Monday, May 18, 2009

Baby Steps in Wilmington

I was pretty frustrated with my ride at Wilmington, because I actually had some legs and did not get the most out of them, absolutely a step backwards in my quest for the holy grail of savvy bike racing. I was surprisingly nervous, even scared, about my first NRC race and first crit in a year, one with some fast corners that threatened crashes even though they were straightforward 90-degree bends. I had not expected this fear and did not welcome it - suddenly it added a whole new dimension to the already tough process of trying to get myself back into the mix. So I frittered energy at the front early (mistake 1), embarrassing to say even went for a prime (mistake 2), then moved just slightly too far back (mistake 3) and narrowly missed crashing when some people decided to have a big pile-up on a downhill straightaway. Instead of the calmness advisable in such situations, I was a picture of panic. I did think to lay the bike down with my forced un-clipping, then cut the course to the pit (where was it? - mistake 4) through an ally containing an inflated jumping carnival game (name?), causing moms to quickly sweep up their children playing in my determined course. I arrived at the pit, so worked up that I did not even realize when I leaped back in that I had forgotten my free lap - just cut off half the course. No wonder there had been so little time! Back in the race but edgy and with worse positioning. A rider gapped me off and that was it - I could not close. In a group that could not rotate effectively and honestly not feeling to good, having blown up. Officials kept us in the race since we were still in the money, but when we got lapped a few riders from my group of fifteen or so leaped back into the race, and I got stuck with those who sat up (mistake 5 - got to know my crit rules, be alert in such situations!). Then I blew up and rode in, just annoyed with myself and wishing I had been able to get a result and win some money. Places 14 and up were lapped riders! I was 26th. Action looked exciting at the front. LVG and Lassasso riding great together for the win. Looking on the positive side, if I compare to last month not last year I should be rejoicing at my improvement, and maybe I got some fear over and done. Skipped BikeJam Sunday and rode an epic hilly ride in the Berkshires - Bash Bish and new favorite Oxbow. Two weeks to get ready for some HARD racing. No joke here. It's going to be tough. At least school is over!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Looking Ahead

Yesterday I finally gave the ix-nay to the computer (finishing school has involved catching up on all sorts of neglected tasks/new projects and I have been crazily busy) and enjoyed nearly a whole day of bike tinkering and adventure. In the morning I went for a small dog-walking hike with a friend up East Rock, the New Haven park I often extol. Then I was off to the bike shop to test ride a frame. It would be good to ride before the training race later in the day, since the past two days I'd been wasted and ridden at a snail pace. Riding out to East Rock through the campus on undergraduate move-out day, we found a student's wallet in the road. We stopped at school to email the owner and headed out again. Next up, approaching the top of East Rock we encountered plumes of smoke crossing the road, a pile of leaves on the roadside ablaze (probably from a cigarette). My friend called 911 as I used my bike water-bottle to try to put out the edge of the fire (maybe the size of a queen bed), and flagged down cars to get water from them. A construction worker with a big cooler of water stopped and quelled the fire. Then oddly, as he hopped back in his truck after this good Samaritan dead, he tossed an emptied plastic water bottle out the window. Ok, save the park from a big fire, then litter... Police and a fire engine came. Back to the shop, wallet reclaimed, then I dropped my chain leaving the shop. Turns out my derailleur pulleys were totally wrecked. Bob replaced them and I rode home then jumped in the car to drive to Bethel to race the summer series crit. The weather was awesome and the atmosphere of the race is like a big picnic, with families watching and music. SO FUN to race with the guys and in such a smooth field! Plus I was feeling starting to feel like a bike racer. I followed one guy over the top on the 3rd-to-last lap (the break already long up the road), and the next time up the hill I blew royally. But it's really good to determine the breaking point incrementally in a practice setting. From here, it's on to Wilmington for my first NRC race of the year!

Racing Roundup

The blog got relegated to the status of reward as I was finishing up my thesis, and now suddenly a month has passed! Perhaps I’ve accumulated some substance. The journey through uncharted fitness territory continues. The golden opportunity is to emerge a much improved racer by learning how to do well even when I am not strong, but getting clobbered in regional races is demanding some patience. Next after Battenkill was Quabbin, a gorgeous single loop of rolling hills around Boston’s water supply. The field was not as deeply stacked and the hills were longer and more gradual. The selection occurred about 9 miles in on a gradual climb. I missed the split but when it started to look like it would stick I was able to go across by riding steady hard. From there I was doing things like focusing on pedaling as little as possible (actually I coasted for a quarter of the race – how unlike me!), delighted to be in this front group. I wasn’t too sure that I’d be able to force a break later in the race, and did not want to invite a slugfest of attacking when top end is my major fitness limitation and when the Anthem team had three or four riders in the group. In retrospect it might have been good to try to stealthily break the legs of some of the riders in the group who were well-suited to the final uphill sprint but were struggling in some of the windy power sections. Coming into the finish I thought I just might be able to win, weathered a single hill surge, but when I stood up to sprint there was nothing there – I just have no capacity to recover from a top-end effort. I was off the back in the sprint for 6th place. Ann-Marie Miller did it again. Next up was Jiminy, my hometown race that is now disappointingly a mere 60k and a women’s open field. It was windy and the field was squirrelly. Jiminy was the first race I did that was specific Cat 4 field when I was just starting (after getting killed in open races). I used to identify the Cat 4 race fantastic first race for beginners who are wary of corners and technical course features. The outcome was exactly the same as Quabbin (except there had been no selection prior to the finish) – I had conserved a ton of energy and entered the finish with tip-top positioning, even backed off Evie Stevens’s early surge, but stood up to sprint and went from 5th to probably 40th, pedaling through mud. Next up was the double, Sterling and Bear Mountain. With this fitness, Sterling’s steep hill is my nightmare finish. It would be good training. The field was stacked with seven (or more?) NEBC riders and to my great surprise, cyclocross star Mo Bruno! Concerned about blowing up, I rode a steady tempo up the climb the first time to ward off attacks, then backed off all subsequent surges, such as Mo’s bounding attack on lap two. I was afraid to even stand up on the hill until the final lap. When a Colavita duo launched a terrific attack even before the turn into the hill, I backed off so much I was off the back. Climbing up that hill, under the bridge, I had to bridge all the way back into the main group, let alone the break of three that had gone up the road. Interestingly, I was racing with the Powertap and that time the break went the numbers were significantly lower than on the first two trips up the climb – I had completely sold myself short. After that I was not so sure what to do. Here I was rolling around through the wind in a group packed with NEBC riders sitting on, most of whom would dust me in the sprint. I made some attacks that weren’t great but that also would have been more effective if other independent riders had recognized it was in their interest to let me (and each other, generally) go off the front, leaving the work to NEBC. Finally I got the gal to attack under the bridge on the second tier of the climb, on the second-to-last lap, and it was effective but too late. After that I was too collaborative with the group because I was feeling pretty strong and since getting off solo or even in a smaller group was going to yield a better finish than my sprint. But I got 3rd in our sprint, 5th. Congrats to Rebecca Wellons! I raced home to eat some food and leap in bed before leaving at 5:30 the next morning for Bear Mountain. I was very tired warming up. Down the fast descent the first time, I got a bike wobble – no good – but the first time up the climb was fine. I had some hope I could make it to the finish (which suits me) since it was super windy and strongwoman Evie Stevens wasn’t attacking but riding a hard tempo, but no. On the third time up the climb, immediately out of the downhill corner, I stood up to follow a small surge and that was it – done. Mildly frustrating to not have the confidence to descend on the front, which would have helped me weather the climb. I basically just rode it in from there, very tired.