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..


Sean Phillips said...

Nice job Matt.....2's???

Travis said...

Great job Matt. I was the Apex guy who was trying to hold you off. My 900m sprint just isn't quite there yet :). It wasn't my intention to start the sprint from 900m, but that's how it went down. We ended up 4th and 5th. It was great to see you guys out there animating the race. I wish we could have gotten a little help from the other heavily represented teams to catch that last break, but it is what it is. See you next weekend.


Bill said...

I think RCR did all they could in this one. That team didn't have the numbers to do it all..attacks, chasing, leadouts. You had to choose where to rest carefully and did really well in that sprint! IMO, this 3's field is a little too complacent about people going off the front and out of sight. That isn't going to happen at sequim, but you can bet he'll just try it again at mason.


General Mustachio said...

Fun race! That was a weird "leadout train," though -- it didn't even string anything out, everybody was just kind bunched up behind it. I think I even moved up a bunch during that last 1K. Probably everyone was just tired, or something.

Remember the leadout train you guys (RCR) had at Ballard? I couldn't even move up a single position once that baby got moving. It still hurts, just thinking about it!

Anonymous said...

Nice work Matt!


Chariot of Doom

bill said...

There was a rider up the road and nobody other than apex was willing to do anything about it. That effort still got two apex guys in the points. That was a chase and we most definitely would have caught him if *anyone* else just got on the horse and organized something. Was it not clear after Eatonville that the rider up the road was capable of staying away? I believe so.

The pack wasn't tired, just a little confused and a tad complacent. Psychologists like to call it the bystander effect. Shenanigans, I tell you.

Anonymous said...

I spoke with the Apex guys after the race and that wasn't a leadout train so much as an attempt to catch the guy who was off the front. They pulled the whole race for the last 5 miles because no other teams were willing to work. I didn't have any teammates out there, so I didn't help either... but those guys did a ton of work. I respect their efforts.

Rob McDaniel said...

Hey, don't listen to the haters -- getting your guys organized at the front deserves props. That takes some doing. You guys have lots of passion, I dig it. I'm going to love racing with you all this year.

I dunno about it being "slow" or whatever, that last 1K felt plenty fast to me -- I was certainly no help to anybody that last lap! I felt like an old man out there :/

Eric Cockrell said...

CHAPEAU! In and out of the 3's, that's what I like to see. Hopefully you'll have to worry about me this summer. BOX RIMS POR VIDA

Anonymous said...

Good to see a new blog entry.