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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Without a great finish at Lincoln Park, I thought about letting this race report go. I’m out in Los Angeles on The Avenue of The Stars for a conference this weekend. Since I’m stuck here with no time to race (just a run in the morning and spin at Equinox in the evening), I might as well recall and record the pain I tried to endure last weekend.

Going into the weekend I was excited because I was going to get two days of racing in. Since I haven’t figured out how to place in a bike race yet, my best chance at upgrading to Cat 3 is to do as many races as possible with the hopes that I’ll get into better shape and figure out bike racing more. Leland Kermesse on Saturday proved to be painful. My heart rate was in Zone 4 or 5 for nearly 3 hours during that race, and when I got up on Sunday I realized my legs had been there too. Molly and I drove down to the race, while Chris was just going to let his son race (smart man), and Ruggles was going to ride his bike down to the start (really glad I didn’t do that). It looked like a great day, but Chicago often looks that way. Then you step outside and realize it’s bitter cold with ferocious winds.

My first race (Cat 4) started at 0830. I was lined up in the second row, and at the start the guy in front of me couldn’t get into his pedals (rookie). I was patient (super rookie fatal flaw) and after he finally got into his pedals I fumbled just long enough to find myself alone. Yeah, 5 seconds into the race and I’m off the back. I hammered for the next 35 minutes and got a great tempo workout in, just to finish 52/55. I saw fell ACC rider, Omar Patalinghug at the start, but since I rode alone the entire race our opportunity for team tactics was shot.

Molly did her race, and although she had been dropped too, she was able to out sprint a competitor for a nice finish. Sometimes we have to settle for the little victories.

My second race (30+ 4/5) started right after Molly’s. It was becoming windier, and my clothes were soaking wet from the first race. I was shivering at the start. Shivering is a great way to use up your glucose so that it’s not available for the race. The start was good, but I could only get my power up to about 80% of what it was in the first race. Fatigue was setting in quick, and I found myself off the back again. My finish was only slightly better than the first race. Again, I saw Omar at the start, but didn’t get a chance to work with him.

Third and final race finally came at 1230 (40+ 1-4). Ruggles showed up to go for the $50 bonus offered to the first finisher that also completed Leland Kermesse. I figured it must be getting a little warmer, and my clothes were soaking wet, so I decided to take off my windbreaker for this final race. First lap in I rolled out of the 180 degree turn into the 30 MPH headwind and realized two things. I was exhausted, and I was frozen. Why did I take my windbreaker off? Did I want to do 43 more minutes of this? I didn’t even want to do one minute. I rolled straight up to the truck and jumped in. Pathetic? Yes, of course! There really is something to learn from each race.

Ruggles stuck in the pack and did pick up the $50 bonus. I was much happier once I changed out of those wet clothes and got to watch a great finish. Oh, and Chris’s son did win his race, so there was another victory for the Activator Cycle Club. We may need to build a junior team.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Category 4, 100K

Located in Leland, a bustling village of 1000 youthful residents and farmers, this kermesse is well known by Chicagoan’s as a hellish road race. Some even ask if it’s a road race or a cyclocross race because 1/3 of the 15 mile loop consists of loose gravel roads. I had read Adam Zucco’s 2011 race report, and instead of gravel it was mud. Oh, and rain, and sleet. I’m sure there was plenty of wind as well, but that’s pretty much a given around here. I tried to be tough this winter, and even though the winter was ‘mild’ it was a challenging transition coming from San Diego. I waited until a couple days before race day to see that the weather should be about 40 degrees sunny before preregistering. Molly chose to register day of race after I had drug her out to Beloit for the promised 60 degrees which never went above 39.

The race was put on by Flatlandia, a very appropriate name for a cycling club in this area. I represented the Activator Cycling Club in Lake Bluff, along with Molly Cook (Women’s Cat 4), Bob Ruggles (40+ 1-4), and Chris Harold (Cat 5). I could have raced with Ruggles, but opted for the shorter race with a larger field. After learning that the Cat 1-3 went off with the Masters, I was convinced I had made the right decision. Maybe, maybe not. Bike racing is a strange beast, one I have yet to conquer and I was faced plenty of struggles in the Cat 4 race that I hadn’t anticipated.

The first mile was a neutral rollout, and we had 12 Cat 1-3 women ahead of us. The next thing I knew the 12 women were scattered and drifting back through our pack, scattering the Cat 4s and then the first sharp right came. It must have only been two miles in, and I was gapped with about 60 people ahead of me. I didn’t dare look back, but met up quickly with #115 from xXx Racing. We tried to catch the peloton, and at five miles in I was becoming fried, and started seeing the pack drift away. Uggggh! No whiners in cycling! There are plenty of those elsewhere.

I saw the peloton hit the first gravel road, and all of a sudden they weren’t so tight. The field was beginning to stretch out and a dust cloud was being blown directly behind them by the 15 MPH headwind. I hit the gravel with #115 and we started gaining on people that were falling off. It took a couple miles to catch the first one, but as we were solo riders, they weren’t going fast enough to want to rest behind them. The gravel was very loose, and felt a bit sketchy, but I quickly learned that other riders couldn’t keep up with #115 and me.

We were finishing the first loop of four and I saw a couple riders ahead in the feed zone looking back at us, waiting for us to come so they could jump on our wheel. They jumped on, and did a little work at first but they were slow. We picked up another xXx Racing guy that put in a good effort, but there were three of us working, and two coasting. I called them out because I was getting pissed that the rotation always stopped with me, so I signaled to #115 and we bolted as we headed into the gravel. The first chance I had to glance back and I couldn’t even see the other three. We quickly came up on another group of five and sat in for a minute. I’ll admit, #115 pushed hard and got up there while I struggled to slowly gain and earn my rest. The benefit for going in the red (in this case) was more rest. Fortunately my HR dropped quick enough, but we were only 25 miles in and I thought “Okay, I got a good hour long tempo workout in. I’m done. At least I’ll cruise with this group for 35 miles and finish.” People that know me know that cruising wasn’t going to happen. We hit another gravel section and one of the group attacked, but I was right on his wheel (where I was intending on sitting) and #115 was on mine, but when I settled in he kept going. I figured he was going to pull a bit, but no, he was just going.

“Anytime you go to the front you are attacking” –Ruggles, c. 2012

My delay caused me some pain, because when he was about two bike lengths ahead I said “screw it” and went after him. Again I looked back and the other five were well behind. I chased, but couldn’t actually get into his draft. We ended that loop and hit the feed zone again. #115 was well ahead, and again I figured it was over. He looked back, and I could tell he was going to wait for me, so I pushed it before he changed his mind. We had been hammering together for 90 minutes, but his first words to me were “sorry to drop you”. “No problem” I replied. After all, it is bike racing. I was hurting, but I figured we were all hurting, so screw it. Since he waited for me I chose to put in a solid effort right away and we had an awesome two man paceline, bringing the speed up to 23+ MPH with a strong crosswind. We met up with two other guys about five miles later where we caught our breath, then we hit the gravel again and left them. I hated the gravel until I figured out I could drop people so easily (except #115 who was just as strong if not more beastly in the loose stuff).

With about 17 miles to go, we were caught be three guys just as were rolling into a gravel section. This last gravel section was with the wind, and a little bit smoother, and the three riders were able to stay with us. As we began our final lap I was trying to get a good paceline going because we could go 23 MPH and were picking people off. Each one we passed was another place. Two guys wouldn’t pull through though, and I don’t think it was because they couldn’t. I yelled at one of them to ‘pull through’, and he said ‘I’m staying right here’. Screw it. I can play that game too, so I rolled back and sat on his wheel, and we went 18 MPH. It was stupid, but at that point there was only one person I wanted to beat, and it was the guy (Bikes Not Bombs) that was looking to beat me with a sprint when there were a lot of places ahead of us to make up. I cruised for a while, and my HR went down to 118, the first time it had been below 150. I actually started to feel good. With ten miles to go I decided I was at least going to push the pace enough so that that Bikes Not Bombs guy would have to work a little. They all held on, and #115 was the only one to help me (of course). We rolled into that final stretch of gravel and they were holding on there too! One thing that I learned in this race though was that even though I took all the turns into and out of the gravel rather slow and cautious, I still managed to create a gap on those turns. This time I went for it a bit more aggressively out of the last gravel section. #115 rolled around me, so I jumped on his wheel. I looked back and the gap was huge. My legs were on fire just trying to stay on #115’s wheel, but I decided that at the 200 meter sign I was going to go for it. I tried to ramp up my best sprint and went across the road to avoid him slingshotting past me, but I couldn’t even get ahead of his front wheel before my legs retired. It was #115 finishing 22nd, and me 23rd.

Yeah, no whining in bike racing, but damn it could have been a much different race if we hadn’t been dropped minutes in.

Activator Cycle Club had 4/4 finish, no awards this time. Our own celebration at Bull Moose Bar and Grill in Sandwich, Illinois (yup, Sandwich) was enough for us this time.

Cheers, and thanks for reading! Strava

Date: 31 March 2012

Location: South Beloit, IL

With a couple weeks of great weather, Molly and I have been back on our bikes. The weather hasn’t been as good after those two weeks of feeling like summer, but we’ve been trying to keep building our cycling fitness. With that, we are looking at doing races on the weekends. This week we had the opportunity to go somewhere new and race at the Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit. Friday night we checked and found out the weather was supposed to be sunny with temps at 53-60 degrees. We were excited because it has been rather cold this week. The drive was about two hours, so we were committed by the time we got there, even though we were surprised to find out it was freezing! Technically 33 degrees is not freezing, but it sure felt like it.

Molly did the second race of the day, women’s category 4. She finished with the pack, 9th of 16. The course was a 1.7 mile loop with several turns. I didn’t get to talk to Molly to find out any details of the course because my first race was next.

I raced in the category 4/5 race. It was a decent field of 72. I was surprised at how squirrely the race was. I kept hearing brakes squeaking and could even smell them burning. There was one point on the course that was a pinch point and several of us rode through the grass to avoid getting hit. Amazingly there weren’t any crashes. The speed wasn’t especially quick, and I probably could have won a prime when I was positioned well near the front but was saving it for the finish. Unfortunately I just could get the position I wanted for the finish, and ended up 45th overall, 26/34 cat 4s.

I was planning on only doing one other race, the Masters 30+ 4/5. It was too cold to stand outside and watch the race, so I decided I might as well do the cat 4 race that was immediately before the Masters race. This one was smoother, but there were still a lot of brakes and rubber burning, and there were some young guys that weren’t riding that smooth. One rider almost went down in front of me when he was pedaling through a turn and his pedal hit the ground. He apologized to me. I didn’t really care, but I lost some of my position in trying to avoid him if he had gone down. Another rider ran onto the grass to avoid him. This race I kept pretty smooth. I kept adjusting my position near the front without getting involved in attacking or pulling. I couldn’t get a good position near the finish though and ended up with another pack finish, 42/50.

The last race was Masters 30+ 4/5. The first lap was fairly slow. I decided that I hadn’t been able to get into a good position for the sprint on the last two races, so I would try to create and get into a break. Immediately after the first lap I went for it, but when I looked at my 3 second average power was 600+ watts, which I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain for long, and then I looked over my shoulder to see the train on me. Well, I started something, because there was a series of attacks. No breaks lasted long. In fact, I didn’t see any races that were won by a break. It was a fun race though it was much faster and much smoother than the previous two. My fastest lap of the day was the final lap of my third race, averaging 27.0 mph. I felt good, and I thought I was in a fairly good position. The finish was ¼ mile away following the last turn, and the next thing I knew was a swarm of riders flying by me. I quickly changed positions from the top 10 to 39/50 overall, 24/28 cat 4.

It was a blast, but I obviously have a lot more to learn about bike racing, specifically sprinting.

See full race results here.

See GPS files on Strava here: 4/5, 4, 30+ 4/5.

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