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


Dessa said...

Sounds like good strategy to bridge to the break and let other teams chase. And if Josh designated sprinter, he should be in the pack all the time, never in the wind.

In break of 3 I think its critical to take longer pulls. Rotating fast there is sure thing to blow up. I've done this mistake few times. You need to ask guys to take longer pulls to make it work.

matt m said...

I agree about not getting out in the wind if he's the sprinter, but I think he just got anstsy - need to talk to him about that.. I know I would get impatient too, going off the front is fun sometimes.

Good point about longer pulls in a smaller break - the short pulls were fast but killing me for sure.

See ya on the road!