Mar 19, 2012

Madera Stage Race 2012 - mistakes, mechanicals & wind

This is long overdue, in part because I've been extremely busy last week trying to cram a five-day week into three days so I could take off for San Dimas Stage Race in SoCal (blog on that coming shortly) and in part because I've been pushing off writing this report. Some races I can't wait to write up, others I'd rather forget. You can probably guess this is the latter, but I think it's beneficial to write it out if for no other reason than to replay it once more in my head and reinforce the lessons learned.

Stage 1: Crit - the mistake

I had three teammates in the race with me, Jared, Francisco and Tyler. We figured that no one would be going out to kill themselves in the crit because a few hours later we'd have to race a TT. We also counted on the fact that no break would stick because no one would want to lose time on GC in the crit. So the plan was to sit in, preferably near the front, not lose any time and take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.

We lined up for the crit, which was advertised as a 20 lap race, but I knew better, so I asked the ref about the time for the crit, and he said we'd be going for 45 minutes - normal Cat. 4 crit time. The whistle blows and we're off. Other than a few break attacks and a sprint for the first prime (5 seconds), nothing really happens in the first part of the crit. The the bell rings for the second 5-second prime. I look down at my Garmin and see we're at about the 30 minute mark. I estimate we have about six or seven laps to go. A Webcor guy attacks out of corner two and I hesitate for just one second, then realize I can recover in time for the finish and dart after him. I've raced with the guy before, so I know he is very explosive, but I counted on him fading toward the start/finish line. He proved me very wrong. I kept closing the gap with another rider on my wheel, but not fast enough. If I got into his draft with 200 meters to go, I would have probably taken the sprint, but I could only get within 4 feet of him before it was time to kick for the sprint, and my legs didn't have enough juice left, so the guy I dragged with me came around and took the prime. 

On the plus side, this move helped me avoid a crash in the field that happened on that lap. On the down side, the next time we came around, I saw three to go -- at least three laps less than I thought I had to recover. "Well, I just screwed my finish," I though to myself, but I stayed in the group, trying to be as efficient as possible and save as much energy as I could. The bell rang for final lap and approaching corner three, riders got tangled in the cones and a crash happened to the side of me. I managed to get by, turned the corner and observed the field slowing down -- "WTF?!" I thought to myself. I saw Jared in the lead group, yelled out "let's go!" and hit it as hard as I could. The field got motivated and took off, but I had no legs for the finish and rolled in with the pack. No time lost, but no result either. The only silver lining was that Jared was in great position, followed the right wheels and won the final sprint. 

I was really happy to see my teammate win, but really pissed at myself for making such a stupid mistake. Lesson learned -- pay attention to lap cards earlier in the race. The crit was cut about five minutes short, but I have no one to blame than myself for my inattention to the lap cards. I should have seen five to go on that prime bell and never chased the Webcor rider.

Stage 2: TT - the mechanical

I knew that I wasn't in quite as good of TT form as I was last year, but I was hoping to at least replicate my performance  or come close. My legs felt good during warmup, but exactly how good would have to be seen during the race.

Three-two-one, off I go. I'm not feeling it at all during the first leg of the TT. I'm trying to be conservative, yet ramp up the power as I go and find a good rhythm. There was no 30-second man ahead of me, but I was slowly reeling in my minute guy. After corner one, I feel much better, my legs come alive and I really started to push it hard, the minute guy getting larger and larger as I got closer. Then I turned corner two, went to upshift and ended up with the rear shifter in the palm of my hand. I try to keep this blog more or less PG-13, so I'll let you imagine what went through my mind at the time. I was stuck in my 11 and the only shifting I could do was in the front, so it was either mash-mash in my 52x11, or spin like crazy in my 36x11 (why I have a 52/36 on a TT bike is a whole separate story). As I hit the 1K to go mark, I see that I need to cover the last km in one minute to hit last year's time. I'm not Fabian, so going 60kph isn't really an option. I do the best I can with my gears and cross about 30 seconds slower than last year for 13th place -- my worst TT placing in quite some time.

Stage 3: Road Race - the wind

I held my own in this race last year, so I figured this year would be no different, or better. At this point, Jared was sitting in 2nd place on GC after winning the crit and placing 4th in the TT, so our plan was to cover attacks, do no work in breaks, regardless of how good they looked, and try to get Jared across the finish line first to get the time bonus and that number 1 spot on GC.

There were a few early attacks I easily covered and they rolled back into the field. Third turn on lap one, a guy attacks and I happened to have been pushed back a bit, so could not cover right away. I see him quickly approaching a field of riders ahead and make my way to the front. My fear was that if he passed the field of riders, we'd have a very hard time bringing him back. I get to the front and drag the field within 50 yards or so, until my legs can't really do much more work. The field ends up catching the guy just as we hit the 2.5-mile bad section of road and attacks go flying. I'm struggling to grab wheels and know that I'm about to be majorly screwed as we hit the power rollers. I'm out of juice. I see the field slowly rolling away from me.

This was the dumbest thing I've probably ever done in a road race. My first error was that being fresh at the start of the race, I totally underestimated the headwind on the first leg of the course. My second error was chasing the guy on lap one of four in a 65. Why the hell did I chase him? Why not let him fry in the wind and come back into the field, why not save my legs for later in the race to keep myself as an asset to my teammates? Those are all questions I keep asking myself and find no answers for at the moment. Really, really stupid racing on my part. I guess the best I can make of it is keep reminding myself of what happened and try to avoid doing it in the future. 

Going back to the race. I tried to chase on for the entire second lap, working with individual riders and catching a small group at one point, but losing contact with them as well due to the energy I wasted catching them into the wind. I finished lap two and rolled back to my car, hoping my teammates who remained in the race would be able to defend the GC. I hate how DNFs feel. 

Once again, the silver lining was Jared totally kicking ass in the road race and winning in style, taking first on GC and earning respect of the entire peloton in the process. 

Lessons learned -- first of all, to be patient and smart about where I spend my energy. This is obvious, but at times needs hard reinforcement (check!). Second of all, I realized I have very little experience racing in the wind and have to work really hard on my positioning to not get gapped because in a headwind or a crosswind, a bike length can be as hard to bridge as a mile.

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