Race #6: Staged Wisdom

A few weeks ago, I entered my first stage race. It was actually three races – a 35 minute criterium, a 22 km time trial, and an 84 km road race – over the course of 36 hours.

Riders received points based on how they finished in each race (15 for first, 12 for second, etc.). At the end, the points were tallied and an overall winner declared.  Simple enough.

What wasn’t so simple? Beating the shockingly cagey 14-year-old in my category.

The Crit:

The crit was first up on Saturday morning. The race was on a (rundown) 400-metre oval speedway that looked a lot (exactly) like this:

Hey that's me! (Third from the right.)
Hey that’s me! (Third from the right.)

 

That's closer me.

That’s me again, but closer.

Since the track was an oval, there were no corners per se. Sounds great for me, as far as crits go, right?

It probably would have been, but guess who tried to go long and got caught (quite handily) by the group. THIS GUY! BOO YEAH! WILL I EVER LEARN?? NO PROBABLY NOT!

And that's me leading the all-important middle portion of the race.
That’s me leading the all-important middle portion of the race.

I finished eighth out of 12 in Cat 4. Woot, 41st percentile!

Guess who won. The 14-year-old! I don’t know how he managed to out-sprint the crop of much larger dudes pinning it in the final straightaway. He is/was the size of an average 14-year-old. But he did. And it strangely gives me hope for the future; tactics can obviously trump sheer power, to an extent.

The Time Trial

Now we’re talking. Just me and the clock. None of these pesky competitors hunting me down en masse. 

The course was a mostly flat out-and-back, but it did have a bit of elevation at either end.

I passed my 30-second-man (i.e. the guy who started 30 seconds ahead of me) on the way out and never caught a whiff of the guy who started 30 seconds behind me.

The most cathartic part of the race was the fact that my 30-second-man was the 14-year-old. Crushing that child made me feel really good about myself.

At the very end of the day, I wound up second. I say very end because the organizers screwed up the timing for a lot of people and originally had me first. They then snatched my victory away by adjusting someone else’s time. (It was all terribly dubious. But I wasn’t too distraught finishing second to a guy with aero wheels and bars.)

The Road Race

This one was absolute heartbreak. Sort of by accident, I shot off the front with 1.5 laps to go by gunning it to the top of the lone hill on the 9 km course. The hill was short (about 1 km) but steep, hitting 15% in places. I really just wanted to get it over with; I wasn’t trying to start a solo break. But, when I reached the top with a gap, I wasn’t about to sit up and wait.

The 14-year-old tried to track me down on his own for a lap, but he eventually got reeled in by the bunch. Then, with 200 metres to go, they caught me, too. 😦

For most of the final 5 km, I was pretty sure I was going to win. I could see the group behind me on certain straightaways and thought I had more time on them than I actually did. Either that, or I thought I had more energy than I actually did.

Either way, I now know what it’s like to get caught in sight of the finish line. I had a hunch it would suck. It sucked. I’m something of a soothsayer.

A few of the riders offered their condolences after the race and asked if I’d like to come out and ride with their various teams. (One group assured me that, if I had been part of their team, I would have won. It was a good sales pitch.)

As it was, I wound up seventh out of 21 in the road race.

Guess who won. The freakin’ 14-year-old! He also won the entire stage race as a result.

Ugh. Monsieur en dehors!

Race #5: A Name Change May Be In Order

As I mentioned at the tail end of my last recap, Tuesday brought my first criterium. It consisted of ten laps of a flat-as-a-pancake 2.2 KM course around an industrial park in Burnaby. The field was 34 strong, all ostensibly Cat 4s.

I’m simplifying a bit, but the race was essentially half an hour of sprint, corner, repeat.

If you think that sounds like my worst nightmare, I’ve never told you about the recurring dream I have where I’m back in high school and I forget to go to French class for an entire year and then it’s the day of the final and I literally don’t know a single French word. Not even one. Not even “Monsieur” or “forte”.

What were we talking about? Right, criteriums do not play to my strengths. But this course featured wide, 90-degree-plus corners, so it was about as safe and non-technical as a criterium can get.

The result? Well, there’s good news and bad.

The bad: I didn’t win.

The good: I didn’t crash or flat!

That marks the first time I’ve done none of the above.

The other good news: I was only one second behind the winner. The other bad news: 12 other people managed to cross the line in that second (a.k.a. I came 14th).

My strategy, as usual, left something to be desired. The average pace for the race, in toto, was 41.92 KM/H, which kept the pack pretty strung out. No one made any serious attempts to breakaway over the first nine laps, but, in almost every corner, I was reminded of how much faster a lot of those guys can sprint than me.

So on the final lap I tried to go long. I was off the front for maybe 15 or 20 seconds, but was reeled back in pretty effortlessly (I think). I went into the last corner about tenth and was predictably passed by a few more people in the final straightaway. My sprint might have been a little better if I hadn’t tried to go long; but, realistically, it probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. Monsieur’s top speed just isn’t that high … yet. 😉

I’ll either have to get faster or change my name from “Monsieur Forte” to “Sir Bottomly Topspeed”.

Next Tuesday’s crit (there’s one every week until September as long as the weather is dry) is out at UBC and features a hill! That might work out a little better.

I’ll leave you with a link to the full results from this week.

Races #3 and #4: In Which My Resolve Is Tested

Apparently it’s been over a month since my last post. That doesn’t mean I’ve been an inactive cyclist; it means I’ve been an inactive Netizen – which is a word we should all be using more.

In reality, my motivation to post anything has been severely diminished because my recent results were ungood.

I have no idea what I'm doing.
Working on my steed. I have no idea what I’m doing.

In races numero trois et quatre, I was bumped up to the C Group (after winning race nombre dos in the D Group).

The C Group races are longer (closer to 80 km), have more riders (about 40 split between a men’s group and women’s group), and have better organization (in terms of teams and tactics).

Most of the riders are still Cat 4, so I didn’t think there would be a huge difference in terms of skill or endurance. I wasn’t entirely right.

The courses for both races were more technical than the first two; there was more cornering, generally, and a couple off-camber turns. This accentuated the slinky-effect heading into a corner (meaning the pace slowed way down if you were stuck at the back).

I realized this early in Race #3 and tried to stay near the front. Evidently, I didn’t do a terribly good job of staying directly behind the rider in front of me and wound up rubbing against the rider next to me on a couple of occasions.

This, I have learned, is not appreciated. Luckily, everyone stayed upright (for the time being – ooh ominous!).

Thunderbird Long - In the Pack
I need to rethink those glasses.

The wind was out in force for Race #3 and the pace was pretty slow for the first 60 km. A couple solo attacks were quickly reeled in. More accurately, a couple solo attacks were quickly abandoned.

Towards the end of the second-last lap, I made a move. I had the wind mostly at my back. I heard someone in the peloton say to his teammate, “Let this one go”, and I thought to myself, “You fool!”

He was no such thing. I lasted about two or three minutes off the front before the bunch was on my buttocks. (If I was going to hyperlink to a hemorrhoid cream, I suppose now would be the time.) I sat up, slotted myself into the middle of the pack, and started the last lap with a group of about 20.

A three-man team from the University of Victoria moved themselves to the front of the peloton at the start of the final lap. They had a plan. Halfway through, all three sprinted hard, trying to reduce the selection before the home stretch.

I, like everyone else, chased. They didn’t get away, but they did stretch out the bunch. Then two of them attacked in earnest about three km from home. I did my best to respond, but the road was pretty blocked.

I tried to split a couple riders in front of me, but again wound up bumping someone. Again, everyone stayed upright – me just barely.

I built my speed back up and resumed the chase.

I’m pretty sure that everyone left in the peloton was hoping for exactly that: have someone else lead the chase and slot in behind him, conserving as much energy as possible for the final straightaway.

Oops.

I realized this when I caught the two-man break and then looked back to see about 18 other riders right on my tail.

Drat.

I still had a little gas in me and we were only about 1.5 km from home, so I said tried to get my own break going. But I never opened up much more than a three or four second gap.

The final corner was followed by a 400 metre straightaway with a very slight incline. I tried to get myself in the first ten or so riders heading into the 90-degree turn, but that required me to move to the inside.

Unless you’re going to be a dangerous ass**** and under cut people coming out of the turn, you don’t want to be on the inside on a corner. Yes, the distance is shorter, but you can’t take the turn as fast and will come out of the corner with less speed.

I didn’t judge my line quite right and went into the turn going too fast. My supreme lack of bike handling skills then came to the fore and I wound up skidding and shredding my tire.

I probably wasn’t going to win, but blowing a tire 400 metres from the finish line left me yearning for a sport without mechanical difficulties.

I went home, hopped on my stationary trainer, and hammered out my lingering anger.

Race #4 followed the next weekend. It was a hillier course and I went in with high hopes.

I’ll skip the first 70 km because nothing really happened.

Nothing really happening, except me eating. This is what passed for an action shot early in the race.

I stayed with the front group until the end of the second last lap. At the bottom of the biggest of the climb, I moved myself to the front and resolved to push the pace to the top. I hit the apex with a bit of separation and then stomped on the biggest gear I could handle. My lead grew to about 30 seconds by the start of the final lap.

Eventually, my glances back were met with nothing but bucolic landscapes.

I swear I'm winning.
I swear I’m winning.

For some reason, though, I couldn’t bring myself to ease off at all, even heading into the more technical corners. I was convinced that any let up would find the pack on my tail.

Trying too hard ended up screwing me.

About two km from the finish, I did the exact same thing as the week before. I took too much speed into a corner, skidded, and wrenched my tire off the rim (flatting in the process).

I plunked myself down on the side of the road and waited for the other riders to pass me. As I sat and stewed and the seconds passed by, I realized just how much I could have eased off and still stayed out front.

Damn. I really could have used that $35.

Lesson learned? Gosh I hope so.

Epilogue:

My next race will be an industrial park criterium in Burnaby on Tuesday (unless it’s canceled due to rain, which looks like a significant possibility). Criteriums are shorter races on smaller courses, often 30-50 laps of a one or two km course on flat city streets. (Vancouver’s Tour de Gastown is an example.)

I’ll let you know how it goes. But you’ll probably be able to figure it out for yourself if I don’t post anything on Wednesday. :s

Race #2: Han Solo

As I mentioned earlier, today brought career race #2 for Monsieur Forte, a.k.a. Sweet P, a.k.a. the Ruke-dizzler. (For those of you who still – quite validly – don’t know who I’m talking about: me.)

It was a lot like race #1 in distance and terrain: 48 km (eight laps of a 6 km loop) with a few rolling hills.

Shannon – the person with whom I share choreographed handshakes (and also my spouse) – insisted on coming despite being violently ill. (Aside: none of this would be happening without her; she is the greatest and most supportive partner a Monsieur could ask for. Aside over.)

As we drove out to Langley in relative silence (Shannon was preoccupied perfecting her I’m-not-about-to-vomit impression), I pondered last week’s race. In case you missed it, I crashed on lap 1.

When I showed up last week, I felt like an outsider. Everyone seemed to know where to go and what to do before the race.

I did not.

I wasn’t sure I should be there. Sure, I can ride a bike. But I wasn’t sure if I could race one. The crash-tacular result didn’t help matters, and I came into this week even more skeptical.

Thankfully my nerves abated shortly after the race started. It was a smaller field this week – only 15 or 20 strong – and a couple of my foes were about 25 years my senior. I think that helped. 

The race started slowly. Everyone was content to feel out the course – and each other – for the first lap. I let myself get stuck near the back again, but I took extra precautions heading into every turn.

On lap 2, I jumped to the front and took a decent pull. I was cold, and I didn’t want to be accused of being a wheel suck if I won. (Aside: Yeesh, there are a lot of terms to learn. Aside over.)

Nothing much happened on the first few laps, though, other than the pace picking up a bit.

Then, on lap four, someone made a move.

Heading into the largest of the (still pretty small) hills, I was sitting third. Part way up the hill, someone rocketed past both me and the two leaders. And he didn’t ease off at the apex.

This was it! The real racing had begun!

The two previous leaders picked up their cadence to start the chase. I followed suit. I looked behind me and saw that the rest of the peloton was doing the same. It took another roller or two, but the efficiency of the pack reeled in the one-man break.

When we did, I was still feeling pretty fresh – actually, I was finally feeling warm – so I said to myself, “Oh why not try to counter-attack?” (I’d read about it in a book once; how hard could it be?)

So I geared up – literally and figuratively – got into the drops, and sneakily picked up my speed. (As I’ve said before, I’m not a sprinter. My moves are generally going to be seated.)

I don’t know if everyone was tired from chasing the earlier break or if they were content to let the new guy go, realizing there was half a race left to reel him back in. Either way, I opened up a 20 meter gap.

I felt good, but not great. I considered easing off and saving my energy for closer to the finish.

But then I kept going.

That's me, keeping going
That’s me, keeping going.

The 20 meter gap became 30, then 40, then I stopped looking for a while. I got my body as aero as I could (something like this but, y’know, less good) and pretended I was doing laps of Stanley Park.

The next time I turned around, I had about 15 seconds on the bunch.

So I kept on pushing.

After about a lap and a half on my own, my legs and lungs were politely asking that we break for tea.

Request denied. On y vas!

When I started the second-last lap, my lead was about 30-40 seconds, I inexpertly judged.

I was pretty sure that, if I could stay away on the penultimate lap, I would be able to gut out the last one.

My power was really starting to go now, and I found myself in the small ring at the top of every hill. Yet my frequent shoulder checks didn’t yield any unwanted surprises and I started the last lap with an even bigger lead. (I suppose that’s the advantage of racing in Cat 4.)

As I started the final lap, Shannon was at the line, heroically pulling off the arduous cheering/not-puking combo. I looked down at my water bottles and realized I had more liquid than I needed.

I’ve seen Tour de France riders toss their bidons when they get close to the finish line in order to shed excess weight; so I went full-Wiggins and tossed my heavier bottle to Shannon (which she has photographic evidence of).

MeBidon
Bottle be gone!

I was still worried that I’d get caught if I eased off at all, so I wasn’t as careful as I probably should have been on the slick roads. But disaster kindly lay dormant this week, and Monsieur Forte crossed the line a minute ahead of second-place.

In other words, I won. (Hooray!)

This is why I made sure my thumbs were still there this morning.
This is why I made sure my thumbs were still attached this morning.
Huzzah!
The post-race smileathon went on for a while.

I soft-pedaled to the end of the road, then U-turned and headed back to the line. As I passed the other riders doing the same, I tried to act like I’d done this before.

One of the older gents gave me a nod and said, “Nice racing.”

That should make next week’s drive a little less anxious.

Epilogue: I think, by rights, I won some prize money (in the neighbourhood of $25-30!). But I also think I forfeited my purse by not going to the podium ceremony. (Shannon and I had to run to Costco!)

It’s probably for the best, though. I don’t want to lose my amateur status.

Race #1: Braking Bad

I set two goals for my first ever bike race: (1) stay upright and (2) don’t embarrass myself.

I accomplished neither. (Sorry to ruin the suspense.)

 

Me in happier times (i.e. BEFORE the race).
Me in happier times (i.e. BEFORE the race).

Eight kilometers into the 50-km road race (comprised of five laps of a fairly flat 10 km loop), I found myself at the back of the peloton approaching the first of two small climbs.

It was raining and cold, and the roads were mighty slick. All 25 or 30 riders were still bunched together, so I wasn’t panicking about being at the back. But the pace was pretty tame and I thought I might as well put some work in on the hill, if only to warm myself up.

About 250 meters later, I was at the front of the bunch and feeling strong.

I kept pedaling pretty hard for about 15 seconds then looked back and noticed a bit of a gap between me and the peloton.

“Huh,” I thought. “Now what?”

Recognizing we were only 1/5 of the way into the race, I eased off on the mini-descent.

I eased off so much, in fact, that everyone whizzed by me – seemingly in one breath – and I ended up where I had been at the bottom of the hill: last.

As we approached the final turn of the first lap, the strung-out peloton collapsed like a slinky. The pace at the very back, in particular, slowed to a crawl, as it’s wont to do with inexperienced riders.

Except I didn’t recognize just how much the people in front of me were slowing down and, wanting to keep a bit of speed up for the second climb (which was right after the final turn), I didn’t brake soon or hard enough.

“F***,” I exclaimed, hopelessly trying to alert the guy in front of me that he was about to get an assfull of my face.

And down I went.

I scrambled to my feet, desperately trying to clip back in as fast as possible.

This is where the bulk of the embarrassment comes in.

On a course that’s running multiple races at the same time, I now know that the first thing I should have done was look behind me. The second thing I should have done was get the eff out of the way of the Cat 1 riders roaring into the turn.

“Jesus. Look out,” yelled the first one as I swerved across the road, struggling with my gears.

Luckily, there were only three of them immediately behind me and they all managed to avoid my pong-esque maneuvering.

I got my feet back in the pedals and my bike in the proper gear and looked up the road to survey the damage. I could see the back of my race just cresting the top of the second hill, about 500 meters away.

“No problem,” I thought. “It’ll take some work, but I can get back on.”

That notion lasted for all of about three seconds.

That’s how long it took me to realize my rear tire was flat.

I limped to the start/finish line at the top of the hill and, having already failed at my “don’t embarrass yourself goal,” said to the man at the official’s tent, “This is my first race. I have a flat. What do I do now?”

“Go get warm,” he replied.

Thus ended my first race.

Did I mention my wife and my mom were there?

Epilogue: With the enthusiasm only a true beginner can muster, I also registered for the 14 km time trial later in the day. Due to the weather/temperature (a windy and rainy 6° C by the time the TT rolled around), about 2/3 of the entrants didn’t start. Since I’d eaten about nine pancakes that morning – and then biked 1/5 of the distance I thought I was going to – I was eager to get back on the road. So I put on my rain gear and got myself to the start line with the other die-hards.

I was discouraged to see that I was the only one without a TT bike. But I suppose that makes sense when the weather has eliminated the fair-weather soloists.

The time trial was a simple out and back that started and finished at the top of the aforementioned final climb. The “out” was into a headwind, and my speedometer was getting so low that I questioned all of my abilities as a cyclist. But the tailwind on the way back convinced me I was the next Tony Martin.

In the end, I came second out of six in my group, about 30 seconds behind the winner. Average speed: 37.3 km/h. After the debacle that was my morning, I’ll take it! (Here are the results: http://www.canadiancyclist.com/dailynews.php?id=29168.)

Ready to receive … er, I mean, start the TT.