Opening the '06 season in Monroe Falls.
I'm still on the bike, and now the "off season" is over. Off season for me is really more work than "on season". Now that the semester is winding down, I can concentrate on training, racing and the other hundred things I do to keep from getting bored.
SO... with the covered bridge races being canceled this year, the first races that are close enough for me to make are the Summit Freewheelers Race at the Lake. This is a 2 Kilometer closed course race. The course is OK, with the exception of the 2 90 degree turns about 200 meters before the finish. The turns make everyone nervous, so people take crazy chances on the rest of the course to get into position. The short course also makes it a little weird because you do so many laps. The cat 4 field did 15 laps, for 18 miles. So it's really a crit style race.
Two years ago I did two of these races. There was a pretty bad wreck right on my rear wheel at the last one, so I've been staying away. The course is tight, and not very selective. It seemed things get a bit crazy as people move around the field, and I had other races at this time of year I enjoyed more. This year, I'm jonesin' for some racing, and the covered bridge series isn't happening. So I figured I'd give RATL another go.
Don Frey and I drove together, and arrived way early for the cat 4 race. So we could ride around and be warmed up for our race. We got suited up and did a couple of laps to show Don around. This is his first experience at the Lake, and his first cat 4 race. So I was imparting my "vast" experience at this race.
Snakebite had 1 guy in the cat 5 field. We watched the cat 5, womens and juniors fields roll out, then hooked up with the other 4's. to get in some warm up.
In the cat 4 field we had Jason Rapp, Mehul Gala, Brian Schneider, Don and myself. Before the race, our plan was to attempt to get someone into any breaks that got away. Jason was planning on initiating a break on the second Prime, and may try at some other point, if the opportunity presented itself. The finish plan was to get everyone up front with 2 to go, so we could organize some lead out. I was supposed to be the guy to finish the job. If a break got away without us, we were supposed to get to work to bring it back. Normal stuff. Other than that... being the first race of the season for most of us, let's see how everyone is racing.
The four race had about 45 guys. Lots of red jerseys today. Obviously, Summit is well represented at their own race. Doug Williams and Brian Ramsey are in the field, and we expect to be watching them. Orrville also has a pretty big contingent. Other teams are there in the ones and twos. Lot's of people I don't recognize, but some I do. I plan on watching those I know, and learning about those I don't.
I haven't raced since 'cross season, so I had no real idea how I'd be going. Being designated as the finisher, meant I was going to have to try to race smart, not something I'm used to doing. I'd like to mix up a prime, and wait for the finish. We lined up, and off we go.
Immediately off the line, a StarkVelo guy takes off on the first move of the day. With that move, we started the race at 24mph. Within about 500 meters, another guy has a blow out in the middle of the field. Thanks for your $20, have a nice day. I'm sitting about 10 guys back as the field ramps up and brings the Stark guy back. So the short lap merry-go-round begins and the 2006 season is open!
Jason and I like to stay near the front. I guess Brian likes to hang near the back. It was good to see Mehul and Don moving around the field pretty well.
We had a pretty good pace going, though I did feel like I was working a bit harder than I expected. I notice my heart rate is in the 170's and decide I don't need to see that anymore, and turn the monitor. I'll look at that after the race.
The first prime lap gets rung, and I figured I'd try to stay placed to see what my sprint is like. Right after the bell, there was a good bit of positioning taking place. I was close to Summit's Doug Williams as he's talking about staying safe. "It's just a prime lap". As we came around for the climb on the back, he's directing some other Summit guys to pull him around. "Watch that guy", "Got him?" In the past I haven't seen Summit work very well together, so it was nice to see the numbers actually working for them. Especially since I was sitting on Doug's wheel.
Up over the hill, and I'm pretty well placed for the prime. There was a bit of jostling as we approached the turns. I ended up coming out of the last turn around 6th position, and wound it up. Doug and a Stark guy got the jump, and I saw I was not going to get onto them, so I sat up and came across third or fourth. Pretty nice vantage point though to see Doug take it..
All back together after the prime. There was a spectator near the finish line with a cow bell that did a pretty good job of confusing some of the field. It did keep the pace high throughout the race. Jason had a dig or two, but nothing was getting away.
Second prime, and an official was calling out "Next lap will be the prime". Nice warning, so I start to move to closer to the front again. Bell rung on the next time through, and we get a bit of a surge along the flat back side. As we start up the climb, I was about 10 back when a couple of Summit guys come along on the right side. I jump on the wheel of Doug as he goes by, and they bring me up. On the left side, another Summit guy, Noah goes off the front. I'm not supper concerned, as I figure this guy will get chased back before long. He puts in a good attack and gets a nice gap.
As we crest the hill, the other Summit guys sit up on the front... and I pop off by about 5-10 feet. We're just over half a lap around... so I slow and watch the field a bit. A summit guy moves as if to wind up the sprint, and Doug calls him off. "Let Noah go...". They are going to let him go? I've already got 10 feet. Noah is about 100 meters away... I can catch him, then I just have to hold off the field.
No more thinking. I jumped hard. I heard someone say something about going now! If I hadn't gone, someone else would have. Might as well be me.
Turns out it was a really long way to go. I jumped before the back downhill parking lot and closed the gap to Noah before we passed the end of it. First into and out of the turns, and sprinted with whatever I had left to take the prime.... by quite a bit. My only thought on the last 200 meters was Don't let them close the gap at all, so they think they can catch me.
Oh, that hurt, and so much for Jason's plan to launch after the second prime. A pretty big effort to go from about 800 meters for the sprint, and it was pretty much an all out sprint for the whole distance. The field rolled up, and I just tried to sit in for a long time.
Jason was still up front, and I saw him make a move. I was still sitting about midpack and I tried to get back up to the front to block, but was too far back to get there before they pulled him back.
Third Prime, Chris Huck from Orrville and another guy got off the front to contest it. Fine with me, I need to conserve for the finish. Chris didn't quite make the prime.
I'm loosing confidence in my finish fast. That prime took a lot out of me, and I was not feeling very well recovered. So I asked Mehul if he though he could finish well. No go from him, so I'll get back near the front and take my chances.
This race is still pretty crazy. Lots of jockeying on the back flat. Fortunately, everyone was talking. I was still pushing some guys from running me off the road a bit as they come over to the outside. At one point, I was bumping bars with a guy on my right. We both managed all right, and I'm sure we weren't the only people in contact with each other.
Two to go, and I see a group of three off the front, including a Snakebite jersey. Did Jason get off the front? I make the move to do the block, and pass Mehul... then come along Jason. Shoot. Turns out Don cramped up and fell off the back. We were lapping him and a couple other guys that were working together to finish up.
Getting up near front then was not a bad move on my part. As we did the climb the front ten or twelve guys, echelon back and run a couple of guys into the grass on the inside. I was able to move up on the outside then and get about 10 back.
Jason is near me right behind Doug. Jason asks me how many more laps to go? One more after this, and we're where we need to be. As we come through the line. a couple of Summit guys get off the front. Not far, maybe 10 yards or so... and just hang there. This is the part that gets tough. You really have to work to hold position. Up over the hill and the summit guys are still out there.
I've been talking about these races since I first did them. General consensus is you need to be top 5 in order to win. top 10 to get into top 5. As we entered the first turn Jason was about 10th and I was near 12th, not including the Summit guys that were dying and coming back.
Around the last turn we weren't much better. Jason took the inside, and I took the outside (instead of trying to stay on his wheel.... stupid!) We both jumped on it then and started picking people off! I could see Jason on the inside just accelerate, I kept the gap to him about the same, as he just powered by everyone!
I was juiced to see him take the win by at least a bike length! I was pretty busy cheering, and stopped my sprint a bit early (stupid) and rolled across in 6th. I should have save that cheer for about 15 seconds more. Second through sixth were pretty close, I may have been able to pick up another place or two.
Good results for the team. 2 out of 5 in the money, and one of the three primes. Very nice results.
Always areas for improvement. After the race Brian said he felt blocked, maybe due to the first day where the temperature was above 50. Don felt good until the cramps, he'll be back for some redemption. I still race stupid... I feel like I talked myself out of a decent finish. I have to stop thinking during the races, just go when I should go.
Next weekend we'll try again. If I do all 4 of these races, I should get a top end sprint going. Looking at the HRM data, I put a hug effort into the prime, but my top speed was 2 laps to go trying to get position on the downhill. My final sprint only topped out at 31.8... and I was no where near my top HR.... so I should have been able to get more out of the legs.
After the race, I also noticed I was still carrying two bottles. Ballast? Who knows... first race of the season. I'm allowed to make mistakes, especially since I still got some nice results.