12 June, 2012

Forty-Seven Cats

This last weekend was the Tour de Mount Pleasant.  It was an omnium over three days, with three different road events race in, you guessed it, Mount Pleasant.

Day 1

I left work early on Friday to load up the truck and get to MP with plenty of time to spare prior to the first event, the time trial.

I checked into the dorm that my friends Kim and Dave had reserved.  Upon entering the room, I noticed 2 twin beds, for the for of us.  That seemed a bit too cozy.  But this was easily straightened out, and I headed over towards the TT start to check in.  It was a bit after 4 pm, the TT started at 5:30, and I was going out at 6:18.

I found the check-in area, although they weren't set-up yet.  So I decided to preview the course, pedaling around in my cargo shorts and Sanuk's elicited some looks from those already kitted up and riding the course.  It was just over 4 miles, and essentially flat.  There were a couple spots where you faced a decent headwind, including the finishing stretch.

Back at check in, the volunteer had a bit of trouble finding my info for the road race on Sunday, but once figured out I received my numbers, and a decent swag bag with t-shirt, water bottle and the assorted flyers.  A decent pack considering some races that cost $75 for 2 hours of riding with no swag.

Back to the room, I got changed for the race and headed out to warm up.  I grabbed a bottle to drink before the race, but some ill-informed folks though I was racing with it and advised otherwise.  I went back towards the start area and did some riding around.  It wasn't hard to work up a sweat, but I think I would have preferred to have a trainer instead of doing hot laps around the lot.  I thought about bringing mine along, but didn't think it would be worth the hassle.

Time to hit the ramp for my start. The two riders ahead of me were no-shows, so I didn't have a 30 second rabbit in front of me.  In fact I didn't end up seeing any rider ahead of me for the whole race.  I received my countdown and I was off.  I was hammering as soon as I hit the road, and instantly my quads were burning and my HR was up.  This was going to be a long 10 minutes.  Head down I charged through as hard as I could manage, just trying to keep around 24 MPH, which I felt was podium worthy.  Less than a mile in I turned into the wind and my mouth was parched.  Perhaps if I had been able to close it a bit I would have been better off.

Around the course, no issues and chugging along the final slow grade headwind to the finish and I was giving it all I had.  I finished in 10:20, for 3rd place, and an average heart rate of 193 BPM.  I circled around a bit to cool off, got something to drink and chatted with some riders.  I managed to completely forget my lil' sister was to meet me to borrow a helmet, so she ended up buying her own, which is probably better anyway.

It was then back to the dorm to change, and then some Lost Horse (roughly translated) for dinner.

 Day 2

This was an early morning race.  The crash5 riders were to go at 8 am, so I was up early for a quick bite before heading downtown to the race area.  Come to find out, starting early was a blessing, as our 72 degree temps gave way to 85+ temperatures for the riders later in the day.

This was my first criterium, and my main goal was to stay in the front, and not crash.  I ran in to Mitch and he and I warmed up by circling the short, .84 mile course numerous times.  I had to pause briefly to move my number from the right to left side. [Side note: do not wrinkle your number, regardless of what Todd Wells says!]

It was time to line up for the race.  I moved to the front row, and while we were waiting, I commented to another rider how it was my first time riding with "clippy shoes" and all of the sudden I had a little more room around me.

Once we were off, I was expecting a more frantic pace.  I stayed towards the front and just looked for clean lines.  I was getting a bit nervous as I heard pedal strikes coming from behind me on nearly every turn.  On lap 3 or 4, Matt took off on the back straight to "stretch his legs" and the group accelerated after him.  One of the riders giving chase directly behind him went into the corner too hot and skidded straight across the road in front of me, crashing over the curb.  I remained upright, but there was some carnage behind.  A couple other riders went down, and the first guy tacoed his wheel.

The rest of the race was just more group sitting together, with an occasional attack by myself, Matt, or another rider to string the group out.  On the last lap we were again coming onto the back straight and for once somebody else made a move and I jumped on his wheel.  Unfortunately that was the wrong move and 2 other riders came flying by.  I came out to chase, but they had the jump and I could not close the gap in the 2 remaining turns.  Ended up in third again (beaten by the same two that got first and second at the TT).

Day 3

The road race was the third ball of worms to top off a trying weekend of racing.  The two previous intense workouts were starting to make my legs tired, and I was looking forward to a nice relaxing day on the saddle.  Well, as relaxing as 85+ degree temps and open fields with WSW winds could be.

I was racing the 35+ group, so I wasn't competing against those whipper-snappers that beat me on the two previous days. I knew the strategy necessary to win the race: sit in for 53.9 miles and sprint at the end.  This strategy bored me.  From the start I took the pack out of town, pulling a decent pace and keeping things lined out.  Ryan came around and did the same, but when he pulled off, the group compacted into a slow moving blob and was satisfied staying that way for the duration of the race.  There were some times when somebody would come up and work, but it never lasted long.

Not to say that the ride was completely boring.  There was one rider that kept everybody on their toes.  It was interesting to see the other riders point him out to teammates with the words "watch out."  I have to admit that he must have had decent bike handling skills, because I have never seen anybody jerk their bike across the road so much and yet stay upright.  It was like he was being tased every 13 seconds (or is it tazed, or tasered perhaps?).

At about mile 15 Ryan went on a planned attack, and I jumped across the gap and we were out front working when about 5 other guys came across.  This could be thr group that got away.  We got into a rotation, but after about the third guy took a turn, the next was satisfied soft-pedaling again until it was gruppo-compacto.

There were various taunts and teases for the remainder of the course, but nothing serious.  When I got to the front I would turn the screws a bit just to try and string out the pack a bit.  This wasn't the winning strategy as outlined at the beginning of this section, but it wasn't like I was risking money.

Our group managed to (mostly) hold together as the pace and heat took its toll.  We passed a handful of stopped/injured riders alongside the road receiving assistance and many more riders that were fractured from their respective groups ahead of us.  Eventually we came to the 5k to go turn, and the pace picked up ever so slightly as the riders that have been waiting for the last 51 miles were getting antsy.

We reached the tunnel of trees, and entered around an ambulance blocking half the road.  From my earlier recon, I recalled that after the trees there was only a downhill, a road crossing, past the cemetery, left turn, bridge, railroad tracks, uphill and finish.  So, as the group exited the "tunnel" I was expecting the pace to pick up but it actually slowed, so I went for it.  I figured get the jump, see what happens and the worst case Ryan could come around in the sprint.

I made it down the hill, across the road, and by the time I was at the cemetery, I had a decent gap and was giving it all I had.  Man, that stretch in the cemetery got a lot longer since the recon ride.  Unfortunately, after the left turn all I had was no more.  I popped entering the final straight.  I kept moving as the pack whizzed by.  Just before the tracks, a rider in front of me came across from the right, leaned on another rider, pushing him into a third and they went down directly in front of me just before the crossing.  At that point, I was defeated, spent, and satisfied with making it across the line upright.

I crossed the line in 16th out of 49 starters and 43 (eventual) finishers.  Still in the top half, as if that is any consolation.  I headed over to "Race Central" and got a bottle of water, half to drink and half over my head as I cooled down for a bit.

I am in a weird spot regarding right now.  I don't enjoy sitting around for 2+ hours waiting until the end, but I don't typically race with enough team or horsepower to blow the race up and make it "exciting".  I compared the race to a game of cat and mouse, with 47 cats and 2 mice.  The good news is that I am back on dirt for the foreseeable future.

I applied for my upgrade and if it doesn't go I will have to decide how to do my one or 2 remaining races.  do I try to make it "hard" and have a challenge, or just sit around and see what happens at the end.  If it is approved, I guess the strategy will become "try to hang on'!

05 June, 2012

Surf and Turf

This report will be somewhat short, as I did not have my photographer with me this weekend, so without pictures, I will try to limit the length

Saturday: West Branch Classic Road Race

This race was added to my schedule last minute.  I was always planning on heading North for the Hanson Hills XC race, but was looking for something to fill in that Saturday, making the trip a two-for-one.  I was mostly looking into the Boyne Grind, but I could not find a partner, and I was not feeling like riding up the mountain for 6 hours, I can do that in July.  So, that left the West Branch Race.

5:30 in the morning was the departure time.  Weekends like this make me thankful for the work work, where I can sleep in a little bit.  It was misting a little bit, and cold, but I was hoping for the best.  This was one of those mornings where the only reason I was heading out was due to the fact I had per-registered.

As I drove the 3 hours north towards West Branch (figure that one out), the weather only got rainier and colder.  We arrived at the parking area with plenty of time to spare.  My initial concern was to NOT have to park 2 miles away at the soccer complex.  I went to registrations and they were still unloading, but I was able to get my number and head back to the warmth of the truck.  Huddling in your car seemed to be the norm, as riders were trying to avoid the wind and the rain.

I did wander a bit, and chatted up some folks.  That was when I spoke with a grizzled old veteran  Cat.4 that told me to try something else that day.  I had already won the previous week, so work on some other techniques.  Who was I to argue with my elders?

Shortly before 10 am, I decided it was no longer worth delaying the inevitable, and exited the truck to begin to warm up.  Really, there was no warming involved.  It was more like "slowly pedal around to delay the convulsive shivering"

10:30, and it was out time to go.  50 cat.5 riders, standing in the cold waiting to ride in the mist.  There were 3 Einstein Racing members in the pack, counting myself.  We too off, and I could say the pace was anything but frantic.  Riders were fanning out, trying to avoid the tire spray to no avail.  The wind was blowing pretty good from the west, and we were headed north.

We made the first right turn and the pace picked up a little bit.  That is picked up until we reached a downhill section then it was time to ride the brakes.  I got into a slight tuck position and shot to the front.  I figured it wasn't wasted energy if I lead the group simply by coasting without riding the brakes.

First turn South and our groups first encounter with some climbing.  The first little rollers we slowly ground over, but at the first larger uphill, I broke off the front and put some space between myself and the group.  I made it over the next two climbs before being reeled in.  But once back together, the pace slowed again, basically eliminating any thinning of the group I may have caused.

About this time, Einstein Ben pulled off to the side, I thought it was a shifting issue, but later found out it was a flat.  I wasn't sure whether to stay back with him and help him regroup, or stay with the pack.  I chose the latter.

Headed west, and into the wind, we slowly ground through this stretch before turning right yet again and hitting "the climb" for the first time.  The group strung out, and I spun up the right side making my way through the pack.  At the top there again was a slowing of the pace, allowing a regroup.  Maybe I should have gone here, but I didn't have the legs.

Right turn, headed East, I pulled alongside Ryan and asked how he was feeling.  "Pretty good" was the response, so we quickly devised that I would apply some pressure where I could, and he would come around on the last climb to win.  Seemed easy enough.

On the trip south, towards the second half, I once again went to the front.  I wasn't trying to start anything, but pick up the pace a bit.  I spun a good cadence up the final climb and made the right turn around the corner.  I sat up to let the next guy pull through, but nothing.  I looked back and had a ~20 second gap on the group.  Now, running through my head was "7 miles left, 20 MPH headwind, and a ~1 mile climb" and I knew staying off the front was futile.  Instead I pedaled along with a purpose, but not excessively hard.  This made 3 Hagerty riders come to the front and chase me down.  Once back in the group I rode in 5th position, with Ryan right behind me, and let Hagerty work into the wind.

We made the last turn and were on the flat to the finish.  2 of the Hagerty riders had popped, so I again went to the front and lifted the pace.  Part of that reason was I though I saw Ben ahead, but it was actually a CFT rider.  But this strung out the group again.  When we hit the bottom of the climb, I tried to give it all, but was spent.

A Bissell guy game around me with Ryan on his tail.  A few pedal strokes later and Ryan was around and in the lead.  He charged up that hill fresh as a daisy, and I was working to just keep the pedals turning.  I ended up finishing 7th, but was happy that Ryan got the win, his first, and another for Einstein.  He definitely was the strongest rider that day.

After chatting a bit, I loaded up, and headed to Grayling for some lunch, a hot shower and dry clothes.

EDITED TO ADD: I don't mean to make it sound like Ryan couldn't have won without me.he was awesome out there and could have won that race with one crank tied behind his back.

Sunday: Hanson Hills XC

Sunday was the annual Hanson race.  This would be my first year using gears here, and my first time riding multiple laps.  The funny thing about that is the 2 guys who I battled with at Addison (Lako and Bonnell) were there to ride SS, and not gears.  In addition, Bonnell stated after the West Branch race that he wasn't feeling like racing today, so there was a fair chance I could do well.

Staying in a nearby hotel, I was able to sleep in until about 7, and the drive to the trail was about 8 minutes.  The weather was cool and cloudy, but at least no rain.  It had stopped a couple hours before, and things were shaping up to be a decent day.

I rode a bit of the beginning trail during my warm-up, and felt like I had no power in my legs.  Thank goodness for gears, as it would be a spinning day.  Our start time was 10 am, and there were 17 riders in our group.  This is a pretty decent size compared to previous years (last year there were 4 in my group).
As we shuffled forward to the line, I was in the second row at the start.  We took off and a bunch of riders hammered to the front, and I was probably in 8 - 10th place going into the singletrack.  There wasn't much shuffling going on, but our line of riders began to string out.  I knew there were 2 Cross Country Cycle and one other rider off the front.

I made a couple of passes, and by halfway through the first lap I was at the back of the first chase group, but they had no sense of urgency, and passing was tight.  The 40-49 leaders caught up to us, and as they were making their aggressive passes, I would jump on their wheel and go.  The course was in fantastic shape after the rain, and there were areas that could be called "too fast" where you could easily get into trouble if you weren't paying attention.

I stayed amongst them for the remainder of the first lap.  The next two laps were almost like time trials.  I had no idea what position I was in, who was in front of me, or who was closing in.  At this point, it was a race of attrition.  I just kept whatever pace I could hold (read: decreasing) and reeled in riders when I could.

The third lap I was actually starting to feel better, but looking at the race data it was most likely do to my slowing pace and decreasing heart rate.  I crossed the line tired, but not suffering.  I raced with what I had, and finished.

When I crossed the line, the announcer stated I was in 4th place.  That was better than I expected, and by other accounts was correct.  I was sore, tired, and playing catch-up for a long time.  After changing, I went to look at the posted results, which again showed me in 4th.  The odd thing was that the times were off, like showing my total as 1h13m and 3rd as 1h8m, but I just assumed they were off by an hour for some reason.

I stayed around to cheer on the sport (and Expert SS riders) after their first lap, but intended on making the trip home as early as possible after a long weekend.  The began awards and when they got to opur group, I heard my name called as 3rd.  Totally surprised I sprinted (the best I could) across the parking area to the podium.  Brent handed me $30 and asked for my autograph on some form.  That was better than any medal.

In all it was a good weekend.  I am looking forward to a good rest before Mount Pleasant this weekend, after which I intent to apply for my Cat.4 upgrade.  I am not looking forward to tonight's TNR, as my legs still feel pretty dead.  Hopefully I can just hang at the back.