Jul 25, 2011

2Wheel Crit race report

This is the first criterium of the year where I was able to enter the race in two fields. At 8:30 in the morning, I lined up for the E4/5 race, and at 1:15, was the E4 race. And here’s what happened.

E4/5 Race

The course was long, about 1.2 miles with most corners being safe and wide, but there were a few pot-holes on the back side and an S-turn that caused a few shoulder rubs, but no crashes in our field. 

It was a mixed field of just under 40 racers, most of whom seemed to be 4s I’ve raced before, but there were many 5s and those I haven’t raced against. This forced me to change my strategy a bit and instead of hanging out near the back and slowly making my way forward as the race draws to its conclusion, I tried to keep myself near the front and follow wheels I knew would get me places.

It’s becoming more and more fun to race because with each race, I see the same faces and there forms this racing bond of mutual respect and friendship that turns into a healthy competitive rivalry when the whistle blows. John (Mike’s Bikes), Mackenzie (Spokesmen), Oscar and Isaac (both from Dolce Vita) were the guys I’ve raced with a bunch this year. There were also a couple people from BBC that I knew could race a good crit, Hussein and Greg. Those are the wheels I was trying to stay on and see how the race develops.

The pace started off brisk, but would oscillate frequently throughout the race, from hard prime chasing to the pack swelling and taking turns four abreast. At some point through about the middle of the race, I was on the outside and saw Nick (Mission Cycling) coming up through the field on the inside lane. I knew he was going to attack and I felt like I wanted a piece of that break. I was right. I was about half a wheel behind Nick with a row of guys between us. As he passed the second wheel, he jumped and I jumped after him. I caught him, rested a bit and pulled through, but by the time it was time for Nick to pull again, the field was on our tail. Seeing we weren’t going to get away that time, I sat up.

I kept myself near the front the remainder of the race and figured I’d stick on Mackenzie’s wheel for the rest of the race and see what happens. Coming into last lap the pace was picking up and I was near the front of the pack, still on Mackenzie’s wheel. After corner four, however, Mackenzie decided to jump into a hole that I knew I could not squeeze through, which resulted in him taking out a couple of John’s spokes, but luckily everyone stayed upright. This, however, boxed Oscar into the gutter, and forced me to take a slight detour. The resulting gap and the fast pace of the crit at that point proved to be a touch much as all I could muster up was chase back to 11th place.

Not quite satisfied with the results of that race, I went to spin for a bit, get recovery food, relax and think about the next race. Another thing I learned post this race is that the primes were very, very good. Sometime exceeding the goodiness of the podium award.

E4 Race

Still thinking about the primes, I was determined to snag one for myself and then see what happens after that. The whistle blew and the race started. All the guys I mentioned above were in this race and my strategy was pretty much the same, other than the fact that I was out to get a prime.

The race started much slower and the first two laps were at a very comfortable pace, but HR never got above 160. Then the bell went for the first prime and the pace picked up with the peloton stretching out a bit. Isaac went for it and got it. That would be his second on the day. A couple more laps go by and one of the BBC guys goes on the attack. As we cross the start/finish line, the prime bell is ringing. I’m sitting about 10-12 wheels back as the peloton starts to stretch out to bring the BBC rider back.

I find myself in perfect position for a sneak attack. The only thing that can let me down now are my legs, but they’re feeling pretty good at this point. I have a clear line on the inside, with about 200 meters to the next corner, with the BBC rider almost caught and visibly tired from a hard solo effort. I start my move along the inside line, fast enough that I’m passing people, but not so fast that they think I’m attacking. As I pull up to third wheel in the main field, I jump and drill it with all I’ve got. I fly by the BBC rider, take a sweeping right-hander and keep drilling it even harder. I look back to see a giant gap forming. Now I’m 100% committed to the attack, I drill it even harder yet. As I made the next corner, I looked back and saw the gap widening still, but I also realized I misjudged the number of corners to the finish line, but having such a gap and being solo, there was no way I was letting this prime get away. Just a few more moments of pain and I was solo across the line by a mile.

As I crossed the line, the bell rang again – back-to-back primes. This meant that the field was going to come around and come around fast. I more or less sat up after getting the prime and rolled back into the field as there was more than half of the race to be raced. I hung out mid-pack for a lap or two and started to move myself up again. The pace remained relatively high. With two laps to go, I was sitting fourth wheel with the pace at around 25-26mph. As we approached the same place I attacked for the prime, the pace slowed as the guy on the front either didn’t want to work anymore, or got tired. After a few moments of this, I looked back and saw the field riders about to swarm the head of the field (that would be us) jockeying or position into the final lap.

Then I decided that I didn’t want to be swimming in cyclist soup for the remaining lap and a half and figured it would be nice to animate the race a bit, and maybe even cause some pain, even if it meant my own results wouldn’t be that great. So I got on the nose and drilled it at about 27-28 mph for almost an entire lap. As we crossed the start/finish for the penultimate time, with the bell ringing, I felt like I was at my limit. After corner one, I told Oscar he better take over, but he asked for a bit more, so I dropped a gear and dug a little deeper to get the field through the next S-turn, after that someone jumped and those behind me followed. As I watched the field take the next corner, I saw Isaac on the nose leading Oscar out for the sprint.

Mackenzie ended up in first and Oscar got 5th. My job being done, I came in behind the field. Sometimes it’s the result that matters in a race, other times it’s going out with a plan and getting it done. I got my prime (which included a set of cables/housing, a t-shirt, a $10 gift card to a bike shop and some cliff-bars) and kept the end of the race safe by keeping the pace up – I was satisfied with that for the day.

Three races on deck for next weekend. Maybe someone will be nice enough to give me a lead out (hint, hint!). 

Jul 18, 2011

Colavita GP and BBC Crit reports

Post-Death Ride last week Saturday, everything kind of went on hiatus: the biking and the blog about biking. I wasn’t really feeling myself that week and a few other things came up here and there, so I decided to take a week off the bike, rest up and prepare to tackle the last part of the season in force. Interestingly, when I first planned out my workout calendar in January, last week was marked as completely off the bike – call me psychic. While I was enjoying my rest, I knew I had two races coming up this weekend, Colavita Grand Prix on Saturday, followed by Berkley Bike Club Crit on Sunday. Here’s how it all went down.

Colavita Grand Prix

This is my team’s race, so it felt very good to be out there sporting team colors, even though I didn’t know how my body would behave after a week off the bike. The race is held in a business park, so the roads are pristine and sharp corners almost nonexistent. The loop runs 1.1 miles long with a slight incline on the backside, followed by a left-hand turn into a slightly downhill finish. I looked at the roster of registered riders in my field, and Dolce Vita was the team with the most numbers. I had a feeling they would be banking on that to make something happen. Not having any teammates in the race, my plan was to stay out of the wind, move up near the front toward the second half of the race, watch any moves by Dolces (because I figured if any stuck it would be those) and try to get on their train in the few final laps.

The whistle blew and we were off. The pace did not start out too fast and sort of oscillated throughout the race because there was a lack of people who wanted to drive the pace high, despite the fact that there were a few teams fairly well represented. The few times that someone did turn it up, the peloton would stretch out, especially coming over the backside bump and into the final corner.

As the race was progressing, I felt great and was executing my plan perfectly. With about 15 minutes left in the race, I was near the front, watching moves and making sure I didn’t get swallowed up in the field. With about four to go, I noticed that Dolces were getting organized, which meant I needed to be as close to the nose as possible without being in the wind, so I could board the Dolce express when it materialized.

With three laps to go, they lined up all the men they had in the race (five I think) and began a massive leadout. There was one other guy between me and the train, so I was sitting in seventh place, getting a tow to the line, knowing that in theory four of the five Dolces would fall off and it would be just their sprinter and the guy ahead of me.

As we made it around one more time, I realized that things were not going to be that easy – only three Dolces left on the front, which meant they went too early. Indeed, by the time we reached the backside on bell lap, they were all done, the pace was dying and I was about to get swallowed up as no one was putting in any serious digs. A couple of guys went flying up the road and I realized that if I didn’t make a move then, there is no way I’d have a clear shot at the finish line. I attacked to catch some of the guys up the road from me, but ran out of room before I had to turn. I took the hottest corner I’ve taken in a crit all year and made a mad dash for the line. Another fifty meters, and I would have had a few more places, but had to settle for 10th.

I think the biggest mistake I made was hesitating after the Dolce train came to a “halt.” In hindsight, I should have taken a flyer half way through the final lap and drilled it to the finish line. The legs felt very good and fresh that day, so while I doubt the field would have let me escape, the pace may have been high enough to prevent too many people from sprinting around me. Race and learn!

Berkley Bike Club Criterium

Before I even begin to talk about how this race went, I have some very important advice for my fellow cyclists: Partying until almost two in the morning, and consuming things such as borsch (it was a Russian food party), stuffed cabbage leaves, veal dumplings, potato salad, a whole lot of pickled stuff and three or four types of dessert (the last of which I consumed around 1a.m.) and quite a few glasses of Chimay to wash it all down does absolutely nothing for your crit racing the next morning.

I barely woke up at six, got myself together and dragged myself to the race. Fortunately, everything was still in the car from the day before. I figured that I already registered and since there was a good chance I’d do absolutely nothing that day, going out to suffer for an hour would get rid of some of the guilt. Luckily, the race was only 30 minutes away and I started at 9. During warmup, my legs felt good, but my stomach was letting me know it was really pissed at me.

About 65 of us came to the line. The course was very short (.6 miles), the shortest crit course I raced all year, and it wasn’t very technical, with only four corners, all of them right-handers. After turning corner two there is a very short ramp that flattens out and turns into a downhill after turn three. The plan for the race was much simpler than the day before – survive!

The whistle blew and I started in the back of the field. The first lap felt like someone just floored a gas pedal in a Porche and I was trapped in whatever little trunk that car has. After about three or four laps I felt like was going to puke, so I just hung out in the back of the pack and moved up a bit as people were doing attacks in reverse on the uphill portion of the course.

After about 20 minutes of this, my stomach began to feel better - I no longer had the taste of last night’s dinner in my mouth - and I decided it was time to move myself up in the field a bit. With very short straights, relatively narrow roads and a full pack, this was much harder to do than I anticipated, though I did manage to drag myself to about the front third of the pack.

The pace remained relatively high for most of the race, which made it even more difficult to move up, as that required hard efforts and my body didn’t really agree with burst efforts that morning.

With five to go, I was still sitting about a third back and figured I’d just ride it out. I had no business being anywhere near the front of that field, but I was happy that I came out, rode hard (I’d say “raced,” but I don’t really think I was very competitive in that one), didn’t get dropped like about a fourth of the field, and somehow ended up in the top 50 percent of finishers. I certainly hope that most of those who finished behind me had an even wilder Saturday than I did.

It wasn’t much of a race for me, but it’s still fun to write about.

Jul 6, 2011

How to survive Death Ride (for first-time riders)

Remember how excited you were when you clicked “register” in those first four hours before Death Ride was sold out? Or when you felt lucky that you were able to snag a registration from someone who realized they weren’t as nuts as they thought they were was no longer able to make it? If that feeling is still with you, good for you, but something tells me that with the main event only a few short days away, the feeling of excitement is being forced out of your gut with a flutter of butterflies.

As I was once told, “it’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach, as long as you make them fly in formation!” With that in mind, I figured I’d write down a few things that can help a first time Death Rider ease the nerves and be ready to tackle all five passes.

1. Don’t give into the hype

For some reason, cyclists always name hard rides after what seems to be the lowest feeling they have the day they ride it. I don’t know how many people over the years actually died on the Death Ride of over-exhaustion, but I bet the number wouldn’t justify the name. It sounds scary, and ominous, and harder than what you’ve ever done before, but really it’s all about the numbers. And the numbers say that it’s simply a 129-mile ride with 15000 feet of climb in one day. That’s not something to take lightly, but I promise it won’t kill you.

2. Train properly

This is where you’re probably thinking, “thanks Mr. Obvious!” Of course, there is nothing you can really do now, with the ride only a few days away, that will make you ready if you’re not already there. But this is a good time to look back at the training you’ve done getting ready for this event and the improvements you’ve made. After all, this blog isn’t so much on how to train for Death Ride, as it is about making you realize that you’re ready for it (or not).

Here are some questions that will help you gauge whether or not you’re ready to tackle Death Ride. Have you done at least 100 miles in one day in the last month? Have you climbed over 10000 feet in one day in the last two months? Have you been riding consistently and logging decent (100-200 miles) weekly mileage over the last 4-5 months? If the answer to all of those questions is “yes,” you have nothing to worry about; you are physically ready to do all five passes.

The opposite isn’t necessarily true and you may get away with doing less training and still finish the ride. But one thing is for certain, the more you train, the less miserable you’ll be.

3. Pace yourself

It’s a long ride, with a lot of climbing, at altitude and with potential for scorching heat (although it looks like it won’t be too bad this weekend). You will have to pace yourself to avoid an early blow-up on Ebbetts or cramps that will stay with you for the rest of the ride. I find that intimidation forces people to underestimate their own strength and they consistently go out too slowly – this is not a problem. The reason I make a point to mention that is because what will likely occur is that a first timer will start out slowly and continue to slow down in the first part of the ride as the effort becomes more difficult. Then, half way through the ride, the rider will feel that he has more energy left than needed and start pushing harder to the finish, which may result in the above blow-up and cramp combo. In any event, this isn’t proper pacing.

My advice is to fight the temptation to go easy if you all of a sudden feel that the pace you selected is too hard – chances are it isn’t and what you’re feeling is normal. On the other hand, if you all of a sudden see your HR spike, ease off and let it settle in back to your pace. If you’re riding with a power meter, pacing is even easier – you should be at about 60 to 70 percent of your 30-minute max for the whole ride. So if your 30-minute max (a.k.a. CP30) is 300, you want to be averaging about 200 watts for the day. It helps to know how your device tracks your average power, i.e., do the zeros on the descents get factored in or not. If they don’t, take that number up a bit.

Bottom line: Set a pace in the beginning and stick to it, if you end up with excess energy, the 9-mile false flat on Carson Pass is a perfect place to let things fly.

4. Think about fuel

Knowing that you have to eat and drink is not enough. Do some research and think ahead. Typically the sport drink mix of choice on Death Ride is Cytomax – make sure your stomach can handle it. If you’re good with Cytomax, great; if not, perhaps it would be worthwhile to bring a baggie of your own mix (two bottle’s worth should be enough assuming you start with two bottles of the same stuff as well). Stash it in your car perhaps (see below).

Plan on consuming between 150 and 300 calories every hour, depending on how big you are (I tend to stay closer to the 300 side). Much less than that and you risk bonking, eat a lot more and you risk stomach distress, plus your body can’t really process any more calories under stress.

Here’s my personal strategy that works very well (assuming I actually stick to it). I generally just drink for the first hour, taking in about half a bottle. Obviously that also depends on conditions. If it’s too hot, I drink more to stay hydrated. If it’s on the colder side, I also drink more because your body loses more calories in the cold trying to stay warm. But half a bottle in the first hour is good for these types of rides. I typically have breakfast an hour or two before, so my glycogen is high enough that I don’t feel the need to eat in that first hour.

At the one-hour mark, I begin to consume solid and semi-solid foods every 30 minutes and make sure to take a good gulp every 15 minutes. Again, the amount of liquids I take on varies with temperatures and other conditions, but I usually go through a bottle every 15-20 miles.

Here’s a good tip: Make sure you eat and drink something as you’re approaching the summit of each climb. Don’t linger at the mountaintop rest stops, but instead, start your descent. Chances are, you’ll be going too fast to be reaching for food or bottles, so from the time you crest the top to the time you are at the bottom, you may go 15-20 minutes without putting anything in your mouth and if the last time you ate was 10 minutes before you crested, that’s almost half an hour without eating. This isn’t good because you’ll now have to climb up again with no calories making their way to your muscles for some time (this is assuming you’ll eat at the bottom). The alternative advice is eat on the descent if you can. Personally, when I’m going 52mph on 2.3cm(x2) of rubber (I hope my mom doesn’t read this), I prefer to have both hands on the bars.

Lastly on fuel, never leave a rest stop without food stuffed in your back pocket. Some rest stops will be more than 30 minutes apart and you can’t risk having your sugar drop.

5. Rest stops

Try to keep them to a minimum. If you feel that you need a lot of time to rest, you are probably going too hard and should think about how you want to pace the rest of the ride. Reaching the summit of each climb will be tough, but remember that there will be a long descent, followed by some standing in line for water and some more standing in line for a bio break, so unless you absolutely have to stop at the top, don’t! Keep rolling and make short stops at the bottom. This way your body can get the rest it needs without your muscles cooling off too much. I find that a lot of rest followed by hard efforts on these types of rides tends to cause camps. Slower average moving speed and less time at rest stops is better than high average moving speed and a lot of time at rest stops – you’ll be done sooner the first way.

6. Few miscellaneous items

Gears: You’ve climbed hills, you know what gears you need, this is not the time to say to yourself, “I’ll just leave my 11-23 on there and see what happens.” If you haven’t been climbing hills, stay home!

Mechanicals: They happen! I snapped a spoke in my rear wheel 9 miles into the ride last year. Luckily, Death Ride has awesome SAG support and I actually got a new wheel to finish my ride (as well as a ride on a motorcycle while holding my bike in one hand). Barring such grave mechanicals, be ready to resolve minor problems on your own. Suggested items to have with (as if you didn’t already know this): 2 tubes, 2 CO2 cartridges, tire levers if you need them (I use my hands), and a tool with a chain tool.

Parking: As you’re coming in to do the ride, try to park on the main road leading up to the start area/registration. This way, you’ll pass your car on the way to the final climb of the day and if you wish to change sox, grab an extra bottle of something, mix in that powder you stashed earlier or drop off/pick up a layer, it’s right there for you. Chances are you’ll need all the comfort you can get for the first 5 miles of that climb (before hitting the false flat).

The last three miles: Enjoy yourself at the top of Carson Pass, sign the wall, have your ice cream and be proud of your badge, but don’t forget you’re not done climbing! After the 15-mile descent down Carson Pass, you’ll have to crawl up for another three miles to get back to your car.

Weather: You’ll be riding through the mountains, so keep an eye on the forecast and make sure you have everything you’ll need to finish the ride without heat stroke or hypothermia.

And that’s all, folks! Do what you have to do, and at the end of the day you’ll go home with a 5-pass finisher pin. 

Jul 5, 2011

The old man and the hill

The old man and the hill

(I hope Hemingway’s estate doesn’t come after me for copyright infringement)

My Mom was in town over the long weekend, so no long rides or races were to be had. I did manage to sneak out just before dawn on Saturday and do some laps on Hawk Hill. I had already done my set of repeats last week Tuesday, so this was just going to be a hilly ride simulation at a more or less endurance effort. But that’s really not what this blog is about.

I made my way to through the tunnel and up the hill through the morning fog. After making the final right-hand turn, signifying the top of the climb, it was time to come down and do it all over again.

As I made my way back to the base of the climb, I saw a man climbing up; we exchanged nods of acknowledgement. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t know each other, the fact that we were on the same cool foggy hill, at dawn, on a Saturday created a bond between us. He was wearing a maroon windbreaker, black bike shorts, an oversized bike hat that covered his ears and protruded so much from under the helmet that I don’t even remember what color the helmet was. I didn’t get a good look at the man’s face just then, but as I began to ascend once more, he was now coming down and I could take my time observing.

The rider was old, probably in his 70s. I could see from the way he was dressed and what he rode that he was not a racer, at least not now, not these days. We must have passed each other close to a dozen times, exchanging nods almost each one. Sometimes he was going up and I was coming down, other times the reverse.

The man’s face showed the effort he was making to get up the climb over and over again. He was not climbing gingerly, barely spinning an easy gear, oh, no; this rider looked like he was going uphill with a purpose, each leg firing like a piston with each downstroke. There was no longer any definition in those legs of his, and his upper body showed wear and fatigue, but his legs kept on pumping and his face had a story to tell.

A thought couldn’t help but wander into my mind, “why is he out here?” He was probably retired and it was a Saturday in any event. I could not figure out why he was out there, at that early hour, doing repeat, after repeat, after repeat. There were others on the hill, too, and reasons for their presence came at me left and right, but not where the old man was concerned. His face had a glare of purpose, his legs moved with intent, both of which remain a mystery to me.

One thing is certain - it was inspiring. I don’t know if I, at 70 plus years of age would get up at 5 a.m. and climb a hill in the cold fog over and over again, but I sincerely hope that I, too, will have a reason and a purpose that will motivate me to do so.