Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ronald Reagan Criterium 2010

This past weekend, I returned to where it all began. The Ronald Reagan Criterium in sunny Dixon, IL, the childhood home of the last great Republican president.

Last year as a somewhat fatter Cat 5, I raced twice and got dropped twice. This year I came in with a season of racing under my belt, waning fitness, and a recent upgrade. My fitness has gone into the dumps recently with my work schedule being what it is. Sometimes life gets in the way of bike racing, and you have to pay the price. I signed up for the 3/4's race and 4/5's race. I went into the day with low expectations and was just there to enjoy some cham-time and turn the pedals in anger for one last time before things get cold. Zens and I met up around 11 and headed out to Dixon, making one last fateful stop at the Dekalb Oasis for some Panda Express (excessive foreshadowing).

We arrived in time to watch the 5's race. It was a nice feeling getting to watch someone race before my race...haven't had that experience in a while. I got in a good warmup and felt great heading into the 3/4's race. I expected to be nervous, but was really not. I figured things might be faster than normal but I had also heard that 3's brake less in the turns which is helpful for me. Both of these things were true. The race was fairly small, less than 30 starters I think. I was hanging in just fine, sitting midpack, for the first 10 minutes of the race. I was surprised at how good my legs, lungs and head felt, especially with the small hill that was added to the course this year. At around 11 minutes in, coming through the start finish, I knew something was wrong. My legs felt dead and my stomach felt alive. Lets just leave it at: the Panda won my 3/4's race. I was sad to DNF less than half way through the race, but seeing as I had a race more fitting to my ability later in the day, it was not too tough of a decision. I got to watch my teammate Brandon grab an impressive 3rd place. It's awesome to see such a hardworking guy finally get results in a big way.

We had to wait until 5:30 four the 4/5's race. By that time I was feeling a bit lethargic and bored. But I was somewhat motivated by the fact that most of the people I would be racing with already had a full race in their legs while I had just a warmup. I staged well in the second row and the race went off on time. The race started off fairly slow but was quite smooth for a 4/5's race. The wind was blowing hard in our faces on the backstretch up the hill, so it was difficult to find a place to move up. My race was pretty uneventful. I sat in the top 20 the whole race and tried to stay out of the wind. Coming into the 3 laps to go, I narrowly avoided a crash right at the start/finish line that only took out a couple of riders. I ended up sitting next to my teammates Zens and Dan. Zens said that it was time and set the team strategy in motion (which I was not a part of). Zens and Dan started moving up the outside on the hill to try and meetup with Brandon and eventually lead him out. I was feeling quite good at that point and jumped on Dan's wheel. Dan got pushed out slightly and narrowly avoid a cone which I actually ran over the base of. Happy to not have crashed, I had lost Dan's wheel and a lot of speed. Zens and Dan had successfully made it to the front and Zens laid it down with 2 to go and eventually brought the pack up to the break. Coming into the final two turns I came up the outside, past a shelled Zens, and was gaining position, but there was not enough room in the turn. I scrubbed speed to avoid a "front-yard" ending to my race. As I looked into the next corner I saw two Spidermonkey jersey's flying through the turn in perfect position. It was truly a thing of beauty. Our team tactics had worked...or something close to it! Brandon sprinted for a 3rd and Dan came in right behind him in 4th. I subscribe to the school of thought that sprinting at the back of the pack is pointless and dangerous. So I took an easy roll into the line extremely happy with how I had raced.

What a fantastic day for the Spidermonkeys and a great way to end my season. I am excited to take a break and then get back into training mode for a full season of 4's racing next year.

I will post some reflections on my first season later this week or next so check back for those.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grayslake Cycling Classic

This weekend marked the final race in the Illinois Cup (which has nothing to do with me because I'm a 5) at the Grayslake Cycling Classic in Prarie Crossing, IL. Before we get to the cycling, I just want to say that Prairie Crossing is far and away the most beautiful subdivision I have ever encountered. If you ever have the chance to check it out, I highly encourage it. The scenery is astounding, especially for a random community in Northern Illinois.

Grayslake was my second to last race in the 5's and I had high expectations for what I could do. The course was a 2 corner, 3 "bend" loop. It is kind of hard to imagine from a description so here is the map. The course was pancake-flat and the low number of turns meant that I would be able to use my momentum-maintaining build to my advantage.

The race started at 8am, which meant an insanely early wake-up call. Coupled with the fact that I had worked until midnight every night last week except for Friday, I had no idea how my body would respond. I was pinned and on the course with about 30 minutes to warm up. Luckily I had not forgotten how to ride a bike, but my legs felt really stiff. I finished my warm up and hung out by the start/finish and caught up with Mike from Tati and his new bike. I staged in the front row and the race took off pretty close to on time.

I was curious to see how the Cat 5's would handle the bends. My initial thoughts were correct. Since they were not turns, people did not treat them like turns. Needless to say, things got quite squirrely. Luckily they were wide enough that I could avoid the myriad interesting choices made by unattached riders. The race started off slow and there was a ton of wind on the back stretch which caused a lot of swarming. On the second lap a xXx rider rode all the way from the inside of the first turn all the way to the outside (yes, I literally held the guy next to me up and rode in the gutter as captain shittyturn tried to crash out the field, but I digress). At this point, I decided it was time to hopefully get ride of some of the people that were looking to cause others to touch the pavement. I jumped on the front near the final bend and opened up the legs a bit. I held a meaningless bit of separation for about half a lap before the field caught back up. Like clockwork, I rode through turn 2 on the front to hear the sounds of carbon and aluminum hit pavement behind me. It sounded really far back, so I assumed correctly that most of the people I knew would be contending for the win were safe behind me.

I rode well the rest of the race and was able to move around freely. On the second to last lap I was not paying close enough attention to positioning and let myself get 4-across the turn. Since I was on the outside, and did not recognize the kit of the rider next to me, I figured I had the choice of slowing down or riding the turn in the grass. Crap. I scrubbed a lot of speed and made it through the turn but had lost so much ground that the front of the field had actually gapped the group I was in. I sprinted back up to the front group and was sitting top 5 by the time we rolled through start/finish for the bell. Unluckily for me, for one time in the history Cat 5 bike racing, the pace sped up in the bell lap. This was great for preventing swarming, but not great after the effort I had just put in to get back in position. Coming out of turn two, the guy on the front (I believe the eventually winner) turned on the jets. I was able to stay Top 10 coming into the final bend but knew I had nothing left for the sprint. I waited as long as I could to stand up, but had nothing left by a sick feeling in my stomach. I rolled across the line 15th. Normally, I think I could consider this a decent result, but as I am nearing the end of my 5's career, I was hoping for a better result.

Next weekend is Glencoe. 7:15am start. It will be so nice to get out of the 5's.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tour of Elk Grove

Sorry for the late post! Work has been crazy this week, and I was unable to find a spare minute until now.

Last weekend was the infamous Tour of Elk Grove. The Tour of Elk Grove is a 3-day long pro-race with 2 days of amateur criterium racing interspersed amongst the pro racing. It is known mainly for two things. One of the highest amateur payouts in the country and an 180 degree turn. Yes, 180 degrees. You literally ride down one side of a street with a median, turn around at the median and come back. For those that are still confused, here is video proof. Coming off of a bunch of 4/5 races I was excited to see what I could do in the 5's. I had also had the chance to go out to Matteson for the Tuesday night crits put on by the South Chicago Wheelmen during the week and had ridden pretty well. My game plan going in would be to stay at the front to avoid the accordion effect (an inevitable crashes) out of the 180 degree turn and see what I could do at the end.

I awoke Saturday morning around 3:30am to rain hitting my A/C unit. I instantly thought about how I was going to be racing around an 180 degree turn in less than 6 hours...and it was now going to be at the very least, a wet 180 degree turn. Needless to say I didn't get a whole lot more sleep. I ate a good breakfast (finally nailed by pre-race fueling process I think!) and met up with my teammate Katie to head up to Elk Grove.

I registered with plenty of time and pinned on my numbers. I decided to race both heats because well, why not? If I'm going to go out and race, might as well take as many opportunities as possible. I got out on the course with plenty of time and got in a nice warm-up. Back to that turn...yeah the 180 degree one? My first time around it, I slowed down what I thought was a lot and barely made it out of the corner without hitting the hay bail on the outside of the turn. Ok, so going through at 19mph was not going to work, or at least if it was going to, I needed to fix my body position. At this point, my nerves started to take hold. Adding to my nerves was the fact that the turn was soaking wet and had brick-lined sidewalks running through it. I had the chance to chat with my teammate from last year, Jason, which calmed my nerves quite a bit as we rolled up to the line. I staged well, grabbing the last spot in the front next to more W2 riders than I had ever seen in one place. The W2 guys are all fairly steady and entertaining people to race with, so I was happy to see so many.

The whistle went off and I was able to get a good spot at the front. The first couple times around the turn were slow and shaky. People were riding just about everywhere in the turn but seemed to get through it ok. The rest of the course was simple and did not cause anything too interesting. On the third or fourth lap, I noticed I was sitting outside of the top ten, further back than I wanted to be. For added motivation, I looked down at the guy in front of me and saw some hairy legs. I knew it was time to move up. Lo and behold, as I'm going through the turn, I hear the pre-crash yell and hear the sound of carbon and aluminum hitting pavement. I'm not blaming hairy legs (I have no idea if he went down) but I was glad to be in the front when the inevitable Cat 5 crash happened. We took off with a group of about 15-20. For those that had been caught behind the crash and not gone down, the race was completely over.

Predictably, the pace picked up after the crash and W2 started sending guys off the front. I knew this was a problem, but there was not much I could do about it. The other W2 guys did a great job of blocking and finally a break of 2 stuck. The other rider turned out to be an unattached rider that only races Elk Grove (he's raced 4 years of Cat 5 races at Elk Grove!). So we were left to fight for third.

Coming into the bell lap, I was sitting top 10 and knew it was time to move up. Coming into the third to last turn, I took a fantastic line in the corner and with my acceleration out of the turn wound up sitting third wheel. Coming into the final turn I was sitting second wheel. I couldn't have asked for a better place to be sitting. Unfortunately for me the guy sitting in front of me was not Mark Renshaw and faded at 400m to go. Thus, I ended up being the final leadout man. I gave the sprint all I could and rolled through in 9th. I was happy to be there for the sprint but the finish left a little bit to be desired...oh well!

I rolled around the course and tried to recover as much as possible in the 5 minutes I had between races. I got to know Sean from xXx who would become an ally of sorts in the next race.

The second race went off and my body was not ready, but my legs felt fine so I gave it what I had. I sat top 20 for most of the race. There was a break with 2 unattached riders that did not stay away but broke up the pack quite a bit. I ended up sitting in what I thought was the pack off the back. Sean and I were trading motivational words and jokes about where we were sitting in terms of position. Coming into the final lap, we were in a group of 3 with a sizable gap on the bigger group behind us. We thought we were sitting in front of the back of the race. As it turned out, we were actually the first chase group and there were only about 5 riders ahead of us! Coming into the final turn, we joked about who would provide the leadout. The other guy in our group took off so I followed and as he faded after a very short time, I took off. I was feeling fine and was waiting for Sean to come around me and take what we thought was a poor placing off the back. Then people started flying around us on both sides. We had not looked back in the final turn because if we had, we would have realized that the main field was actually sitting just off Sean's wheel! After we saw at least 15 people fly by us in the field sprint, all we could do was laugh. The results said 26th which is about how well I had felt I raced...even though had I known what was going on behind me, I probably could have two top ten's in one day...shwoops!

I came away from Elk Grove with some confidence and proud of my top ten. I had raced well and my fitness had been good enough. I am excited for Grayslake this weekend. I have to start thinking about when I'm going to make the move to the 4's...I'm fine holding off for one more weekend.