Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ballard Twilight Criterium 2009

Saturday was the Ballard Criterium - an annual 1-kilometer race over some crappy roads in Old Ballard. A great spot to race at, with the bars and restaurants lining the street and people cheering you on along most of the route.

The roads are pretty bumpy and generally interesting to race on, what with nice ~30-mm gaps in the road on the backstretch, the man-hole cover surrounded by bricks that somehow rises up 6" from the road, some nice pot holes.. basically the works in terms of road wreckage.

I use to go watch this race since about 2004, and always dreamed of trying it out. Well, I tried it out finally! After having done decently at Seward Park the last few weeks, I figured I was as ready for this race as I'll ever be.

Photos & Story

The rear of the 4/5 (beginner's) pack, with the announcer's/judge's booth in the background. Having the announcer at the race was kind of cool, saying who was up front pulling (hard to tell from 50 people back) and little tidbits like that. Plus a big clock to remind you how much suffering you have left.

The head race official inspecting the Men's 4/5 field before the 4:00 PM race. I'm somewhere in there, nervous as hell. First crit! I think my legs were literally shaking before the race. Good way to get the HR up though, to hit the ground running.

And they're off! You can see the 79-person field stretched out by the high pace for the first 10 minutes or so. The pace wasn't too bad, as long as you weren't having to close a gap on someone in front of you.

The pack ended up shrinking quite a bit before the race was over. Since there was always someone hammering on the front, the pack barely got into a real thick group formation except for a few seconds on the back stretch each lap.

That's me in the SiR jersey, probably struggling to catch up after having to slow down for a crash (or close-call) somewhere along one of the corners or the back stretch. Luckily my wool outfit, steel frame, Open Pro rims, and mid-level Campy components didn't hold me back. My heart/lungs do that enough. Oh man was I hurting at points!

On the first few laps the pace was set really high to "shred the phreds" as they say. From the looks of this I'd say that's exactly what was happening at the back. I was somewhere in the middle, or at least trying to be. It was too much work to move up, and would end up being too much work if I moved back. The pace was pretty snappy for sure, but the hardest part is protecting your front wheel in the turns. I had some close calls, but stayed upright somehow.

More of the huge line of riders. It was probably strung out due to one of the big crashes.

I'm in there somewhere:

There we go again - a great shot:

And off we go for another lap - that first turn we were approaching was really rough, with some dirt & rocks in the road, big cracks, and some weird divots that you had to know about and prepare for. If you didn't know about them, you'd learn pretty quick.

Before too long, a few big crashes had taken out much of the peloton. In the end, only 29 people finished the race! (Out of 78 starters)

Trying to hang on when the pace got higher for a prime lap - after the first half of the race I finally had a chance to catch my breath a little, and while I wouldn't call it relaxing, I wasn't dying any more either.

The ever-shrinking pack: (or was this a straggling group?)

Then before I knew it it was time for the finish.. 35 minutes of racing done, and on the last lap the guy in white on the left below tried to go early, but a bunch of us jumped on his wheel. (I think, honestly it's mostly a blur)

The last lap was definitely faster than most of the others, and I worked really hard to stay up front, or close to it. I think there was a crash on this lap, or the one before it, and somehow that put me up towards the front of the pack.

I held on to the leaders through the last turn, and was happy to see the final stretch for the final time. 35 minutes is a long time at about 180 bpm.

I was too tired to put much into the sprint, so I just hammered it out from the seat - it was enough for 13th place! Pretty damn happy with that result.

Sailing in for 13th. Not bad for my first crit eh?

Huge thanks to Kira for taking all these great photos!

Cat 3 Men's Photo set: link
Cat 3/4 Women's Photo set: link
Cat 4/5 Men's photo set: link

Course Notes

Here's a shot Kira took of the 2nd turn, coming on to the back stretch. The little section of asphalt that the red riders are on was interesting, there was a gap/raised section that curved out in your line, and while it gave you something to shoot for when coming through at 50-60 km/h, it could also cause you to crash pretty easily. (from the Cat 3 Men's race)

The back stretch. It felt like the wind was coming from the east, which meant this section was a headwind. Staying in the pack was crucial here unless you felt like wasting a bunch of energy. My tactic on this turn was to brake as little as possible going through it, if at all, which is a challenge in the pack. If you slow down going into it, you're forced to sprint out of the turn, using a lot of energy. If you hold speed through the turn you still have to speed up a little to hang on, but not nearly as much. I rarely had to get out of the saddle here, while many seemed to be sprinting for their lives each lap here. (This pic is the 3's again)

The Crashes, Oh The Crashes

One thing you always hear about crits was that crashes were inevitable. Sure enough, our race had four crashes in it! I had a glimpse of three of them, though they're quickly becoming a blur in the mix of images from the race now. I heard some of the other races had crashes too, but it seemed like there were a lot of nervous people in the 4/5 field, which usually translates to sketchiness.

Crash 1 - On the straight back stretch, I was near the middle of the pack which was bunched up. Suddenly I heard the scratching/sliding sound of a bike going down, and saw one helmet smack in the middle of the riders ahead of me disappear. Within a split second just about all of the riders surrounding the fallen rider were also going down, either out of a reaction or getting hit by the guy going down. The classic chain-reaction effect.

This caused what seemed like at least 20 or so riders to go down. I had to swerve way to the left around the fallen/falling riders, and I distinctly remember one rider in white/red rolling out to the left as I went around - I barely cleared him. Whoa. And this was probably just 10 minutes into the race..

Crash 2 - I think this one was on turn three, coming back into the main stretch. It was behind me so I didn't see it, but someone's wheel probably just slid out. All I heard was that familiar sound of crashing bicycles & yelling.

Crash 3 - This one seemed pretty spectacular, though I didn't get to see all of it. Coming into the last turn, a rider on the inside got squeezed further inside, forcing him basically on to the sidewalk. I thought that would be enough to send them down, but they rode up the wheelchair ramp and seemed to be OK. Then when they came back on to the road (now slightly behind me, luckily), I just hear yelling and more of "that sound." This time much of the crowd could see the carnage, and let out a collective "!!!!!!"

Crash 4 - This was probably the worst one, or maybe it just seems that way since I had a decent view of it. Near the end of the race, a rider went down on the first turn. Either touched a wheel or hit one of the many obstacles in the road. All of a sudden there's a guy sliding on his backwards on his chest, and just looking up with open eyes in a state of shock. And there was at least another rider just about on top of this poor guy, about to crash on top of him or over him. Yikes.

I hope nobody got too messed up from all the carnage - didnt hear any ambulances so hopefully not. I got really lucky not to get sucked up into any of these.. though I know my day is coming eventually.


You can see the variability in the power data here (yellow line) - basically a lot of resting followed by a lot of jamming on the pedals. I could probably do some more work around saving energy for the final sprint, since I didn't have much left at the end.

The last few laps, including the "sprint" finish:

Ballard Crit 2009:
Duration: 34:17 (missed a few secs of the race)
Work: 500 kJ
TSS: 50.4 (intensity factor 0.939)
Norm Power: 268
VI: 1.1
Pw:HR: 9.5%
Pa:HR: -0.22%
Distance: 23.048 km
Elevation Gain: 251 m
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 966 243 watts
Heart Rate: 131 190 179 bpm
Cadence: 20 142 88 rpm
Speed: 6.5 57.9 40.1 kph
Crank Torque: 0 202.4 24.8 N-m

40.1 km/h - definitely faster than I usually ride! Though surprisingly not that much faster than the ~38 km/h Seward Park 4/5 races. It definitely felt like a faster ride, but on paper I suppose it wasn't all that much faster. It was definitely fun though.

Huge thanks to Chris for coming out and watching me suffer for a while, and cheering me on! We'll get to suffer together soon enough, as the SiR 600km is coming up next weekend! I'm excited to do another big ride, I haven't really done much distance since the 400km a few weeks ago.


matt m said...

Found another racer's account of this same race here.

Also spotted Chris's Rawland on flickr - cool!

Some more photos here.

And a bunch of photos from the 4/5 race from They even captured some of the crash carnage, like this nice shot.

Dan O said...

13th place - great job. Another fun to read race post.

Thanks for sharing.

matt m said...

Found some more blog entries about this race. Always interesting to see the same race from another's perspective.

This guy crashed out. I like the last line, "I am going to come back and punish people." That's the spirit!

Another report from the 4/5 race here.

And another one here.