Friday, August 14, 2009

Seward Park 4/5 Race 8/13/09 - In The Rain

The forecast called for rain, and was it ever right. Looking at the animated weather map before the race, I could see a big blob of red/orange/yellow spots oozing towards Seattle. It wouldn't be the first time I'd race at Seward in the rain, just the second time. I remembered from last time that while the pace was still slower, it was still a race, and depending on who was pulling the pack it would still be a tough one.

As I set off at about 4:40 or so for the ride down to the race, it was lightly raining and somewhere in the mid to high 60's. My rain jacket quickly got wet, but since I chose to wear my (heavy wool) SiR jersey I felt nice and warm. Also wore Ibex wool knickers & thick wool socks I usually wear in the winter - but it also works great for rain gear, even in the summer.

I took it easy pedaling down, even avoiding chasing a strong guy in an Amgen kit, who ended up being in the same race I was doing. Usually I end up chasing people on that stretch of Lake Wa Blvd down to Seward, as there are always rabbits to chase other cyclists around to ride with.

Got to Seward by about 5:15, perfect timing though 10 minutes extra after signing in meant standing around under a tree, trying to stay out of the rain. Lining up meant two groups of people standing under two trees near the start line, trying to avoid the wet. With about four minutes to go I got out there and lined up, ready to get it on. Not a huge crowd, only 20-25 - but not surprising given the weather.

The Race

Pre-race instructions, given from under an umbrella as the rain was coming down pretty hard at this point, told us that unlike the usual at Seward, we would be doing a "win and out" format, borrowed from track racing. The idea is that instead of doing just 15 laps, we'd do 9 laps and then who ever crosses the line first wins, but then they pull out and the race continues. The next lap decides second, and then that person pulls out. Since they place up the first six riders at Seward, we had six deciding laps for a total of 15. That format change and the rain really made things interesting.

Most of the usual characters were there, including Mark on Starbucks team that usually kills it here. Jordan, riding for Blue Rooster, was also there, looking to place as he's done a few times already. Laurent, I think his name is, who rides for Byrne/Invent and who won the last two races I think. All wheels I was keeping an eye on.

The first lap of the race was a tad chilly, as I'd taken off my rain jacket in order to not overheat during the race. So my wet bare arms were catching wind and quite cold, though I either forgot about it or warmed up by the time we got on the uphill. It was a messy affair - riding in someone's draft also meant riding in their rooster-tail of water.

The trick is to sit just to the side of their wheel, and let the spray hit your shoulder instead of the face. Even then it's not perfect, but it at least allows you to see. On that note from the 2nd lap or so I had a stream of water coming into my right eye - salty water at that, so it stung.. I could barely find time to try to wipe my eye without knocking off my glasses, and even when I did it barely helped.

We stayed in a pack until the first prime lap came and Mark took it, stringing out the pack. After his prime win and going down the hill on the other side, I could see him motioning for someone to join his newly-forming break, but nobody had the energy or speed to catch him. And at that point I think people were still going around the hard left turn (e.g. way behind the head of the race), so the "pack" was now a line of strung out riders.

The order of riders from here on out was probably close to how it all ended. But remember that since we were racing a win-and-out format, once someone wins the race it keeps going for five more laps, each lap the winner of that placing drops out.

Because of that, I didn't want to try to chase Mark et al down (I was about 5-6 riders back, and maybe 20 meters) just to have him beat me in the sprint, and then have to fend off more riders after a failed attempt. If I was going to sprint, I wanted to make it stick and have that be the end of the race. Simple enough, but making it happen is tricky.

So the "final" lap comes around and Mark is way up front, further stretching everyone out. Jordan was up there somewhere, along with two or three other riders. When we came around on the final lap we could barely see but I assumed Mark won it, and we kept going, the next lap counting for 2nd place. (So there were still five more laps left, if that makes sense)

It was still so stretched out that I didn't want to chase and then lose a sprint only to have to try again. So I stayed in my spot, and after a lap or two there were only two riders around me, nobody visible up front or behind. Had everyone up front won their laps, or was this "our" turn?

As we come around the bend at the bottom of the hill, one of the riders in my group asks, "Is this our lap?" I say I'm not sure, the other rider says, "Yeah." Of course, we're all close to red-lining already so talk is not easy. I hope their right, and start thinking about a sprint which is about to happen in 30 seconds or so.

We come up to the steep uphill section, and I was happy that neither of my opponents (we were going for 4th or 5th, I wasn't sure) had gone for the sprint yet - much like on the velodrome, we were playing the cat and mouse game of who goes first, and who then jumps on their wheel and tries to overcome them before the line.

I've been doing some 1-minute intervals earlier in the week and was doing them well (480w for me, or 7.07 w/kg), and those practice intervals were in order to better in this exact situation.

So with a little confidence, as we crested the steepest part, I mutter something cheesy like, "let's do this" and give it my all for the finish, hoping that this is indeed the right lap to be sprinting for.

20 seconds or so of sprinting down, and I glance under my arm to see if anyone's there. I got the jump on them, but are they about to pass, or left in the dust? I see a wheel about 10 meters back, but it seemed to be slowly moving away - that's a good sign! Another kick and I'm approaching the line, giving it all I've got and really hoping this is the right lap to go on. No need to look back any more, I figure if they're gonna pass I'll find out, now is just the time to dump everything I have left. So I do.

I crossed the line alone, happy to have beat out my two opponents for this placing (ended up being 4th!), and started the cool-down in the parking lot next to the course. It takes me about 2-3 minutes to regain enough breath to have a meaningful conversation with anyone.

Sure enough, Mark took first (nice job!), and Jordan took 3rd. I was just happy to have sprinted at the right time, and to have enough kick to beat a few people out before the line. Training has been heading in the right direction, but still not enough for a win - one of these days..

The ride home was wet, as it was still raining - but at least it was a bit lighter now. I just looked forward to a warm shower once at home, and getting all that heavy wet wool off of me. While it does keep you warm, jeez it seemed to weigh a ton at the end of the ride.

And tomorrow: this (Gig Harbor circuit/road race - stay tuned for a report!)

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