3 4 or 5 do. He did a backwards sprint - heading for the line, but looking back all the time, and whenever his chaser tried to close he simply accelerated just enough to maintain a nice 3 bikelength gap. The guy was ostensibly a cat 5 in his first race ever race, but it was pretty clear from the rather comfortable manner of the win that he had raced at an elite level at sometime in the past. You see this every now and then and USA cycling will never bother to be concerned about it. All the more reason to try harder and get enough points to upgrade.

Oh well! Turns out the unattached winner was from Chicago and thus claimed the jersey. Giving a State champ jersey for a developmental cat is a joke anyway. I wasn't too worried about that.

It would have been nice if the moto hadn't intervened to decide the first two places. Would have been great to contest the win, but that's racing. Stuff happens.

Pretty sweet that I was able to put in multiple attacks and chases in 100F temps and 15 mph wind, work hard at the front all day and still have enough left at the end to handily win the chase group sprint over a couple of (relatively) fresh-as-a-daisy riders at the end. That's encouraging.

Full credit to the organisers for a superbly-run day. Volunteers everywhere, great atmosphere and hotly-contested racing (pun intended). With the limited # of motos available it was a great idea for each pack to be joined by a moto for the last few miles - definitely made things safer and improved rider behaviour. Also, the additional 3 miles to each lap definitely made a difference. There were a couple more passing opportunities, and the extra 20 minutes of racing really starts to separate the men from the weenies when races do go over 2 hours in length.

It seems that if I dampen my expectations I tend to do better. I started the day with limited enthusiasm but came home with a solid result, some upgrade points, two nice medals (state and overall) plus enough $$$ to cover gas money and a six-pack. I'm happy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Leland - FTW!

The short version
I got out of bed.

He had a 12 tooth, I had an 11. I could spin faster.

In the final tailwind kilometer I rode one of the strongest riders in Chicago off my wheel for the win.

The long and involved version - read at your own risk
I got out of bed...

Ok, backtrack a bit...

Leland Kermesse. In the same way that Paris Roubaix represents the gritty, blue collar-hardscrabble attitude of the North of France so does Leland represent Illinois - Pancake flat and featureless prairie, bowl-you-over windy, crappy dirt-with-aggregate roads. Toss in April weather, showers for two days previous, temp 40F and falling, and you’ve got a race just as hard in its own right as Paris-Roubaix, but different. This is becoming a classic

This race is Illinois. This race is not for namby-pambys. That's a contradiction.

Most of you will know Kevin's favorite Phil&Paul quote "and Sean Kelly wins bike races in weather you wouldn't send your dog out in!". Step that down five categories and about 200 watts, keep the weather, stick the finish to 1984 Paris-Roubaix on YouTube and enjoy the vicarious ride.

It began with the usual abysmal preparation. Decided to unmount my cross tubulars on Thursday night and glue up a pair of 25mm Vittoria tubies, never having ridden tubulars before. With the weather on Friday night I didn't get a chance to ride them. Also stuck on an 11-23 cassette to replace the 12-26. So no openers, no practice riding on a completely new tire system, derailleur not adjusted to new wheel and cassette. Bad idea.

Top that with not getting to sleep till 2 am, getting up at 6 in dog-awful weather, the usual late start, getting to the race just before registration ends and rolling up to the line with no warm up, a wild guess at tire pressure and having forgotten my booties - the omens were not good. But I got out of bed.. Many didn't.

Sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail and sometimes you're the creaky floorboard that can't be fixed.

It's not a strong field. Plenty of solid riders but no stars. Bar Mike from Half Acre. Everyone knows that he's got a threshold about 20% higher than anyone else here. He lapped me at our last cross race. When he rolls up there's an amount of nudging and whispers of "that's the guy". We're racing for second today.

"Race in such a way as to win the prize” .. that's what I intend to do and what I always try to do.

45 starters get their instructions and off we go. Neutral rollout for a mile and then straight into a 20 mph headwind. The race strings out, riders are able to move up and back a bit. Nothing much happens. Good for me, I'm getting my warmup in.

The big guys go to the front. Mike is huge and muscular, there's the guy from Lamb Little, over 200 lbs, and a new guy from WDT, bigger than any racer I've ever seen, bigger than Magnus Backstedt even. A good choice of wheels to draft, at least.

Five miles in we turn into a crosswind, then a tailwind and the race ramps up. Two TT guys take off, get a small gap. Pace hots up, gaps are forming, riders get shelled and a lead group of 14 hit the first 3 mile gravel section into a brutal crosswind, me at the back.

The gravel has turned into soupy mud, no well-defined lines except for don’t ride near the verges or in the middle. The parts where the car tires roll is somewhat more defined, but not much. I’m slipping and fishtailing all over the place and not making much progress. But others are suffering more. It’s a matter of avoiding them, keeping the power down and jumping from left side to right side so as not to lose momentum. After a mile of this I find myself in about 5th wheel. There are two guys well off the front and two more vainly chasing, spaced out about 100 yards apart.

The road turns into a screaming headwind and the ground is slightly more firm. I jump past the first guy and punch it for a minute to hug the wheel of the next. It’s Magnus, all 250 lbs of him, someone turned off the wind. This is comfy. I peer around his massive torso into the wind and see that the gap to the two leaders has increased. Nothing for it but to bite the bullet. I jump into the wind, fishtail on some mush, lose speed and find myself in the draft again. Breathe deep, concentrate, and jump around. This time I find a firmer footing, and get by him. We’re side by side for a bit, I shift down one sprocket and pound the pedals. It takes me a mile and an all out max effort for 3 minutes but I close the gap to the front two and make the bridge just before we turn again into the crosswind and the last mile of this gravel section.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was the race. I knew it, the pace car knew it, the other two in the break knew it and the guys chasing knew it. Two riders in the wind will find it difficult to maintain a gap. Three riders working well together, in a crosswind with a disjointed chase group, will not be caught. Seven miles in and fifty-three to go. Bridge completed. The podium has been decided.

The rest of the lap is a tailwind mile of road, crosswind mile of gravel, another mile of tailwind road and a third crosswind gravel mile before we start the lap again for the headwind death march.

Coming into gravel 2 I’ve had enough of a breather to start taking pulls. You couldn’t ask for two better breakmates. Mike is there driving the pace, of course, on his steel Courage with standard tires. Mike is ploughing and powering, I'm pounding and finessing. Matt from Verdigris is on a Ti moots, ultra expensive EDGE hoops and 32mm cross tubulars. He’s floating over the rough stuff but having difficulty on the tarmac. We quickly agree that he should take his pulls on the gravel and try to sit in a bit more on the road. We rotate smoothly and figure out a good formula. Punch it on the gravel and spin fast on the road. We cooperate well and midway through lap 2 all chasers are out of sight. At this stage Matt wants to drop off, his quads are cramping. We’re having none of it. Tell him to do what he can and not worry. He still wants to drop off. The holy name of Conant is invoked. That seems to work. What he doesn’t know is that we other two are also hurting and we need him for shelter. No way do we want to face five miles of headwind as just two riders. Hurts too much.

I notice that I’m riding gravel 3 a bit better than the others. It’s slightly uphill and a bit more firm. Seems to suit my tires and weight better than the others. This would be a good place to make a move. I’m gapping the others slightly in the tailwind sections as well. The tubular ride is superlative, I can never go back to clinchers after this.

Gravel riding - to each his own style: Mike's a Kayak. ploughing through the waves of mud and gravel. Telling all obstacles to get out of his way. Cutting through the mush to the more firm ground beneath. Matt's a catamaran. With his 32 mm cx tubies he's floating. I'm a canoe, doing my best to keep my weight back and keeping power constant, but having to finesse my way around and over the rougher and mushier spots, occasionally losing power and traction as I do.

Lap 1: Get in break
Lap 2: Establish
Lap 3: Maintain
Lap 4: Gloves off

And so it goes. Rotating well, riding smoothly and smartly. Nobody shirking pulls, nobody trying to outpull the other. Both riders are taller than me and give good drafts. No Dan Hills here. The temperature is still a reasonable 40F, we’re all overheating. The wind increases by 10 mph or so, which serves to dry out the worst parts, making the gravel much more rideable and further driving the nails in the coffin of any pursuers.

We hit lap 4. The temperature starts to plummet, wind increases some more, and sleet makes a furtive appearance. It’s understood that we’ll work together for the first half; when we exit gravel 1, with 7 miles of tailwind to home then all bets are off.

My glasses were so covered with gunk that I’ve had to throw them to a marshal on lap 2. From then on, I’m getting immense amounts of muck in my eyes, stinging like hell and dissolving into a brown paste. I’m seeing everything in sepia tones. The wind is freezing and drying my eyeballs. I can’t produce any tears to flush the gunk. The last two laps are an unfocused, brownish, painful blur. Very unpleasant.

We finish with gravel 1. From lap 2 my chain sounds like it’s going to give up the ghost anytime, with all the gunk piled on it. I ride through every puddle I can in order to splash as much water on the drivetrain as possible. I’ve also been practising working the full range of gears, just to make sure everything’s working. It’s not. 13 tooth or smaller are random to drop into. I ride the full race in the big ring, scared that if I ever drop it into the small chainring it may get stuck there. Lots of cross chaining involved. So be it.

Race so as to win the race. I can sit and wait for Mike to drop the hammer and watch him motor away, or I can do something about it. It’s early in the season. I’ve got lots of long rides in my legs already. My endurance is great. What about Mike’s? Him cramping up is probably my best chance. Time to mess with the tempo.

Finish of Gravel 1. Tailwind. I turn it on. No jump, just get low and spin. I build up a 50 yard gap into gravel 2. But Mike catches me quickly. We’ve dropped Matt though. No worries, he’s a lock for third place. He’s happy.

Recuperate a bit and jump for real this time. Get a small gap, but once you try to go above a certain speed it just gets extremely hard to go any faster. Mike closes with ease.

Shot my bolt and Mike has countered easily. Last road section before final gravel and we declare a truce. Empty our bottles, take a few breaths, do a Barack-Michelle terrorist fist bump. Nearly home.

Mike is probably the best-known crosser in Chicago. As much for his unmistakeable pain face as his cross prowess. The first sight of his pain face indicates the start of cross season. Known universally as "The Hemme" it's a combination of hanging jutted jaw, with a plastically molded doleful jowls and wild panicky eyes. It tends to creep in about lap 2 of a race. Once seen, never forgotten. A curious mixture of hang-dog and wild-horse, It's an expression for which the word lugubrious could have been invented.

I study Mike's face as we ride. No signs of "The Hemme". This is bad news! I’m getting depressed. It’s terrible riding next to someone who you know is just about to turn on the afterburners and leave you in their dust.

But it never came. Dunno why. Mike gets a big gap into gravel 3. I dig deep and grab his wheel after a tough minute. I intended to attack here but we’re going so fast that the extra effort is just too much. We ride side by side on the last section. I’m not going to show him any weakness. I start contemplating my last attack when the end of the gravel comes sooner than I expected. We make the turn for home.

Uh,oh! This is the finish. I haven’t tested my gears. Don’t know what to do. Think fast!

Mighty tailwind. Better drop it down a sprocket. She drops into the 13T. Do I just follow Mike’s wheel and hope he runs out of gas? Maybe he’ll be kidnapped by aliens? I drop behind Mike. We’re going a bit too slow for my liking. Better up the pace. That way he won’t be able to get the jump on me and I can grab his wheel when he blows by. One thing I’ve learned is, at the end of a hard race, don’t be shy about leading it out. You control the tempo to suit yourself. The others are probably hurting more than you anyway.

I take the lead, hug the white line to give minimum drafting advantage and up the speed. After a bit of jostling she drops into the 12 tooth. Up the speed some more. Now the vital part. Drop her down one more sprocket. Nothing doing. I jump on the pedals. Hop the bike slightly. Release the pressure. Click! Into the 11 tooth! Way-hey! Up the speed some more. Race to win the race - I’m not racing for second. I jump. Get a ten-meter gap. Put the head down and spin as fast as I can. Waiting for him to come by.

“He’s gonna blow by me! He’s gonna blow by me! He’s gonna blow by me!” Look around. I’ve got a gap of fifty meters. “He’s not going to blow by me! What’s going on? OK, where’s the finish line?” It hadn’t been marked when we started. I can see the Leland water tower in the distance so it must be somewhere before that. I don’t know if I can keep this up. Through the gloom and the brown haze I can see the unmistakable silhouette of Chief Ref Dave Fowkes’ shoulders and crewcut. I’ll guess that’s the finish. 300 meters or so to go. Look behind again. The gap is still the same. “Wholly Carp! I’m gonna win this thing!” Just put the head down and keep spinning. The gap increases....

Winning a masters 4/5 race is nothing to crow about. It officially makes you the king of the dipsticks. Today I will be King Dipstick; for the first time. No hooting and hollering, no chest-beating or fancy post-up as I cross the line. Just enough time to sit up and coast, acknowledging my audience of one by raising my hand, index finger erect to indicate my placing.

Relief. I expected it to be harder. Three seasons. No upgrade points. Best previous placing: eighth. Race to win the race.

5th hardest part of the race: Getting out of bed
4th hardest part: Making the bridge up to the lead two riders on the first gravel section. The only 'Vollgas' section of the race. Three minutes of pain followed by 3 hours of hard tempo. Solo chasers had it far worse.
3rd hardest part: Dealing with Belgian toothpaste in the eyes. Despite rinsing copiously I was seeing everything through a brown dirt fog for several hours afterwards. That hurt.
2nd hardest part: Getting the chain to drop into the 11 tooth for the finish.
1st hardest part: Trying to pee afterwards.

Amazing the effect that stress and adrenaline can have on the body. I crossed the finish ready for another lap and full of vigour. The next day I went out for an easy endurance ride and bonked within an hour. I got dropped on every ride that week. Recovery-schmovery, I guess I had dug deeper than I thought.

Remember the Phil&Paul quote? Here’s the corollary - "whenever a rider DNFs Sean Kelly cries"

I'd like to think that Sean is sitting in a smoky Belgian cafe right now, preparing to commentate on Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s pouring cats and dogs outside. He’s drinking a glass of Jupiler and he’s smiling.

The lad did good.

It was kinda like this, only muddier, with no spectators

Monday, April 18, 2011

Leland Kermesse Aftermath

Ghost Bike

Ghost Rider


Twitter Feed

-Leading masters 4 5. Long line in the gutter. 1 mile in

-Break of 3 and 2 bridging. Masters 4 5. #Lelandkermesse

-Trio of leaders have good formula. Kill it first 2 gravel sections. Then settle in and cooperate Fireworks next lap #Lelandkermesse

-Our 3 leaders now taking on Km 75 thru 100. Lots of brave souls riding alone. #Lelandkermesse

-Windy and down to 40 F. At the #Lelandkermesse Riders are going hard and slow.

-Our 3 masters are shaking hands taking fluid fixing shoes. Ready to hit their 10 th gravel section du jour #Lelandkermesse

-2 masters still cooperating. 1/2 lap remain #Lelandkermesse

-Here we go. Masters 4 5. Gloves are off on gravel 2. #Lelandkermesse

-Hemme and proctor rider have dropped the Verdi Gris.

-They fist pump before the last gravel. And. It's on. Hemme all over his bike with 3 Jm to go #Lelandkermesse

-@chenzy007 The proctor rider wins the drag race. Mast 45. #Lelandkermesse

Edited from by Matt of Bike Heaven.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Knowledge: Part 2

A multi-step program to winning races

Step 1: Get out of bed.

A lot of people fail at step 1.

Step 2: Finish your race.

Everytime a rider DNFs it makes Sean Kelly cry.

Works for me.