Mar 5, 2012

Merco crit and road race recap

Last year, racing the weekend at Merco was probably some of the best fun and atmosphere I had all season, so returning this year wasn’t even a question. A major change from last year was that Elite and Masters racers not doing the stage races (everyone but P/1/2 and M35+1/2/3) were not allowed to participate in the TT, but only the crit and the road race.

Merco Grand Prix


The course was different from last year with the completion of construction in Merced. The hairpin was out and a nine-corner course, resembling a profile of an old phone receiver, was in. The weather was warm and sunny, with 33 of us at the start line. No teammates in the race.

My original plan for the race was to sit in conservatively in the field until the final laps, then move up and contest the sprint. However, the more I thought about that plan, the more dissatisfied I had become. I figured there will be plenty of time for this type of super-strategic, one-move focused racing once I’m in my race block, racing my target races. On Saturday, I wanted to race really aggressively, and try to contest primes as well as get myself in a break – the latter often comes on the heels of the former.

I line up at the front, the whistle blows and we’re off. The pace starts fast and I’m fifth or sixth wheel. Half way through the lap, the lead guy figures out he can’t pull us all at that speed for long, and normal Cat. 4 racing resumes. As we finish lap one, prime bell rings and I’m in good position near the front of the field. Half way through the lap, I attack from two bikes back, get a small gap and gun it for the line. The fresh field wasn’t going to let me go and chased back on. I say, “what the hell,” and kick it as hard as I can down the finishing straight. Didn’t get it as two riders got me by about half a length on the line got around me.


[Above edited as post-race photographic evidence that I wasn't quite recalling that correctly.]

We keep racing and I try to keep myself near the front as much as possible, chasing a chance to get a break. Finally, around lap 11, a junior rider attacked and got about 100 meters of breathing room. I’m second wheel, again I sprint out of the field, get a gap and bridge to the junior. We start taking pulls, but as we go under the start/finish, the prime bell rings again. This prompts a bridge attempt, which ended up dragging the field to us.

We go under the start/finish seeing six to go and the bell rings again. Going into the penultimate corner, I find myself riding second wheel behind Trevor, but I know he’s not going full gas. The thought that went through my mind was I either have to go now, or we’re about to get swarmed and I’m going to be boxed in at the line. If we were going all out, I would have waited 30-50 meters, but at that speed, I figured I had to give it a shot. I kicked really hard once again, but Trevor caught my wheel and ended up coming around me at the line. That effort sent me to the back of the field with five to go. I managed to get up front again in a lap or two, but legs were no longer there and the peloton got very erratic on the last lap (what else is new?), with nervous wheels shifting in all sorts of directions. I figured I had a fun time thus far, and decided a dangerous move to break out of the box I was in wasn’t really worth it. Rolled in 20th, but very content with the type of race I had. I tried everything I wanted to try, raced aggressively, and gave the legs a good test run to see how form is coming along.

Hilltop Ranch Road Race


Sunday was another beautiful day in Central Valley. The temperatures were probably in the upper 60s when the race began and the winds were relatively calm. On the menu was a 48-mile road race, consisting of two 24-mile laps with gently rolling terrain with full road closure.

Jared and I left the city around 8:30, with plenty of time to have my usual 1.5 hours pre-race time. However, being an idiot, I didn’t read past the first line of the directions and just plopped Keyes & Olsen into my GPS and off we went. On Keyes, I was promptly stopped by a police officer blocking the course and he had me turn around and go another way to the staging area. Long story short, by the time we got to staging and got our numbers, we had about 50 minutes before race start. I didn’t even bother getting on the trainer, but just rolled around a bit and got to the line in plenty of time.

Advice from a teammate was to sit in, move up toward the end and contest the sprint – my original strategy from the day before, but Jared wanted to get a break going. He’d been successful with that previously, so I was certainly going to do all I could to help him. Despite the lack of wind, the chances of a break were not that bleak. There were many Tri-Valley and Webcor guys in our field. Together, those two teams were probably about 40 percent of the peloton, and if each of their guys was in the break, that would severely limit the leg power left for the chase.

There 43 guys in our field. The whistle blew and within 30 meters, I’m on the nose. “What the hell,” I think to myself, “might as well warm up.” So I attacked the field, got a gap and extended it a bit before settling into a nice rhythm just to get the blood moving. I spent the first five miles off the front, warming up, changing up my efforts from hard to medium.  I kept looking back at the field to see what they were doing, but they didn’t seem to be concerned. Then I noticed the peloton assumed a more pointed formation, meaning they were trying to reel me in. Feeling warmed up, I eased off my pace, making sure when the field came by to stick myself near the front again and watch the action.

Jared made several attempts at a break, and I tried to be near the front to try to block or watch for someone to bridge me to him. After a few failed attempts, he finally got into a four-man break that I thought might make it. A Tri-Valley guy went, Jared followed, and Webcor and another rider came up. Two teams with greatest numbers got near the front to slow the peloton and give the guys a chance to survive in a break.

The break stretched out approximately a 20 second lead, but then what I feared happened, Jared and another rider popped both the Tri-Valley and Webcor guys and a rush of fresh leg power came to the front to chase down the rest of the break.

Jared and I spent most part of lap one and a part of lap two on the front trying to create a break opportunity. The last attempt was made by Jared as we turned onto a stretch of bad pavement, but that was another short-lived break and I realized a break was not how this race was going to end. I moved to the back of the pack and rested up, as I was doing for a good part of lap two.

The last 3km start with a prolonged S-turn, then a straight, then a slight uphill and a straight into the finish. This is the part where I lost focus and let more guys get around me than I should have. This forced me to attack up the little riser boxed in, dodging between riders who were no longer able to keep pace. I saw the sprint start and did all I could to be there, but was just too far back and not in the best position. I just snuck in across the line in the number 10 position. I was content, but definitely not satisfied, as I know I could have done a better job being near the front of that race.

Side story

As the road race kept going on, once in a while I’d hit these horrendous pot-holes that no one pointed out and eventually, on the second lap, my bars started to slip. Meaning they began to rotate. In the final few kilometers, I hit the last of the bumps, which twisted my bars to the point where I could only be in the drops. The drops that now were somewhere in between the hoods and where the drops usually are, so it kind of worked out, but it definitely took my mind off the race in the last few crucial moments. When I got home, I discovered that the shaking and rattling of the road shook the stem screws a bit loose. Hopefully a quick application of locktite will prevent that from happening in the future.

Takeaways

I came into this weekend with fresh legs and used it as a test to see where my fitness was, as well as practicing racing with tactics and purpose. As far as fitness is concerned, legs are coming around nicely, and I should be on form around early April, as I figured earlier when mapping out my training plan for the year. The one item that I recognize I really need work on is positioning myself toward the finish. That will be one of the things I will focus on over the next series of “training” races because more often than not, Cat 4 races end in a bunch sprint and being in the right place at the right time in the last 300 meters often means the difference between top 10 and a 20-something place. 

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