Monday, April 25, 2011

Team Wisconsin (Whitnall Park) Spring Classic 4/23/2011

This past Saturday was the Whitnall Park Spring Classic here in Hales Corners, WI. It's only a stone's throw from home and I couldn't pass up the chance to race on a course so close to my new stomping grounds. Granted, I usually ride to the west of Whitnall Park, but let's not get too picky. The reality is I'm a pretty recent transplant as it is, so I don't have too many claims to stake on any particular territory just yet.

The Course:

Because of it's nearness to me, I decided to go ride the course a couple times within the last several weeks to make sure I knew what it would be like, i.e. where I wanted to be during what parts of the race, what line I wanted take, what the pavement was like, etc. etc.

The route was nice other than some pretty busted up tarmac. It was a short loop (1.1 miles) with two short steep hills. One that peaked just before the start/finish line and one on the backside of the course that started after the 90 degree right turn (#2 if you look at my map) and had a small flat in the middle (at #3). Based on this, I figured that the hill on the backside would filter the field and if I could hang on to the front group over the top I'd be in good shape come finishing time. On race day, there was a stiff west wind which punched you right in the nose as you went up the second half of the backside hill, but helped a little as you finished on the north side of the loop with a subtle cross-tailwind.

It was a course that suited me and I went into it feeling that I could do well, so I set my sights on a top 5 position. I decided that I'd be happy with top 10, thrilled with top 5 and ecstatic with a win. My strategy would be to hang out in the pack close to the front, but let people with teammates do the work since I was flying solo. This is hard for me to do, because I'd rather make a break and work together with a few guys than take my chances in the whole pack, but a quick call to my coach (aka my dad) beforehand reaffirmed what I was thinking and it helped make me a bit more patient come race time. Thanks Dad!

The Race:

The weather was messing with my head all week leading into the race. Last week, after all, was mostly rainy and miserable but there were glimpses of hope and the forecast had very low chances of rain for the day of. Come race day, the weather was beautiful despite rain all night before. The sun was shining and I think the temperature almost reached 60 F. It was certainly in the mid 50's at least. Thankfully, this dried up the roads very effectively and that was one more thing I didn't have to worry about.

I quickly realized it was a good thing that I preregistered because the race was full. 75 riders is a pretty good sized Cat 4/5 field and I started to wonder if my aspirations were a little too high. I started thinking top 10 was worth more than just happy, but I didn't let it damp my ambitions too much. I knew I was a reasonably strong member of the field after the Menomonee Park Crit a couple weeks ago, so I figured I may as well just go for it. Still 75 riders is a lot, and I had the misfortune of arriving on time instead of early to the start finish line which meant I was starting at the back of the peloton. Oof. The good news, though, about starting in last is that there's nowhere to go but up.

I quickly started moving up because I knew if I didn't it would be the death of my goals. They say in criteriums that "if you're not moving up, you're moving back" and with a field as big as this it was definitely true. The race didn't start at a particularly hectic pace and the rolling nature of the course meant that the field shuffled rapidly each time we started up one of the rollers. No one really wanted to work too hard on the front, so each hill saw the riders in back moving up around the outside to the front and most of the riders who had started closer to the front suddenly closer to the back. I tried to stay on the outside edge of the group to avoid getting lost in the mix and it worked really well. I was able to ride within the front 20 wheels for most of the race without sticking my nose in the wind too often. I basically just chose a strong rider who I was near each lap and tried to hold his wheel (which is probably the same thing he was doing).

We continued on like this for awhile. If it wasn't for the naturally frenetic nature of a criterium it would have been almost boring. One or two riders occasionally pushed the pace on the front as we passed the start/finish line, but because of the wind on the backside hill meant our pace slowed too much each lap to ever spit many people off. With 6 laps to go there was a prime. It was too close to the finish for me to be interested so I let myself drift back a little ways so I would stay out of trouble. Finally the pace was enough to spread out the pack a bit. To my dismay it appeared as though the group was no smaller than when we started. I had no desire to throw it down with 74 other amateurs in a mass sprint in the finish, so I made up my mind that I had to be really close to the front at the finish or it wasn't worth the risk of getting tangled up in a messy crash.

With only 5 laps to go, I had to take action. I used the next two laps, slowly making my way forward and using the hill on the backside of the lap to make bigger leaps when possible. With 3 laps to go I was sitting back within the front 1/4 of the race again trying to hold my position. I held steady for the lap and halfway through the second to last lap. This time as we went up the hill in back our pace slowed somewhat drastically again and I found myself being passed by riders on the outside. I tried not to wind up losing too much position. As we came up the hill for the one lap to go bell, the pack was fairly spread out across the road. I was staying as far outside as I could to avoid being boxed in and saw a rider start to go off the front. I jumped to catch him and got his wheel before anyone else reacted. He gave a good burst, but then he was done so a few other riders and I passed him in the low part of the course before turning uphill again (at #2). I felt great, I was rounding the corner within 5-10 riders from the front and knew that I could hold my position if the pace increased.

Behind me I heard the scrape and crunch sound of bike frame and asphalt meeting each other for the first time and all of us who had made it ahead jumped a little extra because we knew now that we would likely stay clear. In front of me, three riders from Rhythm Racing started to get organized and I hopped on the back of their train knowing I had no teammates of my own to help me out. At this point, I wasn't too sure who was behind me, but I was sure there were people close behind me and I just wanted them to stay there. The front two Rhythm guys dropped their man off a little early on the way up the backside hill, so I stayed behind him until I knew I could come around and stay ahead. I passed him just as I crested the hill and then it was just a dip down and back up to the right for the finish.

As we cruised down from the backside peak it was the moment I had been waiting for. My sprinting point was halfway up the finishing hill and I knew it by the long horizontal patch in the pavement. Waiting was killing me. I was using enough energy to stay in front, but didn't want to go too early and get passed on the line.

Wait for it...wait for spidey sense was tingling and I could feel the few guys who were with me creeping up in my peripheral vision...wait for it...GO, GO, GO!

I hit my mark and did the best I could to break the legs off the guys who thought they could go with me. My friend Nick H. was standing on the hill cheering me on (I have no idea was he was saying, but I knew he was there and it helped get me up the hill). As I crested the hill, I knew that my practice on the course had paid off because I had just enough in the tank to keep accelerating to the finish line. I wasn't about to look back and I gave it everything I had.

This is me on my way to the finish giving it everything I have.

I threw my right hand in the air as I crossed the finish line and gasped to catch my breath. It turns out I had a couple bike lengths to spare, but I wasn't about to risk it by being a doofus and sitting up or throwing my arms up to celebrate.

I won! I could hardly believe it. I was genuinely ecstatic (see above). It was a great day. Second and third places were scooped up by David Hudson of xXx Racing and Andrew Zens of Rhythm Racing, respectively. A good solid ride by all... I have to say, though, it's a bit ironic that the Team Wisconsin Spring Classic was won by a guy who recently moved here from Minnesota and the podium was rounded out by two riders from Illinois.

I finished my cool down lap and found my lovely wife who greeted me with a shout of, "You did it!" that only had a slight hint of surprise in it. I couldn't help joking with her andmy buddy Nick after the race that it was the most appropriate weekend for me to win for IC3 as it was Easter weekend and all.

The patience during the race paid off and the early season training has been well worth it. It looks like I'll get to race one more time before I have to put the bike aside for a little while and hit the books for finals (I am a medical student first and a bike racer second after all). Hopefully that means I'll have another chance for peak fitness in June or July when ToAD and Superweek come calling. That's still far enough out not to worry about, though. For now it's the Pedal for Proceeds next week and then concentrate on school.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope it was worth your time. Since you made it this far, here are some pictures to browse through. I may or may not be in wife is still working on her sports photography skills.

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