Sunday, July 1, 2007

Debrief our Wachusett Road Stage Debacle

I am going to lay out the facts, avoid commentary. You provide the comments, ok?

We entered the race with me in 1st, 20 seconds ahead of Kathleen (in the sprint jersey), then Megan Gaurnier of Terry, then Hiroko 9 seconds back, then Rebecca 28 seconds behind her. Goals were to keep the leader’s jersey (I think but am not entirely clear that we wanted to keep it for me), keep the points jersey, and win the stage. The plan was for Nina and Arielle to cover moves in the first three laps of the race, then this role would fall on Rebecca and Hiroko. Kathleen would get the sprints. If the race was still together late, Rebecca and Hiroko had license to attack. On the final climb, ideally we could ride it together, not take responsibility for driving it, and try to win the stage if we could do this without jeopardizing the leader's jersey. Rebecca was calling the shots on the radio, with Greg in the caravan. The race started slow slow, 15mph slow. I was chilling out, not super well positioned, maybe 20-30th, Kathleen too. Arielle and Nina covered one early attack, ending up in a little group that soon came back. They covered a few more attacks. Arielle told me she was dying, wouldn’t be around for long – fine, all anyone can do is her best effort. On the second of six 11-mile loops, a Cascade rider attacked and got a gap. (Hiroko told me later she could have gone with it, or at least jumped across, but didn’t because Arielle and Nina were in charge of the first 3 laps.) I said on the radio “That is a dangerous rider.” Greg said “Chill out.” Tibco rider/friend/former teammate Katie Lambden went across. I radioed that we had two riders up the road. We rode 15 mph for at least 5 minutes. The gap ballooned to over one minute. By this time Arielle and Nina were gone. Rebecca went to the front and started riding moderate tempo. The gap grew. Greg tried to get us to get Terry to help chase. They would not. He called on all four of us to rotate through. I was basically floating, everyone was. It was a calm chase. NEBC helped, as well as a few others, but it wasn’t well organized. Kathleen took one long pull up the Princeton climb, which was very strong, but which prompted one strong New England rider to say to me “people will help with the chase but you can’t kill us on the climb,” which was entirely right. The gap did not come down. Meanwhile, Greg was getting mad at Terry, telling me to yell at them - give me a break, I do not yell at people on demand. I was mad too, especially when they started attacking us: they were going to lose third place, and it seemed they were racing against us rather than racing for the podium. I actually did yell when Terry rider Kerry Litka attacked again as my team was chasing, not because I was doing as I was told, but because I was frustrated with their tactics. It just didn’t make sense, I mean she is a strong climber – did she think she would stay away or was she just trying to make things difficult for us? She should be waiting for the final climb, not attacking on a flat. I did something also that seemed sort of like a good idea, but I guess wasn’t: when then men’s pro field passed us, I slipped ahead, thinking it was pretty likely no one would notice I was off the front. It was kind of risky to think I could bridge from 30 miles out, but in retrospect maybe not a bad idea. So I was off the front, and the motorcycle official assured me that what I had done was kosher, that I hadn’t drafted off the men, but then an official car came and told me to return to the field. The moto official didn’t agree with the call, but I sat up and went back. Another distraction for the chase I guess. Meanwhile Greg was getting more and more frustrated with Terry and with their attacking us – he started calling on us to attack rather than chase. Was the point to accelerate the chase, or actually send someone across? The gap was well over two minutes. I asked both Kathleen and Hiroko if they could go the distance and they said no. Hiroko followed orders and launched some attacks. Hiroko has exquisite long-distance time trial fitness (she calls herself “one-speed Hiroko” and said about Thursday time trial – “you know me I could go that pace for another half an hour), but attacking efforts will kill her. I had some doubts about the merit of having her attack on flats. With a lap and a half to go the gap was 3:30. I started chasing harder, took it up the Princeton climb, knowing I was compromising my ability to do the final climb. I wasn’t sure what to do, but at this rate we were definitely going to lose the leader’s jersey - we had to do something fast. Rebecca had killed herself in the chase, was gone; Hiroko pretty tired. Two considerations came into my mind at this point: how are Kathleen and I going to measure up against each other on the final climb, and who can drive the chase better? Kathleen identifies herself as a climber, has had some great climbing results in the past, better than mine. I consider myself a strong all-arounder, in a regional field I can climb fine. For sure Greg considers Kathleen to be climbing much better than me, and sometimes people’s expectations of you can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, in both positive and negative ways (in this case negative). In the team environment you need to be careful not to let this sort of thing get to your head, to let yourself get pigeon-holed. It’s not as though Wachusett is a 20k mountain. And I had a 20 second head start. But that said, I felt pretty awful, which contributed to doubt, and maybe I also shied away from the responsibility of needing to deliver. I was having one of those days where I felt bad to the point that I kept feeling like my bike was broken, brake rubbing (which it was for a while), compact crankset feeling pretty bad, etc (but in retrospect I think this was just a result of our going so slow). But we did not have a plan for what to do if Kathleen or I needed to be sacrificed. The question of who could climb better was kind of mute given the second consideration of who could drive it better to bring the gap down: this is something I know I can do. So I got on the radio, with a little over one lap to go, asked Greg explicitly if he wanted me to drive it, knowing it would kill me for the climb, and he said yes. So I did, and I don’t mean rolling through, I mean driving it. We were going fast! I actually love doing this, though not necessarily when I am losing the lead in the biggest race I’ve ever led, and when I feel like tactical bungling got us into this situation. Hiroko took some good pulls but she had spent a lot of energy already. I thought I would blow before the Princeton climb but I drove it all the way up (Hiroko did blow), over the top, into the turn into Wachusett, then blew finally as the pitch turned up. I sat up, and it turned out there were maybe 12 riders left, out of probably 30. That was satisfying. In just over one l lap, the gap had gone from 3:30 to 1:30. Would it be enough? Unfortunately not. The phenomenal breakaway of Genevieve Gauthier and Katie Lambden (yeah Katie!!!!) stayed away for 1-2 on the stage, followed by young Charlottesville climber Rachel. Kathleen didn’t have her best climb, and when the math was over, she was in 3rd, 38 seconds out of the lead, behind Genevieve and Katie. Because the field had been shattered by the chase, even though I was crawling up the climb, I am surprisingly still in 9th place, 2:00 off the lead. What a debacle. I have some ideas about where the key mistakes were made, about what I could have done differently, how about you?

1 comment:

sara said...

Here are a few thoughts:
1. With 4 riders in the top 5, I don't think you should have expected any help from anyone.
2. You can't control a race with a few riders.
3. Given (1) and (2), someone with GC hopes should have gone with any dangerous riders.
4. Impressive last lap chase!