Monday, June 28, 2010

Tour of America's Dairyland

This past weekend I traveled up the Milwaukee area to race the final two races in the Tour of America's Dairyland series. ToAD is a ten-day quasi stage race that has grown quickly since its inception last year and may surpass Superweek next year as the most popular pro racing in the Chicago/Wisconsin area. My teammate Zens raced the whole series (you can get the full coverage here.) Drew and I went up to join him for the final two days and provide some motivation.

The first day I raced was the ISCorps Downer Classic in Milwaukee. The Downer Classic is a fairly short three (ish) corner crit. The notable part of the course comes in turn two, which is less than 90 degrees. The corner is fairly wide though and scares most people into slowing down enough to make it safe. ToAD only has Cat 4/5 fields so I would be racing with a lot of 4's, and quite a few who would soon be upgrading. This was a bit intimidating, but I figured worst case scenario, I get dropped...and get dropped is what I did.

I intended to take the 2 or so weeks before these races to work on my fitness and lose a bit of weight. Due to work and in some cases, bad luck, I didn't find time for the training that I wanted. I did lose some weight and rolled up to the line about 5 pounds lighter than my previous race. I mean this not as an excuse, but a learning experience in how quickly I can lose my race fitness, even during the season. Back to the racing...

The overall leader of the Cat 4/5 series attacked off the gun and quickly got away with another rider. Since this was a Cat 4/5's race, of course no break was going to stick...but this just meant that the pace was fast from the start. My staging sucked and I started all the way at the back of a 50+ field without any of my teammates. I was able to move up a couple spots within the first few laps, but sitting in 40th place in this field was brutal. The main reason was turn two where we had to scrub all of our speed and then try and catch back up to the front of the field with only a short straightaway to do it. The other reason was that people were falling off the field at a rapid pace causing me to continually get caught behind huge gaps. I like to think that a month ago I would have had the fitness to overcome this stuff, but alas I did not have it. So about halfway through the race I dropped off the main field and was on my own.

I rode for about 3 laps by myself and eventually waited for the group of about 5 people that had formed behind me. I rode with these guys for the remainder of the race and did a lot of the work on the front. It was good training, and nice to be able to ride with people even when off the back.

In the second to last lap, I was sitting 3rd wheel in the group and wasn't paying enough attention on turn two. I was slightly overlapped with the rider in front of me going into the turn and he took the turn all the way to the curb...which meant that I had run out of real estate. I did a fairly good job of trying to save it, but my back wheel slid out in the sand in the gutter and clipped the curb. I went rolling off the course and hit a cement post that fortunately had padding around it! My bike was fine and I landed in the grass somehow completely avoiding any road rash, which was awesome. I threw my chain back on and jumped in with another group that had dropped off the field.

After Saturday, my goal for Sunday was to warm up better, stage better and try to hang on to the pack for more laps, hopefully all of them.

Sunday was the Carl Zach Cycling Classic in Waukesha. Another fairly simple course with six turns, a small ascent coming out of turn 1, a windy, bumpy back stretch, a small descent in turn 5, and a 250m slightly uphill (not so slightly) bumpy finish. I warmed up and staged much better on Sunday but simply did not have the legs to hang with the pack. There was actually a break of 4 riders that ended up staying away and the chase group was down to less than 10 riders in the end. So I didn't feel so bad falling off the back. I rode a much better race and was able to shut down most of the gaps that formed in front of me. But after about 30 minutes, I was about 25m behind the field for about 2 laps. I was trying to close the gap but I started to realize that it was not going to happen. Repeating Saturday's race report (without the pole), I rode with the same group off the back and got to sprint out the end with them this time.

Overall, I had a great weekend, even if the racing was not so great. I have the motivation I need to get my fitness back, so hopefully that will turn into an increase in my hours on the bike each week...and I really can't wait to get back to the 5's (even if it's short lived!)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Melon City Criterium 2010

We finished off a great weekend of racing in Iowa with the Melon City Criterium in Muscatine's Weed Park. The race takes place in a somewhat secluded park in Muscatine and is a mile long closed course. Melon City, besides being the filler between Snake Alley and the "Cage Match", is known for it's "speed bump". To explain, the course is fairly simple: slight uphill start, gradual turn, 90 degree turn, slightly left turning descent, SPEED BUMP, climb, 90 degree turn, chicane (Janette's term, I'm not sure I know what "chicane" means) and downhill finish. Hitting a speed bump on a road bike at 40 mph sounds utterly terrifying to me...which is why, as I suspected, it's not what I consider a speed bump but more of a speed "hump". The speed bump was fairly gradual and was more of a ramp than anything else.

EDIT: My teammate Zens did some awesome camera work documenting the speed bump with his flipcam. After watching the video, my only reaction is "holy s*$%!". I guess adrenaline helps in situations like this.

I woke up Sunday morning mentally fried from the day before. My body felt fine but I had no excitement whatsoever. To be perfectly honest, I carried this attitude until around lap 4 of the actual race. I had decided that my embarrassing performance at the Snake was due to being overheated on the start line (among the other obvious factors). On Saturday I think that I had warmed up my legs enough, but my body temperature too much. On Sunday I opted for a quick 15 minute spin with a cold water bottle over the head and a relaxing walk up to the start line.

Our race was about 40 minutes behind schedule which gave me even more time to cool off and wallow in my indifference. When it was finally our turn, I lined up in the first row and our race was off. Right off the start line, some guy attacked. I am pretty sure he was the eventual winner, but I am not positive. I followed because he wasn't going very fast anyways. Being the biggest rider in the race, I of course took the descent faster than everyone else and ended up first on the climb. (The speed bump ended up having no bearing whatsoever on my race. I don't think I took it "correctly" until Lap 7, but it didn't have any effect on me or the race.) I had decided pre-race to take the climb in the big ring and had was undecided on standing vs. sitting. I was feeling fast coming off the descent so I took it WAY too big of a gear. I killed my rhythm and ended up doing way to much work to maintain a top 10 position going into lap 2. I got to the top of the climb and was red lining...kind of ridiculous for the first lap of an 8 lap crit.

Lap 2 things settled down. The climb had whittled the lead group a bit, down to about 20 riders. The second lap I found my rhythm on the climb and maintained position. Lap 3, I saw some Cat 5 hilarity as a rider launched himself head first over the curb...while trying to take a drink! Unreal. He apparently had not read Luke's Tip #15.

By Lap 4, the lead group was down to 12 riders. On the climb, a rider attacked off the front and two other riders followed. I was sitting second wheel after the attack left and I had no intentions or the adequate energy to chase down the attack...neither did anyone else. I was left in a group of nine that would not grow or shrink at all before the final climb.

I realized during the race that I was saving a lot of energy compared to other riders because of my fat-man descending skills. I did not have to pedal to maintain position until 300 meters or so after the other riders began pedaling up the climb. I hoped that I would be able to use this during the final laps. I decided to try to move up to the front on Lap 7, hit the descent in the front in the final lap from which I thought I could easily take 4th.

We hit the climb in Lap 7 and I was not the only rider that had planned to attack the climb. The pace increased uncomfortably and I found myself at the top in the same position (mid-pack) but with much less oxygen than I would have preferred. The went as hard as I could the final lap. I picked off 3 riders on the final climb but there was no sprint to be had for anyone. I came in 9th, my best result yet. I was extremely happy that I was able to hang in that hilly of a crit. My days as a 5 are quickly coming to an end, but this crit gave me hope that I will have the fitness to be competitive in the next category.