Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hello Cat 3! (Capitol Crit & Boston Harbor CR)

This weekend marked my entrance into the Cat 3 field in Wa bike racing. (Cat 1 is the highest amateur category in the US, and you start out as a 5 and move up from there - rules are here)

Well you have to jump into a new category at some point, and this was my chance. No reason in waiting until the end of the season to upgrade, I had the points, and upgrading was in fact the point of racing in the first place. When I first started watching local races a few years ago, the Cat 3's seemed so sleek, so slim, and so fast. They were half-way to pro for all I knew.

Fast forward a few years later, and they don't look so tough any more. (Well, a few of them still do!) And now I'm one of them!

The Capitol Crit Cat 3's, 50 minutes - Saturday 6/26/2010

It was a rush to make the ~1 hour drive down, and we left a tad late and got stuck in traffic... it was a close call, but there was no way I was going to forfeit the race just from being late. I'd rather get dropped from a race than be late to it!

Anyway we made it down with minutes to spare, 10 to be exact, barely enough time to sign up, do a lap, and line up. Upon lining up I noticed the pack was tiny... wtf? I thought this was a big annual race (at least, I think it used to be), but the word on the street is everyone is burned out from the racing season and taking a break. Or something. Screw that, at least a few of us showed up!

The course is interesting, right in front of Olympia's capitol dome, a slight uphill, some snaking turns, broken up pavement, and a little uphill sprint finish.

Only 15 racers, but it'll have to do. I didn't have a goal of getting a good placing for upgrade points, just wanted to hang on and see how it went. They say Cat 3 races aren't actually that much faster, just longer, smoother, and more animated.

And indeed, from the gun, attacks went up the road. I figured they were all doomed, as it was so early in the race! But after a while they were still out there, and guys were bridging up, or trying to. I thought about going as well, but was already at >180 bpm and didn't want to get dropped from my first Cat 3 race.

More people were going up the road, and it was all I could do but watch. At first the gap was around 10-20 seconds - a manageable gap so early in the race. I was this close to jumping on a wheel to try to bridge as well, but held back so as to not overdo it. Just hang on, see how it goes.

After a few more minutes the gap had grown to 30 seconds, then 40. And somehow 4-5 others had made it up there, leaving 10 or less of us behind! The race announcer even threatened to pull us towards the end, if we didn't close down some of the gap. And here I was thinking they were they break and we were the race, but maybe they were the race and we had been reduced to a chase group?

I also had no idea which teams had guys up the road, meaning I wasn't sure who was trying to "block" the chase and who was trying. Looking back it seems obvious, but at the time it was confusing.

But no way I'm getting pulled in my first Cat 3 race! So I got on the front a few times, though it hurt a good deal, and pulled. Or tried to. When I did so, it sent the heart rate way up (e.g. over 190) and I had to back off... ugh. There's just nowhere to hide in a group of 7-10 riders on a windy-ish day.

There were points where I thought I was going to have to pull myself (read: get dropped), but I kept on pushing. That's the name of the game, keep pushing on, don't give up. The finish is out there somewhere. (This idea works well in the rando world too)

Finally I look over to see they've stopped the count-down clock and switched to the lap count. 10 laps to go. I can handle that, just hang on..

5 to go. Still in there. Time to start thinking about the finish, and my positioning in the "pack." With 1 to go, I tried to get in the top 3-4, and did so.

Coming out of the final turn, there were 3 guys ahead of me. One took the turn a bit wide, so I passed him on the inside. Then he finished his wide turn, while sprinting and apparently looking down, and came back into the lane, where I was. Luckily I was ahead of him by enough that his wheel just hit my frame (or something), and I cringed a little, waiting to hear that sound. (of bikes & people hitting the ground)

After the dust settled I'd gotten 3rd in the "field sprint," for 8th overall. Not too shabby for my first Cat 3 race!

On the cool down lap the guy that almost ran into me came up and said, "You did this and that, yada yada yada..." and I replied, "hey file a complaint with the officials, I held my line!"

Later after we'd cooled down a bit I said I was sorry, even though I'm still pretty sure I was going straight at that point, and he came to the right into me.

Had I made a crazy move in that last 50-100 meters, the USAC officials would have relegated me or DQ'd me, or something. That's what they look for, it's part of their job. But nope, there I was in the results, scored as 8th, proof enough for me that I didn't do anything wrong in the sprint besides lose. Maybe next time I'll just yell during the whole sprint so people that aren't paying attention will at least know what's around them...

Boston Harbor Circuit Race - Cat 3, Sunday 6/27/2010

6 laps of 6 miles each, on rolling hills north of Olympia. Not very long of a race, but it'll do. Last year I had a rough time with the circuit races, placing 30th or worse in all of them. Dunno what it was about them, but they always hurt, bad.

Having survived the crit the day before, I had a little more confidence coming into this one. Plus I was gonna have some team mates in the race! They say team tactics don't really start until the 3's, so I was excited to see what the talk is all about.

And I was glad to see 50 or so other Cat 3's show up, so we had a decent field. Cool. Too bad we all had to be packed into one tiny lane... there isn't a ton of space to move up in these types of races!

Anyway we set off and did a 1/2 mile neutral lap, where people jockey for position for when the race really starts. We went down the hill, a sweeping right turn, then a slight uphill. The race was on.

In a big pack like this you can stay protected, and dare I say relax a bit! Instead of the 182 bpm I averaged for the whole 50 minutes of Saturday's crit (yes, ouch!), I looked down to see 130-150. Ahh, this is like a group ride around the lake!

Well, only for so long. In the first lap the attacks started, and there were many. Adam on RCR went off the front, but was reeled in. Groups of 2-4 would try, and maybe last 1/2 lap, but get pulled back in.

About halfway through a group of 4-5 was up the road maybe by 50m, and it looked promising. I was on my team mate Mike's wheel, and was going to try to bridge if he didn't, but he did. And once he did I tried my hand at "blocking," so I got on the front and went slow. But I didn't do it right, it was way too obvious, and a guy behind us (there was another guy from another team blocking as well) yelled, "C'mon guys, there's blocking and then there's blocking."

So I scooted over and let him through, he just wanted to bridge up. Maybe that was the last of the big teams would bridge up and the pack would be happy with the combination of riders up the road, and let them go. Which I'd be happy with since Mike was up there.

Of course you don't want to chase down your own team mate in a break-away, so once people starting amping up the pace I just let them do their thing. No need to break wind for anyone and make it easier for them to catch my guy up there!

The group got brought back though, and we were only about halfway through. Still plenty of racing left.

Later in the race I joked with Josh, "Hey man when are you going off the front?!" And he replied, in a serious voice, "Soon." Sure enough, within minutes he was heading up front, getting ready to make a move. In the beginning of the last lap he moved up the right side of the pack and rocketed off the front, solo.

By the time we hit the right turn leading to the first big-ish downhill, only maybe 30 seconds later, he had what seemed like a huge gap. "Fuck yeah, go Josh!" I yelled with glee. But 5-6 miles can be a long time when you're trying to average 25 mph or so, solo.

He stayed off the front for almost the whole lap, getting caught on the slow riser leading up to the 2nd biggish downhill. It was a great attack though, I enjoyed watching it. I thought about countering once he was caught but figured it would be a suicide mission.

So I waited for the field sprint, along with everyone else. The last mile features a little climb, then a flat/almost-downhill section leading to the finish line. Alex had told me this race usually ends in a big field sprint with a big crash, so I was up front to hope to avoid the chaos. Mike, a team mate who's been racing for 10 years or more, also advised me to stay in the top 15, at least, for the finish.

I was fearing the sprint in fact, not because of crashes, but because of the hill that led up to it. Lucky for me most others seemed to have the same thoughts, and the whole pack took it (relatively) easy from the 1k mark at the top of the hill to the 200-meter mark. A breather at the end of the race, last thing I would have expected! (Looking back, that would be the time to attack, though it's tough given the previous hill)

Anyway we hit the 200-meter sign, and everyone went at the same time. From 30 mph to 35 mph, and then....


Right in front of me guys started falling. At 35 mph no less... bikes and bodies flying, and that sound. Quite the view I had, that's for sure. Went left around the carnage, ran over a bunch of shattered plastic (sunglasses perhaps?), and saw a bike with big aero wheels cartwheeling towards me from the right.

Ok, that was close! After making it around the crash I pretty much sat up, given someone had already won and the top 6 was spoken for, the results didn't matter anymore. What mattered was that I made it out unscathed! Pretty sure I came in about 20th, but never saw the results so it's hard to say.

After the race we talked to Sean, one of the guys who went down. Shoulder had a quarter-size hole in it, but worse was that his back was covered in road rash, as if he'd been clawed by a dragon. Ouch.

Patrick, a nice guy I'd just met the day before, also got caught up in the "action" and looked about the same, if not worse.

At least they were walking around, but will certainly need to take a few weeks off to recover. Could've been me, it was so close.. but hey that's racing.

You don't get rewarded without taking some risks.

All in all it was a great weekend of racing! Next up is the Joe Matava crit on the 4th, one I did last year. Can't wait! Let's see if I can avoid the carnage... with more confidence I hope to start animating a bit more in these Cat 3 races. Time will tell.


Anonymous said...

Cap Crit there was probably 30 or so starters, only 15 finished. It's a tough course for a crit!

mattm said...

Awesome, that's even better!

Good to know I made "the cut".


Anonymous said...

"Maybe next time I'll just yell during the whole sprint so people that aren't paying attention will at least know what's around them..."

you know, that's not a bad idea.
then again, if it comes to a sprint I'll probably just pack it in anyway.

Steve Evans said...

"No need to break wind for anyone"

Wise words!

Hey matt, you still looking for some work?

Anonymous said...

matt, i've also read that another way to block is to pull guys out of the slipstream. i assume by a fake attempt to bridge. feel free to try it and then let me know if it works. tim

Anonymous said...

I am a recently strong cat5 who has been progressing fast. My last race I managed my energy and came in 5th, but I am disappointed i didnt just do 30 for the last two laps and sweep it. Any advice? Its always so easy to analyze what I should have done, but the truth is, i wish I really jumped on the sprint to the last corner when I should have ... and then outsprinted the other guys that made the break. I guess i am looking for magic advice for how to win at cat5