Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bravo Cucina/Big Bay Brewing presented by Farmers Insurance Whitefish Bay Classic 7/24/11

Wow, what a mouthful of a name. The Whitefish Bay Classic Criterium was my finale to superweek. It's the first time I've ever spent any time in Whitefish Bay or near the Bayshore mall. It's quite a pleasant location, and very welcoming to hordes of cyclists careening through their streets as well.

Sunday, July 24 was the last day of Superweek and I was ready for a full field of racers to compete against. It turned out that there were only 42 of us. Even though it wasn't at capacity, it's the largest Superweek race that I did this year. I think Superweek's numbers are hurting from the draw that Tour of America's Dairyland has produced. The Cat 4/5 field had 42 riders in total. The course had 6 corners and turns 1-4 were fairly technical with rough tarmac in turns 3 and 4. From riding the course in warm up, I knew that I would struggle a little in the early corners, but could make up lost ground on the long straightaway on the north side of the course.

***Just to clarify why I'd be losing ground in the early corners...I am a confident bike handler and I have good skills to rely on. However, I'm also a savvy enough rider that I don't trust a field of 40 amateur racers trying to cruise around 90 degree corners 3 abreast. In the 4/5 fields especially, the skill levels vary significantly so I'm always a little more cautious than some of my fellow racers. When the pace stretches the group into single file it's not so bad, but that doesn't happen quite as often as it maybe should.***

Aaaaand we're back! I had just moved to a new apartment the day before the Whitefish Bay race and was very tired going into the race after a week of packing, working and moving. I didn't feel very ready to race, but after a 20 minute warmup I was feeling a little more prepared than when I rolled out of bed that morning. On the start line I knew I'd have to follow wheels and pick carefully to make sure I'd stay safe if I wanted to keep up. The whistle blew and we rolled out for 22 laps on our 0.8 mile course. As usual the pace shot up for the first 5 laps or so while the group found its rhythm. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could nestle in behind the main group 15-20 wheels back and ride pretty comfortably. A few people moved to the front and raised the speed, but there were enough riders with teams of 2-4 riders that nothing escaped for awhile. I was starting to wonder if we'd just keep going around in circles without any real signs of aggression when a rider in a bright yellow kit took a flyer off the front with 10 laps to go.

As the attack went, I was probably 3 or 4 wheels from the front, keeping an eye on some of the riders who I knew would be contenders. I pulled off with a couple other guys and let other people start the chasing. The one rider stayed away for a full lap or so and then a couple others started to bridge across. There wasn't a particularly organized chase and people were fighting at the front over doing any work. It was feeling a little sketchy in the back with the surge and slow pattern, especially in corners 3 and 4 where the road was a bit beaten up. With 7 laps or so remaining I found my momentum carrying me to the front of the pack on the north-side straightaway and I made the mistake of letting it bring me to the front to lead the chase. I am really one of the dumbest smart people to ever race on two wheels when it comes to this circumstance. I know the strategy I should use during almost every race, but I don't always stick to the plan very well. I wait and I wait and try to let the group do the work to bring back the break because I never have any teammates, but then it's like dangling a steak in front of a dog for too long. There comes a point where you can't help but do more than just drool over it.

Thus, I found myself on the front riding tempo fast enough to string out the group behind me. I made up my mind to ride the next two corners and then drop off. It was nice having the liberty to take the corners fast and with a perfect line without other riders cutting under me or anything like that. I came into the home stretch and pulled off far enough that the riders behind me had to pull through. A KS energies rider came to the front and rode to the next corner and pulled off. By this point the gap had closed a little, but the rest of the peloton wasn't prepared to do anything. A couple riders jumped across to the break and I got stuck in a no-man's-land of sorts waiting for more of the pack to come through without losing too much speed. The end result was me in the wind for an entire lap too close to the finish. Inevitably, I do this to myself at some point in almost every race. Just a little more patience, or a couple of friends to work with and I'd be a lot better off.

Around 5 or 6 laps to go, the break was caught and we all caught our breath. The pace stayed fairly low until 2 laps to go and then it was a wild ride to the finish. I tried to move up on the north side straight during the finishing lap, but was out of luck. I had used a bit too much energy to make significant progress and didn't want to take the risks of going kamikaze on the last two corners to try to gain position. I moved up to 25th out of 36 finishers by the time I got across the line. Not a stellar performance, but not a bad day given the pre race circumstances either. All told, we averaged 25 MPH for 45 minutes, which felt surprisingly manageable. It's a good sign, but it may be that I'm coming back to form a little too late, now that my racing is pretty much done for the summer.

It's a been a good season. It unfortunately may be my last for a little while. Next summer is my first boards exam, l so we'll see if I can squeeze any racing in between boards and the beginning of third year. But that's too far to tell. I still have three weeks off before school starts again. For now we'll focus on my upcoming weeklong adventure out West in Colorado. Can't come soon enough! This year I'm going to try and ride Big Thomson Canyon up into Estes Park. I'll be back to tell all about it. Until then, enjoy the ride.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Superweek Whitnall Park Road Race- 7/18/11

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to race your bike in a sauna?

I found out exactly what that feels like this past Monday. It was hideously hot and humid as I started the Whitnall Park Road Race at 10:00 in the morning. In my opinion weather shouldn't be unbearable before noon. On Monday, though, it was. Of course, this didn't stop any of us from coming out to race. 23 of us lined up to broast ourselves in the terrible heat for the Men's Cat 4/5 field.

Whitnall Park is where I won a race in April, so in some ways I had a home court advantage. The course on Monday was slightly different--longer actually--and in the opposite direction that I had raced at the Whitnall Park Criterium. The roads were in decent shape, but not fantastic. However, the course had only one sharp turn which was a hard left hander before heading up the finishing climb. The course was rolling and finished with a short steep section approximately 0.5 miles from the finish with a flat/slightly downhill section for the final 300 meters or so. The hill meant the finish would be difficult, but that the final sprint might actually be fairly fast if you could recover in time to give it a go. Although, there was a huge dent in the road just 30 meters or so before the finish (I don't really know what else to call it) that stretched about 70% of the way across from left to right. This meant that my plan was to give a burst of speed on the final climb and then try to stay along the right of the road through to the finish line.

We rolled out only a few minutes late (which is a pretty amazing feat for Superweek) and started our 11 lap (~23 mile) "road race." The race was operated as a road race instead of a criterium which meant no free-lap rule and there was actually a support car driving behind us. Our first couple laps of this glorified circuit race were somewhat blistering in pace as the 4/5 field always seems to like. There was a strong wind from the west, so the north side of the course was a bit difficult as we dove down from the start line and then climbed up into a headwind.

I decided to race this one with my head instead of my legs, so I mostly just sat in following wheels while I let the racers with teammates do most of the work. It paid off and I still had some energy left in the tank to race strong during the last lap. Coming through to the start/finish at one lap to go I found myself in front with a couple other riders as we all spread across the road waiting for someone to take the lead. We eased around our first corner and into the downhill, so I just let myself freewheel easy and wound up on the front. There were a couple piddly attacks as we headed into the headwind and I let myself drift back 5 or 6 places while others initiated the chases. With about a mile to go, an attack lifted the pace as we headed back towards the finish line and I was prepared to stay with them. I got onto 4th or 5th wheel and pushed hard. We hit the hard left hander uphill and I just hung on. I had a point on the hill where I wanted to go all in, but I was forced by the high pace to start my jump two or three bike lengths earlier than I wanted to. It meant that I didn't quite have the power at the peak of the hill that I wanted to, but I was still with the front runners and it stopped me from getting passed by anyone else behind me. I was on the left side of the road and with too many people to make a wild move over to the right where I wanted to be, so I just made the best of my side as I could.

Two guys were strong enough to go off the front over the top and the rest of us were in wild pursuit. Tristan Horvath from MACK racing managed another win against the KS Energies rider who finished second. Meanwhile 9 of us were stampeding towards the line in a group sprint. About 25 meters before the finish I got squinched by the rider on my right as he veered off his line and the rider on my left who was trying to move off the barriers. I sat up enough to avoid a crash and probably sacrificed a place or two in my finish, but still managed 9th. It was a good day, albeit a VERY hot one. Looking back at my heart rate monitor, I recorded yet another new Max HR. 207 this time! This racing back into shape thing isn't going so badly after all.

Next up is the Bravo Cucina Italiana Criterium in Whitefish Bay on Sunday. After that Superweek will be done I won't likely have another race until mid August. Although, I will have more adventures in Colorado to tell about in the interim. Stay tuned.

Before I go. Props to Tristan Horvath! He raced the entire race as a marked man and most of the group made him do work on the front despite being a lone rider without any teammates on Monday. He earned the win the hard way. Nice Work.

Friday, July 15, 2011

South Shore Cyclery Classic 7/14/11

Yesterday I raced in my first Superweek race of the year. I had planned to start my Superweek Stint at the Geneva Grand Prix in Geneva, IL on 7/9/11. However, as luck would have it I was severely undertrained during June and then managed to strain my knee as I began to ramp up my training miles a couple weeks before the Geneva race. Bummer, eh?

That meant that yesterday's race in the South Shore Cyclery Classic was my first race since April. That's a long stint of too little riding and too little training, especially since this is supposed to be my summer of freedom before starting M2 year next year at MCW. I guess that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Anyhow, back to racing. I was happy to be back and ready to ride after dealing with a couple weeks of knee pain, but knew that I wasn't about to be competing for the podium. This is an important thing to figure out as close to the beginning of the race as possible. Sometimes it takes a few laps to know, but I knew it before I lined up so I set my goals accordingly. There were no primes to try for so I decided that I would try to instigate a breakaway close to the finish. I didn't entirely expect to be able to stay with a breakaway given my lack of miles in the past month but I figured it would be a good test and it would be more interesting than just sitting in the pack and going for a glorified group ride.

As I lined up, I met Ben Stengel of Team Emery's Third Coast Lifecyclists. I've read his race reports a few times while he was riding at ToAD and thought he'd be a good fella to try and align myself with after reading about his attacking style. We set out for 18 laps (19.06 miles) and after about 5 laps I found myself talking with him towards the back of the field discussing an opportune moment to make a break. He had already conferred with a few other riders and told me they were considering an attempt around 5 or 6 laps to go. I thought that sounded good and offered to help get away with them even if I couldn't stick it out all the way to the finish.

6 laps to go as we approached the start/finish line and the pace had just slowed after a surge had been brought back. I told Ben as we passed the line that if the pace was still a little sluggish on the back side of our 1 mile lap that I would hit out hard from the group to try and start a break.

That's exactly what I did, and I did it with all I had. I took off with a full bore sprint to corner #3 on the course. I glanced back and saw the whole pack spreading out across the road as they all sprinted in pursuit. I still had a gap as I made my way to corner #4 and one rider from MACK Racing bridged to me as we were coming out of the corner into the finishing straight. He took a pull and a third rider joined us crossing the start finish line. We weren't the most organized yet and I tried to figure out how to slot back into the line and recover a little bit. We rounded corner #1 and I found myself fighting to grab the wheel of a rider from Flatlandia cycling team. By the time we got back around and out of corner #2 I was back on the front and running out of steam. I pulled off and tried to hold my speed as I now had 3 breakaway compatriots, but I had been redlining for the whole lap and in the wind for about 75%. I decided to drop back to the pack, but as they came charging through in pursuit of the break I was too gassed to hang on there as well. That meant it was 4.5 laps of trying to make it to the Finish Line solo.

I kept my pace above 21 mph for most of my solo trip to the line, but never made any gains on the pack. In the end, the three other breakaway riders stayed away for the win with Tristan from MACK Racing taking it at the line while the other two rounded out the podium. I finished dead last. Yep, dead last. However, I've never had so much fun losing in my entire life. It was great. A few more training miles and I could have stayed with that breakaway (okay maybe double the training miles, but still...).

On the bright side I was able to break away from a hard charging pack and hold out around 30 MPH for almost half a mile before being joined by any other riders. AND I set a new Max HR for myself... 203! Crazy, eh?

In hindsight there were only 19 of us who finished so it might have been a better idea to stay in the pack since the prize money paid out to the top 15 finishers...but what fun would that have been? Oh well. That's bike racing!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Argyle Warriors

Argyle is back and badder than ever.

I think it's fairly safe to say that even after only 5 days of racing the folks at Garmin are having their best Tour de France ever. A win at the Team Time Trial followed by Tyler Farrar's first Tour de France stage win followed by a stunning uphill climbing effort by Thor Hushovd to stay in the yellow Jersey is a pretty stinkin' awesome way to charge through the first week of Le Grand Boucle

And equally exciting...Argyle is back! I for one was pretty unhappy when the always recognizable Garmin argyle got replaced by a classy-but-bland Garmin-Cervelo uniform at the beginning of the cycling season. Having made the typical team Cervelo move of changing from black to white in the heat of the summer, Vaughters must have used a little leverage to bring back that Garmin trademark we've all grown to know and love. I couldn't be happier (with their uniform or their results).

Best of luck to the Garmin boys as the take the Tour by storm.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I am not a Pro

I am not a Pro, and so when things go wrong, I try to take them in stride...unlike some of the frustrated professionals whose bikes are simply office equipment to them.

(I, admittedly, would throw a pen across the room into the garbage if it suddenly ruined an important document I was working on)