Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Race Report (Tour de Dung: March 20, 2010)

OK--this time I mean it.  I want to get through a road race without crashing.  As goals go, it is admittedly  low-reaching and defeatist.  With a "clean sheet" in my racing debut year of 2009, my 0-fer-2 in 2010 was an inauspicious start, particularly from my family's point of view.  Despite the tumbles, I finished both races and I was physically ready for another go at a glorious day in Sequim.  Our Cat 4 Race would technically begin in Winter and end in Spring.  That seasonal transformation was one I hoped to experience in regard to my own personal fortunes.

We lined up 5 SCCA/Starbucks racers in the 64 man Cat 4 field.  With outstanding results last week, series glory was possible for Mark M. (1st last week) and Bart (3rd).  My role would be to help them where I could.  I thought perhaps about lifting the pace on the short hills along the course could be the best way.

Our field was sent off at 9:51:25 AM, about 15 minutes earlier that last week in deference to the added Cat 5 Men and Cat 4 Women fields.  That coupled with the loss of an hour of solar heating because of "springing forward" last Sunday made for a slightly chillier start.  But it's hard to complain when I was able to race with bare legs, arm warmers and no booties in the late winter!

On the first lap, our team was all over the front of the pack.  While I didn't drive the train, I was a little concerned that the five of us were all expending effort that early.  It was a good warmup, though, and I sensed that I had good legs today.

Wind was not going to be a huge factor as it was relatively calm.  Perhaps, unlike last Saturday, that's why the field was a little more animated.  Many single rider attacks were launched.  The field generally let them go and allowed the frisky rider to suffer and dangle before faltering back into the fold.  The few multi-rider attempts were covered pretty easily.

My first opportunity to contribute was on the 3rd lap along Woodcock Road.  I carried momentum with me and simply rode off the front.  It wasn't an attack, but I did get a decent gap.  While of absolutely minimal value tactically, it was fun to be able to motor like that.  I settled into a sustainable TT mode in the drops and waited to let the pack come get me.  They eventually did after about a mile.  It was a brisk effort, but I felt like I had more in the tank.  I settled back in the fold.

With one lap to go, the field was still together.  I didn't like the prospect of another bunch sprint (thinking back to the finish line mayhem last Saturday), so I took another flyer off the front with about 8 miles to go.  Again it wasn't followed immediately, and so I augured in while resisting the urge to destroy myself to preserve a gap that would never hold up.  I kept up the intensity to keep the field honest up the short climbs on the backstretch.  This second spurt was a little more painful, but after being swallowed back by the bunch I had enough reserves to keep near the front.

Eventually, though, the procession down Woodcock Road found me slowly slipping backward again.  I was looking for good wheels to follow and move up, but I wasn't making good choices.  Fortuitously, a large gap formed in the middle of the pack prior to the final right turn, and I advanced through it as if the seas had parted for me.  Jeff was on the front now and Bart had worked his way forward too.  We were positioning well within the blob of 50+ riders all eager to take their chances in the dash to the line.

The right turn was clean and we were on the finishing straight.  Jeff's suicidal yeoman work in the last kilometer set up the sprint.  I was with teammates Mark M. and Mark T. on the left.  Just before the 200 meters to go sign, I yielded my position to Mark M. to let him work his magic on the far left.  I had some spring left and revved up my sprint as well.  I cut to the inside of Mark M., where there was a little more room for me to progress.   Mark M. ended up getting boxed unfortunately, but I sprinted well to come in 14th.

It was then that I noticed Bart pumping his fist with his 1st place finish!  The photos show that he absolutely slayed in the sprint!  What a great performance and another well deserved victory!  Smiles all around for SCCA/Starbucks!

Oh, and did I mention that I didn't crash today :-)

The ebbs and flows of Tour de Dung #2, as seen by my heart:

The Black & Green train drives the field.  I am 4th amongst the green-sleeved:

There wasn't a photo capturing my purported exploits off the front, but this one will do

Cruising along near the front

A brief respite in the back

Another win for SCCA/Starbucks!  Bart shows a clean set of wheels to the pack.  I was the inner most of the three SCCA/Starbucks sprinters on the right side of the photo and slotted home (and upright) in 14th.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Race Report (Tour de Dung: March 13, 2010)

Promises fulfilled of spring-like, dry weather and a strong team contingent compelled me to make the early AM drive to Sequim and toe the Cat 4 Men's line for a course where climber types have little chance for individual success.  Each of the four ~12 mile laps take in a mere 150 feet of elevation gain, most in three small rollers that barely require shifting.  This profile had no interest to me last season.  However, as a new member of the SCCA/Starbucks team, this year could be another chance to contribute to help our sprinters get to the line.  A personal objective would be to get back on the saddle quickly following the crash at Mason Lake on Sunday and get that monkey off my back.

There was a huge turnout in the Cat 4 Women and Cat 5 Men fields, prompting the race organizers to improvise a bit.  But our Cat 4 pack was a manageable size of 75 and got underway at 10:06:03 AM, with seven from SCCA/Starbucks in the mix.

The initial jostling to get the pack going was relatively innocuous, but there was a lot of "hurry up and brake" once we got rolling.  Perhaps that's what led to a rider going down within the first mile.  It was behind me, so I could only hear the impact and hope this wouldn't portend to how the day would continue.

I didn't do much on the first lap, content to stay in contact with teammates and learn the Tour de Dung course a bit.  Despite the flat terrain, the course affords opportunities to move throughout the pack.  There are many wide shoulders, and the peloton frequently strings out on the lengthy straight stretches.  The wind was hitting us from the east, so the opening portion of each lap had a headwind, while the tailwind return along Woodcock Road was more of a drag race.

On the second lap, after being sheltered within the pack until now, I made a more concerted effort to get up and do something.  I got my nose into the wind on Anderson Road and drove out in front for a while into the wind.  It was refreshing to hear the whoosh of the breeze, instead of the din of wheels surrounding me.  I kept up near the front and was able to mark a move by two Recycled Cycles riders.  I had enough left to put in a dig on the hill on Sequim-Dungeness Way, thinking this would be my little contribution to turn the screws on the race a bit.  It was an insignificant moment in the race, but I was pleased to be able to get about 10 minutes of high-end work in that stretch.

After the crest, another teammate (Mark M.) took over the reigns and drove the pack down the hill.  But he didn't notice the lead car's right turn and continued straight.  The pack yelled to alert him and he started braking before his U-turn to return back to the course, just as I made the right turn myself.  I hoped he would be able to get back latched on, but wasn't sure how much effort he would have to burn up to do so.

While I was at a comfortable place near the front, the ensuing miles taught me that I am still not very good at maintaining pack position.  I kept finding myself gradually slipping backward not due to fitness, but due to lack of courage.  As the course and pace was not shedding riders, this skill would be a key differentiator.  I reverted to the opportunities to move up on the shoulder or when the pack was strung out, with my biggest objective to be near teammates.

But, a race isn't continuous fretting over position.  There are peculiar moments that ease the tension.  On this course, it was the three pavement cutouts on Woodcock Road, dug deep enough to rattle the most inebriated and/or somnolent driver to an imminent stop sign.  The first approach was a bit of a surprise for many, including yours truly.  Crossing these mini-trenches at 28 - 30 mph while perched on a bike saddle isn't particularly recommended.  The pack was a bit more aware on future laps and a good laugh remained for those unfortuntate to miss a good line around the pain pits.

Midway in the third lap, Mark M. returned back up into the fold and recounted his tale of being dropped about 300 yards following his wrong turn episode.  I was really happy and inspired to see he made it back.  He wisely rested in the pack, but continued his ultimate voyage toward the front.  It was outstanding that he survived the encounter and still had something in the tank.

On the approach to the three trenches of terror, another surreal moment.  A gumball-sized pebble pin-balled its way through the pack, struck my bike's head tube and ricocheted forward.  That pebbles kick up and bounce off bikes and wheels isn't unusual, as high pressure tires catalyze the gravel launching process.  But the physics behind an object of this size and apparent velocity were daunting to consider.  It was enough to make me check my bike frame after the race, and be very grateful that my shin wasn't the place where the rock hit.

As the 4th and final lap began, we seemed destined for a pack sprint.  I worked my way forward, with the thought of marking any attacks, but didn't get in a position to do much.  One of our teammates (Mark T.) valiantly sacrificed himself on Sequim-Dungeness Way, trying to unhitch some.  But, the giant pack continued rolling together on Woodcock Road, with every racer having a few tailwind miles to consider how to get situated for the final right hand turn to Kitchen-Dick Lane, and where to be when we eventually had the full road with at 200m to the finish.  This scenario didn't play into my strengths at all, but I did my best to stay near the front 3rd of the pack as the race wound up.

Rounding the turn to the finishing straight, we had a little over 1km to the finish, with an ever so slight uphill.  I was on the right side of the road, hoping that at the 200m sign the pack would fan to the left and I would have room to advance.  But I was really too far back.  The sprint became a mess of people who went too early and I tried to navigate through them.  I got the incremental joy of picking off a couple of positions and subsequent motivation to keep plugging all the way to the line, but then I saw it.  A green shape ahead on the far left--a body in the air and undeniably one of my teammates.  The sound of bikes going down accompanied this and I was placed back into the scramble of having to navigate another crash, but this time at over 30 mph.  I shut down my effort right about the time I crossed the finish line while working to the right side of the road and hopeful safety.  But like a wave, the crash unfolded from left to right and washed over me.  By the time of my impact, I had been able to decelerate, but I was even more lucky that my crash path was down a small grassy embankment.  I was dumbfounded with having my second crash in my second road race of 2010, but a quick inventory showed bike and body to be stunningly okay again.

As I became aware of the world around me, there were a several crash victims who weren't so lucky.  Our teammate (Jordan) who went down got a healthy dose of road rash on his legs and back.  The rider near him ended up with a broken collarbone and another racer had head cuts and was moaning quite a bit.  The aid car came for him.  Quite a terrible way to end the race.

The results showed that our sprint dogs were well up to the task, earning 1st, 3rd, and 4th on the day!  That Mark M. survived the wrong turn and won the race anyway showed just how strong he was today.  I rolled in at 27th, but the bigger takeaway for me was being able to ride back to the car after the race and be able continue on for another day.  I give my best wishes to those who will need some more time to get back into the saddle.

A "normal" Cat 4 sprint finish, moments before going terribly awry:


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Race Report (Mason Lake: March 7, 2010)

Hooray!  The 2010 road race season finally arrived and I was eager to get back into the peloton.  And, with eight SCCA/Starbucks teammates joining me in the Cat 4 field, it was also exciting to think about how I could help contribute to team success.

I raced Mason Lake twice last year as a Cat 5 and had modest results considering they were my debut races.  The Cat 4 field takes an additional loop around the mostly-flat and sometimes narrow 12 mile circuit.  So, we'd be racing for around 48 miles.  The weather prognosticators called for rain only coming later in the day, and the prediction held up.  We had dry roads and high 40's to play in, which is soooo much better than Mason Lake #2 last year (my first ever road race) which was rainy and mid 30's.

Despite the TT yesterday, I arrived with good legs and energy reserves.  I didn't really put any of it on display during the first three laps.  Instead, I worked on a new skill for me, which was to move with teammates within the pack.  While racing last year, I floated around within the pack looking out for myself.  Now, I wanted to be able to keep with teammates and eventually help them move through the pack.  This turned out to be good practice for me, but it also kept me firmly sheltered in the front third to front half of the pack.  With this conservative strategy, I found myself feeling pretty refreshed as we began the fourth and final lap.  I hadn't done anything to help the team cause yet, and maybe I could now.

Trying to keep on Bill's wheel

For me, this 4th turn through the circuit will be far more memorable than the combined first three laps were forgettable.  As the weather system approached, the pack was hit with strong wind as we headed south.  This section began with a small rise that is easily summitted.  For some reason, one rider drifted to the right and the reaction from adjacent riders forced myself and another rider off the asphalt and onto an adjacent wide section of hard packed gravel.  Everyone stayed up.  I had sufficient speed going at the time and was able to stay upright through the gravel and work back into the fold, but lost a few positions.  It was a little spooky, but I took it in stride...er...pedal revolution.

With the strong headwind, the pack compacted a bit.  I had a growing and sinking feeling that my gravel encounter caused a rear tire puncture as the wheel felt a bit squirmy and squishy.  After a mile or so of racing  didn't reveal an obvious flat, I decided I was going to ride it out as long as it wasn't affecting my ability to stay in the pack.  Perhaps it was hypochondriasis, but more likely the wind gusts may have contributed to the sensation.  Regardless, as each mile ensued with the tire remaining intact I rolled on with the bunch and put that worry in the back of my thoughts.

We now made the right hand turn to descend towards the west side of the lake with about 5 miles to go in the race.  I felt like my chance was coming up on some rollers where I could perhaps gain some spots and in the best case make something happen.  "Frisky" was what I replied to a teammate when asking about my feelings at the time.  Before we could get very far, the lead car slowed us and shouts all around confirmed that our race was being neutralized.  The cause was soon apparent as an aid car and another vehicle overtook our slowed peloton on the left.  It's one of those thoughts that you try not to worry about: someone else's day ended horribly on the road ahead.

When the vehicles passed, we didn't resume to full racing.  We were kept neutral until we passed the accident scene itself.  I avoided the rubberneck urge, but felt bad for the guy.  Remaining "neutral" is ostensibly a gentleman's agreement as there is nobody to enforce the relative position of riders until racing resumes.  Regardless, the lengthy neutral period gave a recovery opportunity for more riders to feel "frisky".  So, the rollers that came up were not going to be a differentiator for me, as most others felt the same way.

The next moment I will never be able to reconstruct completely or accurately.  In some respects that it unfortunate, as it was my maiden voyage to tarmac during a bike race.  In the midst of the "frisky" charge toward the finish, with about 1.5 miles to go, my recollection is that two riders immediately in front of me began leaning into each other.  At least one went down.  My front wheel was now aimed at a bike whose wheels straddled my exit path and was skidding forward along the road.  It was clear that I was going to go down.  Unlike what I would have expected, time didn't stand still and I don't remember panicking.  Flash forward a few milliseconds and I am now on top of this sliding bike obstacle, but I don't remember if I was clipped into my own bike or not.  I can best describe the next second or two as "surfing" on top of this bike, fortuitously avoiding lots of potential road rash.  All around me was the grizzly sound of other bike carnage.

I came to a stop in the road, completely oozing with adrenaline.  The other crash victims were in a similar state, some choosing to release their adrenaline overload with profanity.  My outlet was a very unsportsmanlike desire to extricate my bike from the heap and solider on.  I wish I could say I was courteous enough to make sure everyone was alright, but "frisky" definitely took over.  My very superficial body and bike checkout passed (not that it wouldn't even if things turned out worse) and I jumped on board.  Both wheels had a very slight wobble and I opened up the brake calipers en route to keep racing.  The rear wheel spoke magnet was turned from the crash and it kept hitting the pick-up sensor with each revolution.  That adjustment would have to wait.  I surged forward with a time trial effort and picked up a couple places from people who were involved or slowed by the crash.  My click-click-click announced my arrival to each racer, but their cooler heads basically said "what the heck are you doing, dude?" and they let me go on with my futile effort.

I drove hard all the way to the line for a solo, anonymous finish.  To the spectators at the finish line, unaware of the crash, I felt like I wanted to share why I was working hard for no apparent reason.  My heart rate and effort was certainly not commensurate for the 34th place I scored on the day.

As the adrenaline slowly subsided after the race, I shared in the glory of teammates who got 3rd and 4th even though I didn't contribute at all to their success.  Later I took a little more inventory of my crash aftermath.  Both wheels were indeed out of true, but not unrecoverably so.  That that was the biggest problem was indeed fortunate.  I had ultimately landed on my knees, but didn't get any road rash.  I had a couple of very superficial leg scrapes from impacting unidentified bike parts.  Same was true for the left chainstay of my bike.  Nothing insurmountable at all.  If I had to crash, this was the way to do it.


Race Report (Ice Breaker Time Trial: March 6, 2010)

It's hard to be prosaic about a Time Trial.  Maybe that's because everything about a time trial is "hard", understood only within the context of one's own sensations and experience.  The race itself doesn't unfold with dramatic ebbs and flows.  It is only painted with shades of hurt over a fixed distance followed by a welcoming inrush of relief to slowly shoo out the accumulated pain.

My choice to subject myself to this torture wasn't on my race calendar, but I felt I left something on the table at last Sunday's Frostbite TT.  While the TT discipline may never be a strength of mine, I already have a good sense of what the effort should feel like if I play pain management correctly.  And, I wanted to come away feeling like I had done that.  The fact that it was to be sunny and dry this day was a clincher.

Equipment-wise, I genuflect to the high-zoot bling that mills around a TT race.  I don't have an aero frame or wheels.  However, I did have a bit of decision to make.  I've just started using the Profile ZBS TT clip-on aerobars, which are not cut to length yet and have the appearance of a large BBQ skewers.  On my Velo Vie Vitesse 300SE, which I used for the Frostbite TT, they arm rests were a little higher than I desired.  So, I swapped the bars over to my Titus Oseo, which put the bars lower and hopefully would help me achieve better aero position.

I drew another late start, but still had to arrive early enough to register.  Plenty of time on my hands for relaxing and for a deliberate preparation.  Our team had several starting off early in the morning and I enjoyed being around to encourage them on.  Most of us though had the benefit of the rising sun chasing the early morning chill away.  In fact, I was able to race without arm and leg warmers.  "Ice Breaker"?  Hardly!

Despite all the preparation time I had available to me, I pulled a rookie mistake and didn't check my Garmin's GPS time against the official race clock (which happened to be faster).  So, I was unaware when my name was initially called to the starting area, as I was off getting some last minute warm-up on a nearby dead end road.  Fortunately, my timing reference was only a couple of minutes off and I was able to work my way into the start queue in time for my scheduled start.  That mix-up tossed in a little bit of helpful adrenaline to get my systems ready.

The starter counted me down for my adventure to begin at 10:43:00 AM (well, 10:41:03).  From the bat, I was able to get into the "TT groove".  Perhaps the thought of Ian McKissick bearing down on me helped (I had a 60 second head start).  Regardless, my heart rate quickly approached where I wanted it.  Ian passed my like a freight train, way too soon to be believed, and disappeared up the road equally fast.  I remained undaunted though, and kept focusing on heart rate management.

The outbound leg had just a touch of wind, and the return leg had a minor incline to it.  And I was able to handle both with equal effort.  The twisty nature of Green Valley Road is much better for me mentally, as there is a limited view to see what and who are ahead.  The Frostbite TT course is quite the converse, and doesn't play well in my head.

For my 24:46.9 seconds on course, I felt like I redeemed myself--objective achieved.  The post race analysis of my heart rate is the most telling as to why my tail was between my legs after Frostbite and why I took comfort in this day's result.  Note the sloping increase in my heart rate during Frostbite versus the relatively constant effort for Ice Breaker.  I'm not sure the explanation on what happened at Frostbite, but I do know that it was indicative that I wasn't on my game.

Heart Rate: Frostbite TT (Feb. 28)

Heart Rate: Ice Breaker TT (Mar. 6)

There was a lot of confusion about the day's results which took quite a while to sort out, but as of now it appears I ended up 27th out of 76 in Cat 4/5 men.  For not being a TT guy, I'll take it!



Sunday, February 28, 2010

Opening Day 2010

Perhaps baseball is the best analogy here, despite my lack of passion for the sport.  As Major League Baseball's spring training comes to a close, the proverbial "hope springs eternal" resonates for all teams that are deadlocked with a 0-0 record.  A very lengthy season remains to be played out.  Despite the inordinate number of games to follow, the first regular season game takes on a special aura as a chance to begin afresh and to perhaps grab a fleeting glimpse of the improbable.

This was a perspective I tried to embrace for the Frostbite Time Trial today, my debut race of the 2010 season.  I was especially pleased with the wonderful support of my SCCA/Starbucks teammates, who turned out in force and with excellent camaraderie.  The calm and mild weather was another bonus to sprinkle on a grand day for a bike race (especially in "winter").  But, let's face it, I am the Kansas City Royals of flat-course time trialing.  A good opening day performance would be a one-off result, erased through the passage of time.  A more likely scenario, and one which played out today, was to hope for magic despite fielding a sub-par lineup.  And the magic act was disrobed for the charade that it was.

I have no real excuses to give.  I can whine a bit about how fatigued I was this week, and perhaps I lacked a little spark because of that.  But, I'm keeping a positive spin on this.  It was really endearing to return to the ritual of packing up the bike and gear on race day, re-acquainting with friends in the parking lot, polishing up the engine room with a disciplined warm-up, then giving it full gas on the road.  And, unlike last year, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to root for a large contingent of teammates going through the same process.  What a fantastic group!

It is a long season and I'm taking the microscope off the significance of today's performance.  I remain tremendously giddy for the 2010 season to be underway!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Pack Mule

Last night, I grimaced through extraordinarily uncomfortable bike commute thanks to an egregiously overstuffed backpack and a route that took me over 1000 feet of climbing.  Upon arrival at home, the relieving "thunk" of my backpack denting the garage floor vs. the relative ease of lifting my race bike (pressed into duty as a commuter on this glorious February sunny day) onto its storage hooks got me curious.  Time to pull out the bathroom scale...
  • Rider weight (including shoes, helmet, clothing,...) = 144.0 lbs
  • Bike weight (Velo Vie race bike festooned with headlight and taillight "ballast") = 16.8 lbs
  • Backpack weight (laptop PC, clothing, supplies, ...) = 14.0 lbs
Perhaps in the summer, when lights are unnecessary, my 15.4 lb Titus could someday "tilt the scale" in favor of the backpack.  On that day, I don't think I'll take the same hilly route...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Morning Owl

Insomnia.  Four syllables which conjure a palpable agony for those that have ever experienced it.  As a high mileage cyclist, I rarely experience this affliction.  Fortunately, I can usually go to sleep on command.  My bouts with the dreaded "I" are the rare occasions where I awaken during the night with my mind resolved that sleepy time is done.  It clinches the victory by spinning rapidly through a myriad of "to dos" for the coming day while suffocating the rest of my mental processing throughput with some irksome, unresolved frustration and/or an unusually creative seed.  Brain engaged, I am vanquished.

Not that this happens often, mind you.  I've really got nothing to complain about when it comes to sleep.  But, when it does happen, it's never on a weekend where I can just turn over and not worry about how much time until the alarm clock goes off.  I'm certain that the work ritual is a key ingredient in the grand scheme.

Somewhere along my serpentine path towards wisdom (or maybe it's just the years racking up), I raised the stakes by developing a bluff and kept at the ready somewhere near my nightstand: "Brain, you think you're so smart waking me up at 1:30AM, do ya?  Well, get on yer commuter gear and let's ride to work--now!  I dare ya!"  It has been quite the panacea, particularly in the winter when chilling darkness and foreboding weather makes lengthy eyes-wide-open time under the sheets seems so...calming...ahh....

This morning, though, the bluff was called.  After a bit of dallying around to delay the inevitable, I found myself kitted in biking gear, astride my fixed gear commuter, and turning the first pedal stroke just before 4:00AM...in a driving rain.

Again, I'm not going to complain here.  I am the early bird and really don't mind taking over as soon as the night owl's shift ends.  The silence of that hour is particularly engaging to me.  Urban society is quite surreal when its denizens are off snoozing, and you feel as if you are the only one outside to experience the absurd serenity.  I forge on and hear the swish of the rain off my tires--and little else.  I take in many more sights of my surroundings, having been unfettered from the overload of dealing with cars around me.  It's worth getting up early for, at least occasionally.

So, while the scenario this morning wasn't particularly novel to me, the next proposition was whether I could complete my entire 15 mile commute route without seeing another pedestrian or bicyclist.  I am continually amazed at how difficult this is to achieve.  There are some truly dedicated early birds that hit the Sammamish Trail, undaunted by weather and darkness.  Perhaps some of them think the same of me as we pass each other.

Today, it all came together and I completed my route "solo".  Well, almost.  While midway up the 520 Trail climb, I spied him.  The hunter.  The night owl who actually was an owl, perched on the chain link fence separating trail from highway.  My flashing headlight must have outed his fine lookout over the unsuspecting rabbit population in the grasses to my right.  Annoyed, he dashed over to a highway sign, and gave me an evil stare.  It conveyed confidence that he knew he could take me on, but that flashing nonsense was just too much of a bother (and perhaps anybody kooky enough to be riding a fixie is a bit too unpredictable).  With an audible sigh, he swooped low over oncoming "traffic" (a single car) on westbound 520.  And I, the early bird, the morning owl, soon was rewarded with the "worm" which was my office cubicle.