Monday, August 08, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Zoar

Stark Velo

August 7, 2005

This was my second time at Zoar, so I had an idea what the course was like. A couple of climbs each lap for 4 laps totaling 40 miles. A pretty atypical course for us Ohio boys, as it was reasonably long, and included some nice climbs. The down side for me was this was only my fourth race of the season.

Goals were also a bit hard to set. Last year, the race was relatively easy until the last climb, where some Stark Velo guys punched it over the steep part, and kept it going to the finish. I ended up just catching back on at the finish line to grab 14th with the same time as the leader. This year, they had changed the format to include both Cat 3 and 4 in the B race. So how do you set a goal? You guess. I expected some people to try to break, but I wanted to be with the lead group over the climb. My beyond reach goal was a top 10, and I'd be happy with anything inside top 20. No telling how I'll go against the Cat 3 riders.

Dave Steiner and I drove down together, for a perfect day of racing. Neither of us have ridden a 3/4 race, but we're reasonably confident that we'll be fine. We arrived at around 8:40 for a 10:00 start time. Beautiful weather with the high near 80 and reasonable humidity.

SnakeBite was well represented today, we had 2 of our cat 3 riders, Todd and Pat with Brian, Tom, Jason Rapp and Myself filling out the field. Oh, and Brett was due to arrive any minute. He decided to ride from home to the event.

All the talk at the start is "who is going to be in the field?" Since there is also a 1/2/3 race, the 3's have the option. It's hard to plan a strategy until we know the odds. Oh, and "has anyone seen Brett?" As we line up, there are 71(!) riders in the 3/4 field. The official states that we'll roll neutral to the start of the course. They intend on splitting the doubled prizes to go top five 3's and top five 4's. So I'm thinking that sounds pretty fair as the 3's should dictate the race, and the lowly 4's should be just hanging on.

Interesting mix of riders. The only team with number to control the race is Summit, as usual. Though I don't know that they have the strength. Then Stark Velo, a couple of Lake Effects and some of Orrville riders. Then there were lots of teams I haven't seen before with 2-3 guys each. Very interesting mix. Last year the race brought about 110 racers, this year they attracted 180.

The Race

Right on time at 10:05, we roll off. And almost immediately we're racing! I though there was supposed to be a neutral section, but a Summit rider is pressing the pace from the whistle. As we roll past the "start", we let the guy go, and our first break is away. "Has anyone seen Brett?"

I like being positioned near the front. I can see what's happening, and with 71 riders, it's harder for someone to open a gap that I have to fill. So I'm sitting around 10th wheel over the first climb. Now I'm remembering the course... that was a bit harder than I remembered.

Around and over the first climb, and I'm at my max heart rate over the top... ooooh, I'm all tingly, but I managed to hold my position, and can recover on the descent. Maybe I should rethink this positioning thing.

As we roll through the start finish, we're all together again. Around the first corner, another break goes off. I'm not sure what the tactics were for this race, but it seems that some guys just wanted to work until they exploded.

Over the first climb, I'm on Dan Guggenheim's wheel close to the front, when we get swarmed. As I come around him, we're closer to the back of the field. I don't know what happened to him, but I was hoping he'd help me hold my position. Dave passes me there shouting encouragement, and I'm off to try to get closer to the front, or at least the middle of the field.

At this point, I was seriously concerned about getting dropped. I switched here from aggressive riding to defensive. We're not even half way through the race, I've hit my max HR, and almost been spit out the back because I picked a wheel that didn't help. Not good. Even worse, the only SnakeBite rider in front of me was Todd, so I wasn't sure if I had any more team mates left.

Over the main hill the second time, and I'm a bit further back and a bit more comfortable. I don't need to be the first one over the top, I can catch back onto anything that gets away on the descent, so I close a small gap before the front slows down before crossing the line with 2 to go.

It is impossible to move up far, unless you cross the yellow. 71 riders, mean this is almost always 4 or 5 across, and very weird movements. Especially mid to back of the pack. So I'm staying near the line waiting for movements to the front. I won't blatantly cross the line, but I will checat it when I see an opportunuity.

At the start of the third lap, Todd is at the front, and seems to be attempting a bridge move. It get's squashed and he drifts back over the first hill. As we make the turn, I offer to pull him back to the front of the race. I'm not very confident of my finish now, and figure I can do the gregario work, if it'll help the team. Todd doesn't get on my wheel, so I just roll onto the tail end of the group as we start the second climb.

Up over the steep part, and I'm using all of my 39/25 gearing. Take it easy this lap, and I'll bury myself to stay with the lead group on the last lap. I chase back on over the top and Todd is again in front of me, so I figure we're doing alright with our chances. I'm feeling better than the first lap, which is very good. I must have needed more warmup time.

Last lap, so I drain a bottle and toss it, and eat whatever I've got left. I'm a little shaky as I try to eat as the field slows down for a junior rider that's down on the right. I guess I'm not thinking 100% clearly as I really should have one hand near the breaks. As I'm draining my bottle, I'm braking with the frontwheel only, and my bike starts shaking more than I'm happy with... I'm going to have to do something with this thing.

There are still a couple of guys dangling off the front, but nothing really dangerous. Approaching the first climb, I'm near Todd, and he brushes a Saturn of Dayton riders hand. The Saturn guy does nice to keep things upright, and I start a little chat with him as we get to the business end of the climb. As we start heading back, I asked Todd if he wants me to work to bring the break back. He suggests I just sit and get over the climb, and we'll see from there. OK by me...

As we start climbing again, we are almost taking up the whole road. A car starts heading toward us, and Todd and another guy end up bumping over the yellow line. They disengage, and a Stark rider starts drifting into the right without looking... aahhh! This is getting pretty squirelly.

As we hit the steeper parts, things spread out a little, and I start moving up on the right to stay with the front. I got boxed in a little by a couple of guys that were haveing a bit of a time with it, but got around. Tom came up beside me just as we crested, and we were off to close a small gap to the front. We dropped and drilled it, and as we reconnected I looked back and saw no one behind us. So I threw out a bit of yellow line rule and moved up closer to the front 10. We now had a group of about 20, but noone really controlled it. So we slowed again, and more riders came back.

With about 2K to go, Phil Hines made a move to try to get off the front, but it was shut down pretty quickly. A little more craziness as we approached the finish. As we crossed the 1K line, a guy came around me on the left, so I jumped on, and he went straight to the front. So, I'm sitting 2nd wheel with about 800 to go... no way am I coming around yet.

500 to go, and things start ramping up... we get a bit of a swarming passing on both sides, and then it gets really, really crazy. Now guys don't want to use the whole road, so they pass left of center, then come back across, lot's of yelling, and we're picking it up. At 200 to go, I'm pretty far back, I can see the race ahead, but can't get a clean line to sprint through... positioning again. So I'm seated and accelerating but am not able to stomp on it. I ended up crossing back to the inside right of the road before the line to roll through for 10th place just ahead of Todd in 11th.

I was a bit disappointed, because I knew I had more sprint left, but the craziness took it out of a lot of guys. The place to be was closer to the front. I probably should have come around at the start of the swarm, jumped from wheel to wheel, and then been able to unleash. I guess that's my lack of racing this year. Anyway, we did 39.1 miles averaging about 24 mph, which was slightly faster than last years cat 4 race that averaged 23 mph.


So now what, I had counted that I was somewhere near 10-15th, and they said it would be top 5 cat 4's. So I could be on the podium. So we hang out and watch the Women finish up. Linda takes the field sprint for fourth! Then we watch the 1/2/3 race finish up, Todd Shaker takes second, and Nick Perrara takes thrid, with Joe Bromley's lead out. Cool stuff seeing people you know and ride with doing well. Then we head back to the car to cool down, get cleaned up and get something to eat.

After a short while, the officials call the 3/4 riders over to the tent. It seems that they didn't have the camera running at the finish, so they need our help sorting it out. I guess the first 5 guys made it through, then the camera was turned on... so they could sort out the rest of the placings.... then they had to figure out what field each rider was in.. so we waited around a little more. By now I knew I had 10th overall, and figured I'd for sure get a podium spot... the cat 3's had to be up front, right?

By 1:00, they had the results set up... there were only 2 cat 3 riders in front of me. So I was the eight cat 4 rider, and Todd was the third cat 3 rider. I was shocked. If I had catted up to be a 3, I would have 4 points to my cat 2 upgrade. Because I was a 4, I got nothing... except a top 10, which I'll take... I just have to remember what my goals are, and not worry about the category system again.

Damn, I sound grumpy. Has anyone seen Brett? Turns out he underestimated the distance by about 25 miles. He arrived at about 11:15 after 100.1 miles, and a couple of flat tires. I don't think I need that much of a warm up.