Monday, March 26, 2012

North Bend Crit 2012

The last few weeks of racing have been fun, and good training too.
Two Sequims (both had crashes - and they say Mason is dangerous?!), neither race went all that well for me though I stayed upright. Then there was Indy Valley, which I at least made it through with the pack, unlike last year..

But finally a crit came along, in March! Some grumbled it was too early for one, but it sounded great to me! And this was a new one on the calendar, out east in North Bend right up against the Cascades.

A flat four-corner deal, sounds a lot like Ballard! Seemed a little shorter than that, but still great training for one of my favorite races. The pavement was mostly smooth, with just enough broken-up pavement on the backside to make it interesting.

Our Cat 3 field was doing only 40 minutes, and a small field. No rain either. Perfect! I had three teammates in the race, ready to throw down.

The Race

I was on the second row at the start, and of course got stuck behind someone who couldn't clip in, and had to go around while not running in to anyone else - ahhh, crits!! The we all jammed together for the first turn, with brakes screeching and people grumbling, oh crits. I guess people need to get the cobwebs out anyway, better now than at Volunteer Park coming up!

It was great to see teammates on the front, and going off the front too. I tried to stay up in the pack to avoid any crashes in the middle/back, and the accordion effect too. Overall it was a pretty clean race, though I did see a UW guy in the grass out of corner one, not sure what happened there.

Off The Front

With about 15 minutes to go there was one guy off the front and another dude jumped out of the pack to bridge, so I grabbed his wheel to bridge too. Before too long we made it up to the guy, and I was off the front! Breaks are hard..

Usually in crits I try to sit in the pack, or chase on the front/speed things up when necessary. After all if it comes down to a field sprint, it really helps to rest (coast) as much as possible, so I usually can't do both.

We stayed off for a few laps, but I eventually ran out of gas and decided to just sit on. Of course my break-mates weren't happy with that, but what can ya do. Then I started to think that a field sprint suited me better anyway, so demoralizing the break might actually work out, or so I thought.

The End

We eventually got caught by the field and before I knew it there were 5 laps to go, with everyone together, sweet. Time to get set up for the sprint! My team came up front and we started trying to speed things up, keep it safer and make it harder to move up.

But we started the leadout too early and couldn't hold it for 5 laps, so on the last lap someone else was on the front, damn. This is what training is all about - dialing in the experience so you can get it right next time.

The last lap came and my legs felt good, but I wasn't as far up as I wanted to be. Maybe 8th wheel or so, pretty happy with how things are going, but not in a great spot. I started to jump on the backstretch before the 3rd turn, but then for some reason I sat and coasted (actually my legs probably gave out!) and some guy jumped around everyone on the inside of the corner. Ah, crits. Love it.

Some yelling and two corners later and we're coming down the home stretch, and I have to pass Mr. I-like-to-jam-on-the-inside guy on his right, having to go around his wheel with not much space. Overtook a few guys in the final 100m, making ground slowly on 3rd place, but couldn't do it in time. 4th, I guess I'll take it for the first crit of the season!

As usual, better positioning at the end would have made the different in the result, but that's what practice is for.

Seward Park is starting up next Thursday, and then Volunteer Park on Saturday. Can't wait!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mason Lake #1, 2012: Still Winning Sprints on Open Pros

The Open Pro is one of the standards of road bicycles, a simple but sturdy wheel - 32 spokes front and rear, more or less a "box rim," e.g. no aero profile. I like the ceramic ones so the rims last forever.

Contrast that with the popular deeper, lighter, stiffer wheels seen in amateur (and pro) racing - some costing upwards of $2,500! You could say I like overcoming such technological advances with simple, proven - if not dirty - equipment. It started with Ballard 2010, continued with Ballard 2011, and now the Mason Lake Road Race (Cat 3's)!

First off I have to admit I didn't win this race - just the field sprint - I got 2nd. The guy that won the race was about 15 seconds ahead of the pack, solo -he'd taken off a mile or two from the finish.. just like last week in fact!

Mason Lake!

Love or hate it, Mason is what it is: raw road racing in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, some people hate the scenic tour of some of the area's nicest chipseal roads and windswept views. It also has a history of raining a ton, being cold, and of being a little chaotic at times.

Combine narrow roads, nervous riders, and chipseal and you've got Mason! Love it.

The race for our wily Cat 3 pack was a relatively short 60 miles, 5 laps of a 12 mile loop around Mason Lake (on the peninsula). After scoring a top 10 last week at Eatonville but having a shitty race (legs fell apart), of course I wanted to make it up with something better this time around.

With three strong teammates in the race, and some decent training over the winter, I figured I had a shot at something in this race. I've always been more of a crit guy (at least based on results), but I'm looking to branch out in to real racing: road racing.

Only problem is that a bunch of other dudes trained over the winter, and so did their teammates..

Erik from my team took off from the gun, in his usual fashion, holding off the field for quite a while. Of course he attacked as soon as he was caught, and continued to attack over and over again. No way I can do that..

When he was off the front we did our best to keep the pack at a reasonable pace, while of course being reasonable. And we took turns off the front as well.

Off the Front

I followed an attack about halfway through the race for some reason. A few minutes before that I was thinking about just sitting in and waiting for a sprint, but that can lead to a boring race. Plus I had a friend/teammate telling me it was my turn to do some work for the team shortly before that.

When this attack went off it looked fast, and I followed. And it was fast. In fact the guy was going so fast it seemed like it took forever to catch him. And then of course once you catch you're dying, gasping for air with legs on fire, thinking why am I out here on this guy's wheel doing as close to 30mph as we can?

He was nice about it and let me catch my breath before pulling through, and was probably glad to have company. Unless you're just that strong, you'll probably need help to ride away from 50+ riders who all paid to race today.

I pulled through and tried to keep the pace - though I have to say that without any data (most notably speed) it's hard to know if you're doing a good pace besides the way your legs feel. And if the pack is catching you..

We took off before the third turn on the course, and coming through the start/finish line we got a timecheck of 40 seconds. We were out of sight, and it started to click. My legs actually hurt a little less than they did when we started this breakaway! Then again, there were two laps to go, which could be a long time if you're already hurting.

Here I am, what passes for a Cat 3 sprinter in a breakaway and trying to hold the wheel of someone who seems to be good TTer. I'm a terrible TTer. What am I doing here again? Doing something different I guess. When I get up to the Cat 1/2's I'll need some more tricks up my sleeve for sure.

Once we made the turn up the slight hill/in to the headwind on the backside of the course things got REALLY hard. We continued and still had a gap, but it wasn't getting bigger for sure. At one point I looked back and saw the pack waaaay back there, and a solo guy trying to bridge. Hmm. He's out there alone, and it's windy.

I was hoping it'd be the HSP guy and we could all ride off in to the sunset, but instead the guy never made it up, and we got caught soon after. So it goes.

Caught, Counter

Of course Erik attacked as soon as we got caught, which was good. But hard to jump on wheel when you're trying to take a rest. Things settled down and we rode around for a while, only now I was more towards the back than I wanted to be.

Moving up on this course is tough, the roads are narrow and with 54 riders starting things get tight. And on the last lap everyone wants to be somewhere near the front.

A few attacks went off in the last half of the last lap, but I couldn't see since I was on the back, talking with Rob on how we needed to move the F up. Where to go? Gravel on the right, center line, on the left.. and I'm in the middle, boxed in.

Moving Up

It looks impossible at first, but you can do it. People move around and leave you a tiny spot to edge forward in to. Of course you can't be dangerous about it, but it's only dangerous if people go down right? Not like we bounced off people like a pinball, we gracefully made our way forward and to the left, to the center line.

From there people give just enough space for you to edge forward, and Rob moved over giving me the reins and a chance to get forward. Still at least 30 people back at this point, with the pack all bunched up and less than 10k to go.

A little yellow-line surfing, gap closing, and not-giving-up and eventually I found myself 20 guys back, things are getting better - light at the end of the tunnel. But not there yet.

Apex was on the front, not quite chasing (there's one guy a few meters up the road), and I knew there was at least one guy further up but that was it. We weren't racing for 1st at that point, but why not keep racing? Apex was setting up some kind of leadout train, with at least six dudes hammering on the front. I'll take it!

Looking back, had I known who was up the road, I might have chased, but looking back is always all too clear.. and all too easy.

Instead of attacking and trying to bridge I saw the 1km sign go by, and had figured out the course enough to know that it goes by quickly, and we'd probably be doing a pack sprint for the finish. Cool, I love pack sprints!

Pack Sprint!

Especially when sitting about 10-15th wheel leading up to the 200m sign. Apex guys were down to two by that point I think, peeling off faster than they'd planned most likely. A bunch of guys on their wheel and me seeing 10-15 wheel, salivating.

Unlike last week I didn't get too anxious and go at 300m, I waited until the virtual line drawn by that orange 200 meter sign that for some reason we wait to sprint for.

And at Mason that 200m sprint is uphill, a slight uphill at 3% or so. Something that suites me.

Anyway we finally get to the 200m sign, and everyone jumps. Let's do it. I'm on the left side of the road and pack, waiting to go in to the left lane since we get both lanes in the final sprint.

Guys are on the right, I'm gaining, and nobody is ahead of me, this is good! I'm out of the saddle, hammering my brains out. I can see to the right that there's one or two guys left and one has a little gap. But I'm gaining. Gaining. Jeez this sprint is taking forever, when is it gonna end?!!

The tent, clock, lap counter, and officials come in to view and I can see the white finish line. I'm still out of the saddle, going all out. Getting really close to the line, nobody is under my left arm, and I'm overtaking the guy on my right just before the line, BOOM! Did it, took my first field sprint in a road race!! Finally.

There are no prizes at Mason except bragging rights, which is awesome. There were no crashes in our race, which was awesome.

Yeah so some other guy actually won this race, and I gotta give him credit for that.. he's strong and obviously on my list of wheels to keep an eye on! But I'm pleased with the result so early in the season.

All those town-limit-sign sprints paid off I guess! Next time I just need to make sure it's for first place and not second.


The irony of this post about Open Pros is that I recently placed an order for some fancy Zipp tubular wheels. We'll see how they feel! Maybe I can coast across the line next time using those..


With 54 in the field, my placing in this race netted me 8 points. Add that to the 18 I have from last year, and that puts me just over the amount you need to upgrade to Cat 2.

Oh shit! Cat 2?! You mean the guys that race with the 1's, and the pro's if they show up to wreak havoc? Yeah, those 2's.

I need to learn how to time trial before I get up there and run with the big dogs.. and also help out some teammates on the way out of the 3's. But before too long I'll make my way further up the rungs closer to the upper end of amateur road racing.

It's a good thing I have a day job as a backup plan!

Next weekend Sequim & Mason are coming up! Can't wait. See you on the road..