Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gig Harbor Circuit Race+ 2010

The main goal for this race last Saturday was to survive. Last year, I survived up to the last lap, then I got dropped. Came in outside the rolling enclosure that race, first time ever in my race career to come in to the silence of off the back.

In addition to surviving the race, I wanted to get in some extra miles in addition to the ~30 mile event. So I rode from Capitol Hill to the Fauntleroy ferry, then from Southworth to the race start in Gig Harbor. About 32 miles extra each way, not much, but the ferry adds a ton of time to the round trip!

The 3's race was at 11 am but I had to leave way early to catch the 7:30 ferry, since the 8:30 ferry would be cutting it close, with the 22 mile ride from Southworth to the race. And of course there are short but steep hills out there on the peninsula. Luckily most of them were steeper downhill on the way there, with a few big "rollers" too.

Got to the race a way earlier than I wanted to, but it was better than getting there too late. Was going up to the start when the 4/5's pack came shooting by in the opposite direction, with a few familiar faces in there.

Got registered and went back to watch the end of the 4/5's race. Was yelled at by the officials when crossing the road, even though the pack was a good 500 meters up the road, but that's their job I guess. But dammit I wanted to see the final sprint!

As the sprint became more clear, I saw a Second Ascent rider in blue/white leading the pack with a nice gap and good speed. As he gets nearer I see it's my friend Rob!! I give him a good shout and am really glad I'm filming this at this point.

The pack is extremely strung out behind them, and later we learn there was a crash at 1k to go.. yikes. No wonder they're all spread out..

And then Chad from Hagens rolls up with a broken handlebar, and blood splattered on his white shoe. Looked like his fingers hit the road and took some of the grinding on chipseal, damn.. and there I was sitting with no gloves at all (lost a pair and have been lazy about replacing them), really wishing I had some long-fingered gloves to use.. oh well.

Chatted with Rob, the race winner, and JC from my team, along with a few others after the race. Can't wait until they're in the 3's...

The Race

Suffering all around, on a nice summer day - 39 Cat 3's doing 7 laps:


I had two team mates in the race, but I told them up front my plan was just to survive, I had no intentions of going off the front or doing anything spectacular, due to last year's failure on this course.

And it felt weird to watch Eric P. go off the front about 4-5 times in the first two laps of our race, and not be able to try a counter-attack.. but it was great watching him put on a display of aggressiveness while it lasted (he ended up having to DNF due to a plastic bag getting in his rear derailleur of all things).

The hill on the backside near the 1k sign was still there, and still hard, but it did seem a tad easier this year. Was it the 18 lb bike instead of the 22 lb bike? Or the fact that I'm probably 5-10 lbs lighter as well since last year.. or all the training over the winter/sprint/summer? Perhaps all of the above.

But it wasn't easy by any means. I soldiered up it n the 53x25, and once the 53x23 for some reason, holding my spot in the pack or sometimes drifting backwards a bit. Only 45 seconds or a minute of suffering, but oh did it hurt. And it flattens out a bit at the top, then has one last up before you get over the top. Ouch. Would have been some good pictures from there..

On the first few laps a small dog (chihuahuah?) was running out of a driveway on the left, and yapping at our heels from about two inches away... that was interesting. People were yelling "DOG!! DOG!!" and swerving to the right a bit, pinching others on the right. Quite the scene.

But the dog was at least smart enough not to cross the center-line and dive into the pack.. but I figured if it came down to it I could bunny-hop it. Luckily it didn't come to that..

Besides the dog the race was pretty normal. There were attacks, and more attacks, and I watched them all with no response. Not the way I usually like to race but I just wanted to save energy, not waste it.

The downhill was fun, but a little scary - we must have been doing 40-45 mph in the pack, taking a wide right turn and just hoping the guy next to your doesn't decide to move into you, or randomly crash, which would take you out. And people are depending on you to keep a straight line as well, to not do anything drastic. Lots of trust, and it all worked out. Even with little divots/potholes on the left side that could really wake you up.

On the backside I realized that last year I hammered up the little riser before the flat section to the bigger climb, wasting energy. This year I took it only as hard as I needed to, no harder.

The final bell lap came, and it was time to lay it on the line. I was glad to still be in the race, and not be totally red-lining, though I was definitely close. On the climb near the end I was sliding backwards, and eventually found the wheel-car on my wheel, e.g. I was at the back of the pack! No!

So I made an effort to move up, and did. But there were still 15 people ahead of me and a lot of ground to make up.. the 1k-to-go sign came and went, and I didn't have enough gas in the tank to really get up front and have a go at 4th place (at this point there were two guys up the road, and one bridging to them).

The 200-meters-to-go sign came, and I'm in a pack, but too far back to really do anything useful. 20th place... oops, I kind of let that one slip by, wasn't up front like I should have been, guess I was more gassed than I thought. But it was fun..

The Ride Back

Was slow.. took about three hours (including stops) instead of the two it took to get out there. And it was hot. Like 95-degrees hot, which is a lot for the Seattle area! And it seemed much steeper going north on Crescent Way, one section had to be 15-20% for a good 1/4 mile.. good times.

But I made it. 97 miles total. What a day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Skagit Flats Cat 3 Circuit Race - Breaking Away

A few weeks ago I made it up to Silvana with three team mates, for the 1st in the Lake Wa Velo Circuit Race series. The first of a three-race circuit race series.

Last year I did horribly in circuit races, coming in 49th at Gig Harbor, and 45th at Carnation.. some of my worst placings all year! At Gig Harbor I remember finishing outside of the "rolling enclosure" of the race, getting dropped on the last time up the hill - not something I want to repeat this year.

I didn't make it to the Skagit Flats race last year, so this was a new race for me. All I knew about it was a few keywords: flat, fast, windy, crappy roads, crash-marred finish. What else could a budding Cat 3 ask for?

On the way up we planned the race a bit, and my "role" was to stay up front, cover breaks, and generally ride for Josh, our sprinter who's also a new Cat 3. He's a 2 on the track, and has been killing sprints so it made sense for him to be "the guy" for this race.

We made it out to the farmland of Silvana, and found a parking spot in the gravel lot in front of the old grain silo. It had been wet all morning but was drying up.

While getting ready in the parking lot, Rob, a 4 from Second Ascent, came by and said he crashed out! Sounds like there was one problematic corner, that took someone out in every lap of every field so far... yikes. Rob was OK, luckily, but it was nice to have the warning about this corner.

But luckily it dried up by the time we raced at 11 AM.

The Race

After an OK warmup of riding around the country roads, we lined up in a small-ish field of 35 riders. Only my 5th Cat 3 race, but already some of the faces of other competitors are becoming familiar.

We'd been warned many, many times about "the corner" where everyone was crashing, but it was drying up and never was a factor.

The course was on flat farm roads, and even featured a few squeezes when we went under a few railroad trestles, complete with big wooden posts and a tight space to get everyone through.

The wind was out, to be sure, and some decided to spend the next hour+ in the comfort of the pack, others like me, decided to go for better odds in the sprint and go off the front.

On the front, part of my role was to cover breakaways that looked promising - so that at least someone from the team would have a chance of winning should the break stay up the road.

Josh, the guy we were riding for, decided to take a few flyers, looking very strong - probably just getting warmed up. He upgraded to the 3's a few months before me, and is a great team mate to have since we're almost always riding well together, finishing pretty close to each other.

Eventually it was my turn to cover a break, and was sitting about 10th wheel when I saw the two riders up the road, about 200m ahead. I turned on the gas and stayed in the saddle, just riding by everyone on the front not with a race-winning sprint like I usually try, but just enough to do 30 mph instead of the 25 they were doing.

After 30 seconds of hammering, not looking back at all, and just focused on the group ahead, I found their wheels. They were working well and taking short pulls, a good sign.

One of them was Jennifer Wheeler, a super strong Cat 1 Hagens-Berman racer who was using our race as a warmup for her later Women's 1/2/3's race, the other from Second Ascent, I think. I was hurting once I made it, and sat on for a bit and announced that I was here, let's do it, etc.

The speed was good, doing 27-28 mph pretty well, taking super short pulls. We made it about a lap (6 miles) before a strong UW guy bridged up, but by this point I was hurting a lot and already skipping pulls again. Not because I wanted to get an advantage on anyone, but because I just couldn't sprint through every 30 seconds for that long. After all it was only the 3rd lap or so out of 5.

Jennifer said after a while that we needed someone from Team X, a big team not represented in the break, I think it was IJM perhaps. If they weren't in the break, they would chase us down, was the thinking - and she was right. I was hurting too much to think much about strategy at that point, so it was good someone was.

We got brought back in eventually, and it was kind of nice to do a leisurely 20-25 mph instead of the grueling 27+ we were pushing out in the wind.

Not too long after there was a sprint lap coming up (for series points), and I was sitting about halfway down the pack. Carl, a guy on my team who is also more experienced than me, said I probably wanted to be further up for the break that will inevitably go after the sprint. He was right, so I moved up to 10th wheel or so and got ready. Here we go again..

Holding on to the group of 4-5 that were going for the points was enough to establish a small gap coming through "the turn" and the straight section through the finish. Sure enough, once the sprint was complete, a group of 2-3 went.

We had a good group of 3-4 for a little while, but the organization wasn't as good as before, and we only stayed out there for maybe half a lap if I remember correctly.

The final lap eventually came, and we were chasing one guy off the front. As we came up to the final turn we were back in a big group, jockeying for position for the final sprint. I was sitting 20th wheel or so, and made a move up the side of the pack and slotted into 5th wheel, though looking back I wish I'd been more like 10th coming out of the turn, it's a long 300-400 meter sprint..

We lit up the sprint and I see the pack of 5-6 ahead, but I don't have enough to hold any wheels and start to slip backwards. We had maybe a small gap on the rest of the pack but before too long I'm getting swamped and am ready for it to be over, and roll in knowing I'm out of the top 6 (for upgrade points), damn. I hate those long sprints like that.

Ended up 11th, Josh got 8th. A lot of work for no real result for me or the team, but it was fun! And a great workout.


Josh coming into The Corner, with a nice gap on the field:

A sequence of the final sprint:

The buy in yellow ( and the guy in white (NWCC) are Mike & Ryan, both new 3's. And killing it. And killing my legs..

It was a pretty close sprint, but Mike took it - nice job!

Of course, I don't think anyone in the top 6 spent any time in the wind at all during the race, which was the winning strategy of the day. But sometimes, the break sticks.. and when it does, I want to be there!

Photos from