Monday, April 26, 2010

Vance Creek Road Race 2010

Staging for this race is at the terminated* Satsop nuke plant, quite the scene to get you motivated to ignite your legs for some solid NW road racing. 53 miles for the Masters 30+ 4/5's (read: old and beginners - yikes!)

Took some pics before the race (click for larger):

More pictures: Video of the Cat 3 winner coming in after 80 miles - solo no less!

Found some better photos of the Women's 1/2 race, Men's Cat 3, Men's Masters 30+ 4/5, and Men's 1/2 race.

The Race

Pre-race instructions included the note that "For some reason this [Masters 30+ Cat 4/5] field has had the most crashes this year - people moving into spaces that don't exist, etc. Keep it safe, fellas."

While I seem to always hear that Masters fields are "smoother & safer," this note from the race director was not a good sign. And indeed, there was a lot of sketchyness, but in the end I don't think anyone ever went down in this race.

We started on a downhill and there wasn't much of a neutral rollout, we just dove right into it. I don't mind descending in the pack, even at speeds close to 50 mph, but when you spot someone up ahead who is wobbly or "sketchy" doing that speed, all you can do is hope nothing bad happens. A crash that happens right in front of you can be really tough to avoid. And with gravel on the shoulder, it would be all too easy to take the wrong line and go down on it. Plenty of opportunities for mis-haps, but we came out in one piece.

We were doing four 13-mile loops, so we got plenty of time to see the course, and scope out the finishing climb. On the flat & windy section on the backside of the course, we were on a tiny farm road (smelled like farms too!) that was just about one lane wide.

First time through I was mid-pack and we hit a little patch of gravel, and I saw a guy's bike fishtail a bit, he'd hit the brakes.. lots of yelling & jostling up ahead... "Ugh, here we go," I thought.. sometimes I long for the velodrome, where you have no brakes and can't do stupid stuff like that. (no gravel there either)

The way people were yelling "GRAVEL!" and swerving all over the place, I thought it was a real patch of missing road - but on the second time through, I could see it was just a small island of gravel, not that big of a deal. But somehow enough to scare half the field half to death in the first 20 minutes of the race! Nerves I suppose.

The pace through the farm area the first time around seemed ridiculously slow, like 17-19 mph on flat, but it was windy and I wasn't up front so I didn't care too much. Nobody was off the front, so there was no rush I guess.

I was just trying to keep track of what speeds the pack was doing where, to get an idea of what I needed to do if/when I went off the front.

We got back to the finish climb, which was rolling hills then led to a 1km or so 3-5% grade, followed by a short 10%+ kicker leading to a false flat where the finish line was. Then some winding roads next to the Development Park, then back to the downhill. It was a day for the big ring indeed.

Break-away attempt

On the second lap there were two riders off the front, but not too far, attempting to get away. They looked pretty good, like this might be "the winning move", and I was in good position (about 10 wheels back) so I shot up the right side of the road, full sprint/1000+ watts/30+ mph, and bridged up to them. While bridging a guy from the red/black team (Olympia Orthopedics) was also bridging, at first sitting on my wheel, but I waved him through.

I think there was already one of his guys in the break, and maybe he was trying to just sit on my wheel and screw up my chances of staying in the break? (Covering the attack as they say)

We got up to the two other guys, and started hammering, but then I got caught in that damn catch-22 of bridging: I just red-lined bridging up here, and you want me to pull through?!! Doing 30 mph and getting your turn to pull, when close to red-lining, is not the best feeling. So I would just pull through, but weakly.

Just do what I could, even a weak pull was better than nothing. Then when I felt like resting, I just wouldn't pull through, even if they were verbally protesting. What do I care? It seemed like the Orthopedics guy was taking really short pulls right in front of me, leaving gaps, etc - all the classic tactics.

I've read in racing tactics books that if you want to lose a rider from the break, you get them on your wheel then open gaps between you and the wheel in front - then close then gap, and immediately pull off - making your "target" work harder than they should have to. Or maybe these two "Masters" were just that much stronger than me, and I was outclassed. But I felt like I was being worked over! Like they were teaming up on me... probably not but it felt that way.

We worked as much as we could together, but once on the flat & windy section, pulling through was tough. Really tough. Looking back the pack was catching up, but we still had a gap. 20-miles to go, hmmm. Chances not looking good. The original guy in the break was trying to coach us (or at least me) on. I'm saying I'm done, he says, "Let's just go at 80%, no need to give up completely."

While possibly true, I knew that he wasn't racing with my interests in mind. He just wanted an easier ride to the finish line.. Can't blame him, that's racing. I would do the same with a weaker rider with me in a break, no doubt. It's racing.

Before too long the pack caught up, our break only lasted a few miles. All the better though, I was ready for some recovery. Back in the shelter of the peloton, took some more sips of water, ate a gel. Now the plan turned into sit in and wait.

The Rest of the Race

A the beginning of the last lap, things sped up a bit as expected. On the flat/windy/farmy section one rider, guy I met but can't remember his name, went off the front in a well-time attack about 10k before the finish. He looked pretty strong, but if I had to guess I would say a lot of guys just let him go since he was unattached. Then by the time you realize he's got a nice gap, it's too big to bridge up to and you just have to see what happens..

Josh - strong team mate of mine who is about to be a Cat 3 - saw the opportunity and went for it. I heard grumbles of "they'll come back." from the pack, but it was hard to say. Would they? I knew I would come back if I tried, but hopefully Josh was fresher.

Casting Doubt

I think Byrne/Invent had one guy in the break at one point as well, but he came back to the pack before too long. Then his team was trying to organize a chase (their "leader" was yelling at someone to attack, but to no avail - I felt like asking him "why don't you attack?!"), but there was doubt in their minds, I could sense it.

I heard someone from Byrne (or maybe the red/black team, also with big numbers in this race) lament on the big gap opening between us and the break, and how they were about to hit a tailwind.

So I chimed in with "Oh yeah they're so far up there - we're racing for 3rd now! It's over guys, sorry." Just trying to put even more doubt in their minds. Hoping they would just give up the chase and settle for something other than a "W".

We could still see the break, but they were doing a decent speed, apparently faster than us. They were working harder than I was, this much I knew. The finish climb was coming up, so I suppose everyone in the pack was just hoping they'd come back as a result.

Since I had a team mate up in the break, I just made sure not do any work bringing us up to them, and sprinkled in a little trash-talk for good measure. Just sit in and wait to see if we caught them - and if so, go. Another option would have been to go up front and "block", but I wasn't ready to physically get in the way, just mentally.

We got on the final long-ish climb, and I was up front, perhaps 5th wheel. Nothing too grueling, we were all "saving up" for that final climb, though some teams were still giving chase, but still nothing serious. Even so, my previous break-away effort was wearing on me, I didn't have much left in the tank.

Final 1k

Once we got to the 1km-to-go sign the pace picked up, and I was maybe 10th wheel now, getting above 180 bpm (when it starts to hurt for me) and thinking about how I can't believe it's about to get steeper, then we're going to sprint! Looking up the line of bikes, that 15-20 feet seemed like too far a gap to close, when going uphill.

Just tried to use as little energy as possible, and match the pace.

I was holding good position, but the win was out of the question anyway, I figured. Still, points were up for grabs for 1st-9th places, so don't give up yet. People will fizzle on the final kick, and I was counting on passing a few of them when that happened.

Final Sprint

Near the right turn which is the steep kicker and the 200m sprint point, an unattached guy(?) came up the left side, going faster than our little paceline. Dammit! Just when I think I'm saving up for the final sprint, I have to go earlier than I wanted to - isn't that always the case?

I should have been able to respond, but felt somewhat out of gas (looking back, only took on one gel during the race + Cytomax, not a huge amount of calories) and just couldn't do it. Hold position, don't go too far backwards, was all I could think.

We hit the short/steep climb in the final 200m, and a new Cat 4 on Recycled Cycles, Erin, was in front of me looking strong - I figured Josh had already finished 1st or 2nd, but was hoping for at least another RCR in the top 10. Erin's gears started popping like metallic popcorn, at exactly the wrong time. I had visions of having to put a foot down and walk this section, but I was barely able to squeeze around him and continue my "sprint."

There were a few people up the road, and Jordan was on the left spectating, yelling at me to finish the sprint, which really did help. Well if someone was watching then I at least had to come in strong!

So I got a second wind, too bad there was only about 40m to go - one guy was about to cross the line, but I gave it all I had, and just barely beat him out for 9th. Just as he was looking over his shoulder no less - sorry bud, I needed that point!

Josh got 2nd, which gave him the points needed to upgrade to the 3's. I think their break was caught at the line after all - still, helluva show by Recycled Cycles Racing!

Still not sure if Masters races count for USAC upgrades (I've heard it both ways, but nothing official), but hopefully they do count, and I got one more point! That gives me 6 out of 20 towards the Cat 3 upgrade (and 4/10 top tens).

Huge thanks to Jordan for the ride down there! And of course thanks to the organizers for making it happen. It was a great race.


Matt Brittain said...

Good race description. I flatted in the second lap on the downhill in the CAT4 race, so I entered the Masters 30+ 4/5 race so my drive over from Walla Walla would not be wasted.

Regarding upgrades, from what I understand from the road category upgrades document, only CAT2s are limited by the number of points they can use in masters races to upgrade.

The stickier situation is that combined categories you cannot count riders from lower catgories in the field size when calculating points. Since there were 51 riders in our field, if between 2 and 30 of the riders were CAT5 we would go off of the 21-50 rider schedule, which only awards points for the top seven places. However, if it were me, I would still include the result on my upgrade request form.

matt m said...

Hey Matt,

Quite the drive from Walla Walla! I should know since we were in your neighborhood just a few weeks ago. Had a great time at ToWW..

So that clears up a lot about Masters fields and upgrades - though introduces a new twist with the split field sizes. Seems like there's no way to tell who is what cat, so yeah I'll just include it anyway and see what happens. (And I guess the top 10 still counts toward Cat 3 upgrade, just maybe not points). So complicated!

Coming out for any more races this season?

Matt Brittain said...

Yes. I am registered for this next weekend's races (Glenwood (Men 4)and Longbranch (Masters B)) as well as Wenatchee (Men 4). After that, I am playing it by ear which races I will attend.