Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mason Lake Road Race #1 2010: Now This Is PNW Racing!

After my abysmal performance at the Frostbite TT last weekend, I was excited to get back into road racing (e.g. in a pack), and believe it or not I'm a huge fan of the risky business that is road racing. The constant flow inside the pack, the draft, the sound of crashes, I love it all.

And I'm proud to report that I placed much better in this race than the last! Though I didn't win, it was a top ten. **** yeah. Read on for all the details.

Pack Racing Dynamics

Cornering in a criterium reminds me of diving down a set of stairs on a skateboard - you have to fully commit or you'll never make it. And while cornering isn't so much an issue in road racing, riding/handling in a pack certainly is. And you have to commit at certain points in a road race or you'll never make it to the end. You have to know when to push hard, and when to go soft.

And on a course with rolling hills, a bunch of sketchy Cat 5's (me included), first race of the season - you can be there was a lot of braking, and a lot of yelling in the race. Oh if I had a dime for every time I heard or had to yell "slowing!"

Were there crashes? Indeed, three of them.

Pre-Race Thoughts

Mason Lake is a race I've wanted to do for years now, and this time I was finally taking the dive in.

I've ridden on these roads before, though in a much different setting: last year's Fleche (24-hour ride). I remembered the chip-seal and rolling terrain, and the cold morning too.

Lots of other people out for the first road race of the season - 85 starters in Cat 5! That many riders jammed into one tiny PNW-peninsula road probably makes for quite a long train. Well, at least before the first riders get shelled and then the inevitable crashes that will splinter the field.

The Race

Rob from Second Ascent and I started out in about the middle of the pack, and I knew it was going to be tough to move up, but that's all a part of the fun!

We rolled out for a neutral start, getting around a turn, doing about 1/4 mile, then the lead-car honked - the signal that the race was on. But I don't think anyone else heard it because we stayed at the slowest pace I've ever done in a race.. but since my plan was to just get to the end, I didn't really care.

Our Cat 5 pack was doing three laps, about 34 miles in total. Very short for a road race, but as beginners this felt like a long-ish race to me & I'm sure others. So we started off conservatively, though someone went off the front somewhere in the first few miles, and I just watched them up the road, dangling in the wind. It looked like they were working so hard, head down, back flat, upper body undulating with all the work their doing out there solo. But 3 miles into the race probably isn't the place to go....

They did stay out front for a while, maybe a lap, but were pulled back in eventually.

My plan was to play it conservatively, e.g. the opposite of how I raced at Gig Harbor last year. Just wanted to save energy, stay out of the wind, and save energy. Another RCR team-mate was in the pack, but we didn't get a chance to connect once we got going and then he flatted out.


Ah, the sound of carbon meeting chip-seal, welcome to road racing in the PNW! First crash happened just a few bikes up from me on the first lap, someone's tire blew out, and then a guy's doing a flip over the bars in front of me. I had to slam on the brakes and put a foot down while coming to a full stop. Damn!! That's obviously one of the last things you want to do in a race..

The next thing I thought of was, "I hope I don't get hit from behind," and though I heard a lot of braking and yelling, I didn't feel anything knocking me down. Sweet! Made sure there was room to go around the guy who had just rolled around on the ground, and finally got going again, somehow not all that far off from the leaders so I didn't have to chase much.

Someone said they saw that the guy who fell was laughing, so I was glad to hear he was at least OK and taking it in stride.

The second and third crashes I could only hear, and didn't even time to imagine or look back and see. After the race I did hear that they had to call an ambulance for a head injury - but someone said the guy's eyes were open so that's a good sign. Hope he's OK...

Yes, this is racing. Love it.

The Last Lap

The last lap finally comes and the pace picks up a bit. This is when the action starts for us. I've done some work to get up to the top 20 riders or so, and the field is going into the wind on a backstretch, getting stretched out into an echelon of sorts. I was stuck on the outside, in the wind, but eventually someone came around and shielded me. Ahhh...

With 5-6 miles to go, at the top of the big hill near the end, the first serious attack comes. We all chase, of course. Soon after two guys are kind of off the front, and I chase on. I hear one of them say "let's go!" (e.g this is our chance) so I latch on and see how far we can get. Surely the pack is right behind us but it's fun to be on the 'sharp end of the spear' once in a while.

We're holding good speed, and taking short turns, but it doesn't last long and people start to come around. Then I jump on another train - I think it was the of Wa team that had four people together at the end (actually pretty impressive for Cat 5's).

Speed is picking up now, and looking back at the stats we hit at least 45 mph on one of the steep downhills. I remember screaming "no brakes!" hoping that we could jam down that hill as fast as possible.

At the bottom of the hill we shot by some riders like they were standing still - but it wasn't because I was stronger, I was just on the right wheel and essentially being sucked along in the draft. (And they'd also gone too early, in the wind, and were fading as a result)

Then the final straight-away appears, and I'm in the top 10. Excellent. Legs actually feel decent, as if I could sprint. (E.g. not on fire, which is usually the case at the end of a race for me)

Things are extremely fluid, and the 1-km-to-go sign appears. But I'm just waiting for the 200m mark to go, or even later since it was a slightly uphill sprint (~3% grade).

We finally all unleash and surge toward the line, and I try to jam in between two riders to eek out a top-5, since I could tell I was in contention for once. But it was too crowded and I had to ease off, nowhere to go. The final 5 minutes was a blast, especially the sprint - I think I yelled out "**** yeah!" during the sprint like one might do if they enjoyed a roller-coaster..

Ended up 7th overall, my best result yet!

Cat 5 Race Photos

Here is our Cat 5 field coming in for the finish.

That would be me in the blue Recycled Cycles Racing jersey behind the Rad Racing guy in red:
(Interesting that the pack started 85-strong, and ended up like what's pictured above - did we drop everyone just on that last fast stretch, or was that pack that thinned out just from the race itself?)

Looking behind the guy in the fore-ground in the shot below, you can (barely) see how the two riders on each side of me just barely edged out my wheel. Some may say a more aero rim would have gained me those few inches and thus two spots:
But I'm willing to believe if I'd played my cards right in the sprint (e.g. gone to the outside lane, where it wasn't crowded) my non-aero Open Pro could have sailed me to a victory, or closer at least.

More Photos

A shot of the pack from the Women's Cat 4 race:

And here's Jordan R. at the front of Men's Cat 4 race. He ended up third in the race, while his SCCA/Starbucks team-mate Mark got 4th - nice work guys! Can't wait to get into the 4's and chase your wheels.. (also congrats to Jordan L. who won the Men's 4 race and can now upgrade to the 3's - good luck!)

Kira took some shots of the Masters race as well, posted on her kirafoto site.

I'm so happy she was willing to drive all the way out there, and stand in the cold for a few hours! Sounds like it was really cold out there, as you can imagine standing around in the shade on an early March morning on the peninsula.. I think the temp was somewhere in the high 30's/low 40's? Anyway, thanks so much for coming out, Kira!! Couldn't have done this without you.

The Race by the Numbers

Lap 1: 20.8 mph avg, 152 watts, 150 bpm
Lap 2: 22.7 mph, 172 watts, 157 bpm
Lap 3: 23.0 mph, 208 watts, 164 bpm

mason #1 (w/o neutral rollout):

Duration: 1:28:56
Work: 934 kJ
TSS: 87.5 (intensity factor 0.768)
Norm Power: 219w
VI: 1.25
Distance: 33.108 mi
Elevation Gain: 2623 ft
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 971 175 watts
Heart Rate: 114 187 156 bpm
Cadence: 31 132 83 rpm
Speed: 1.5 45.8 22.3 mph

This is the race (smoothed) graph from WKO+ - from it you can see how the energy required to keep up increased, and how it wasn't until the very end that the hammer really came down.

(blue=speed, yellow=power, white=elevation, red=heart rate)

What I Did Correctly
  • Stayed in the front third of the pack - keep out of most of the 'accordion effect'
  • Played it conservative - don't sit in the wind, and just conserve energy until you really need it. I've read that the strongest sprinter doesn't always win the sprint - sometimes it's more about who has the most energy left at the end of the race. Therefore even though I don't have the most powerful sprint, I'm at least strong enough to be there at the end of the race and still have some sort of kick left at the end.
  • Stayed upright - though I must admit I had to slam on the brakes a few times, due to people in front of me, and Rob reminded me at one point that I was half-wheeling someone. And there was an instance on the last lap where I touched my front wheel to someone's back wheel, with a little overlap. What a strange feeling when you want to lean one way but your bike won't go! You just have to let your body move independently of the bike in cases like that. But it was a close call, and I would have been run over by a bunch of riders had that happened...
  • Don't jump too early - while it was temping to go at 2-3 miles to go, I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet..

Room For Improvement

There's always room for improvement, especially when you didn't actually win the race. And though I'm very happy with this race result, I've made some notes on what to do better next time:
  • Save myself the trouble and just line up in the front of the pack; working your way through a pack on a one-lane road takes time!
  • Get ready to jump out of the pack in the sprint - I need to be move around the peloton in the end and try not to go up through a crowded field.
  • Don't jam into a gap - ease into it. I think this was why we kept having to slow and speed up - I hear the higher categories are much "smoother" in that sense.
  • Don't forget to put on my frame number..
Anyway I had a blast at the race, thanks to the organizers for putting the whole event on, and the Mason Lake neighborhood for letting us take over their roads for a day. Can't wait for next weekend..


Anonymous said...

Nice racing yesterday. I was one of the bikesale guys blurting your name. . . I also went super early, my first race ever. I guess its normal for your first race to be to eager. -Alan

Dave said...

Hi Matt, that's me in the purple/white jersey pipping 2nd. Nice meeting you there, see you next weekend if you go back to Mason, Cheers -Dave

matt m said...

@Alan - I totally forgot about my mystery friend in the pack, I was wondering who that was calling my name out! Well done on your first race.

@Dave - Nice job on the 2nd! I wish I'd been on your wheel at the finish there... maybe next time. =]

See you guys on the road at some point I'm sure - I'll be at Sequim on Saturday, not sure about the next Mason.

How many races do you guys have to the 4's? One more for me..

Anonymous said...

...9 more. I'll be sure to say hello in sequim. -Alan

Anonymous said...

Whoops I actually have 4 more. Thanks to cycle u for hosting an upgrade course. -Alan

Joe P said...

Nice report, Matt.

Do you know how to throw your bike at the line yet? From that picture, it looks like you could have picked up a spot or two?

I threw my bike at the line of your time trial for old time's sake as the rando ride rolled through.

Unknown said...

The pile up with the head injury occurred only 4mi out from the finish, and I think only 15-20 wheels from the front. I think that opened the gap. Heard more riders may have gone down after that too. Anyway, I was taken down, injured my hip and will be out for at least a month. Nice riding with you guys and fun 3rd lap up to that point. Field seemed level enough that no one was going to stick a break without at least 6 strong riders getting a gap.. See you out there in May if I'm lucky. Be safe and enjoy the rest of the series guys.

matt m said...

Joe: That's a great point! I've heard of bike throws but honestly the thought didn't cross my mind at that point... I was just happy to be in the top 10, I couldn't think of much else. Next time.

PS: Though I won't be at the Chili Feed 200k on Sat, I'll be there in spirit. Say hi to everyone for me!

Nate: Damn sorry to hear about your injury.. hope you can heal up and get back out there - at least it's early in the season and there's time to heal.

Anonymous said...

Do you have anymore pictures from the race? - Randy (Byrne rider)

Unknown said...

hey just leaving that race in one piece is great work! btw im that guy in the black beating you by a tire, ps i had areo wheels on haha