Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chippewa Creek Road Race - 2007

It's the biggest race in the area. Climbing 400' per lap, with some really nice rollers and a nice fast descent. We've been planning this race for weeks. The team has the plan to make it hurt... starting on the first climb.

So, my day starts out with a call at 6:30... "Are you on the road yet?" Uh, no...should I be? I'm planning on leaving at 7. Then I get nervous... did I misstep my timing? Get the kids in the van, make the obligatory breakfast stop at McD's... and it's a typical "Race to the Race, Race at the Race, Race home." The whole way there, I'm counting the time... Shoot. I hate this type of race prep, which is why I usually try to leave PLENTY of time to get there and get kitted up.

Arrive at 8:00 for an 8:30 start time. Point the kids to the race, and the field and the non-existent playground I thought was there... sorry guys. Fortunately they brought books that they were interested in. Get dressed, signed in, numbers pinned, and I've still got 20 whole minutes to get some kind of warm up. Nice.

On the line we've got 9... yes 9 SBR racers in a field of 30. Woah, we've got numbers. Ray, Pete S., Peter R., Rick, Gary, Jason, Jeff, Bob and myself. I haven't seen Bob since early last year. Looking around, there are the usual smattering of jerseys. Stark has the most. Then there's some Orrville, Spin, Summit and a bunch of singles. You can never tell when the singles are racing together... we've got a plan, and we're off to work.

From the gun, the two Orrville take up the pace making heading into the rollers. With so many SBR, it was easy to put the team all over the front. Into the rollers and we swarm around Orrville, and they are never to be seen again. TV time maybe?

Into the first descent Jason and Rick move to the front, and bomb the downhill. We're off! Gary, Ray, Pete and I are up there. On the flat before the turn Peter R. comes flying around and starts the pull into the hill. Unfortunately, right after the turn he threw his chain. Casualty number one as he can't get it back in time to catch on to the tail of the field.

Ray and Pete hit the front up over the steep part, a couple get away right at the start of the hill. But they ramp up the pace over the top and they come back quick... let the carnage begin.

Over the top I know it's Ray, Pete and I.. I have no idea how it's going behind us. We keep a decent pace going into the rollers, though I find I'm hitting the brakes more than I like... then working the little humps. Into the second descent, and I move to the front to do the pace making.

So it begins... and repeat this for 4 laps. Ray and Pete on the front pushing it up the hill through the first turn. I'd come through to take the pace on the descent, and maybe some on the rollers. Knowing how aggressive Ray and Pete planned on being, I assigned myself the "protected rider" job. I will not wasted energy unless it's necessary. I'll just be staying near the front, keeping ready for the attacks on the last climb.

Third lap on the rollers, I look back to see what's happening in the field. The group is down to about 15-20, but I see Gary is still with us, Cool! So we've got 4. I moved to the front again to pull the descent, at the bottom, Jason comes around me to pull the corner. Where did he come from? Was he hiding? Turns out, he lost contact on the first climb, chased back on... TWICE! Then he just got to the front and was ready to work again. Nice. Unfortunately he wasn't able to chase back again. Ouch.

Third time up the climb, Pete and Ray again do their damage. This time, I decide to play a little, and I let a gap open up, knowing it will get closed by a swarm around me... and might just cause a few more to get popped. If not this lap, maybe next. Pete and Ray have a couple with them, as about 4 come around me. I jump back to the group at the line, and notice we have about 10-15 together. This could be the race! I say "This is it! Let's GO!" but I guess everyone thought we were going fast enough... cause no one else moved. Soon the group had grown again and that chance was gone.

Fourth time up the hill, and Ray gets a gap. By the time we get to the crest, it's significant, and we haven't done anything to help it. I moved onto the front and try to slow the pace further. Pete and I are on it, and the gap opens more. Through the rollers a Stark and the unaccompanied UPMC rider do a little work, but mostly the field is confident Ray will be back. He does seem to struggle some over the larger rollers. As we hit the descent, it becomes obvious that the field was right. By the top of the fifth climb, Ray is back in the field.

Without Ray pushing the pace, it is significantly slower over the fifth and sixth lap. Which actually worked to our benefit as it gave Ray plenty of time to sit in and recover. Ray, Pete, Gary and I stayed near the front. The fifth lap, things stayed reasonably quick. Sixth time up and it starts to bog down. It's almost comical how slowly we went through the rollers. No one really wanted to move. I pulled over one of the rises, just so I wouldn't have to hit my brakes so often. We've still got a field of 20 heading to the finish. Now again, it is imperative to stay near the front. I know that legs will be dying that last time up the hill.

Over the last rise, I hear a Summit ask very politely if he can come up on the right. They've got a little train going. As soon as the three of them are clear, they accelerate toward the decent. Gary gets in front of Ray, Pete is just behind, and I'm on Pete's wheel. It so looked like competing lead out trains in the Pro ranks. Summit was at the front and we were mostly sitting in their wake bidding our time to do our own damage.

The first Summit pulled off before down hill. Gary was pretty cooked at this point also. Ray, Pete and I were still following the train. The second Summit pulls to the turn, then we hit the final hill. The last Summit is left alone at the bottom of the climb. We've still got three.

Ray somehow finds the legs to start the climb at the lead and opens a bit of a gap again. I'm sitting in about 5th wheel behind the UPMC rider as we come around Pete. Half way up the steep part, the UPMC rider jumps between two to make the move. I see another unaccompanied rider go with, and I jump also. As I make my jump the two guys that had the opening start closing in on me. I do my best Robbie Mac with elbows out, shouting for space, and squeak through... but now UPMC and friend have a gap on me as they close in on Ray.

I'm fourth over the crest, and Ray keeps looking back. I tell him to just go... thinking I'll speed up on the false flat, and catch him. It's not to be, as my legs are crying uncle. At 200 meters, a Stark rider comes around me and I dig in to hold his wheel... I tell myself I will not let go, but my legs say otherwise. At about 100 meters another Stark comes by... and I give up the chase at 20 meters knowing I will not make it over him.

So I saw the right move, just didn't have it to go with it. Even if the UPMC was beaten to the line. Ray managed to hold his gap for third, I came across in sixth. Pete and Gary rolled in somewhere behind in the field.

So with one third of the field in SBR colors, we took one third the payout places. Another good day of team racing, even if the tactics didn't play out as hoped or we didn't get the results we wanted. That's bike racing. We did the best we could with what we could. We were aggressive, I think we raced smart, and we took out a couple more very nice results... and we had fun doing it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

RATL 4 - 5/12/2007

Last week of the Summit Freewheelers Race At The Lake series, and the SBR team has been doing really well. With the addition of Ray to the cat 4 team, we've got a total of 6 top fives in the three weeks of racing so far with lots of team work to pull this off. We had a lot of strategy talk this week, with some confidence that we can execute our plans.

This week, we've got Gary, Rick, Jason, Jeff, Pete S., Ray and myself. I'm confident we will be controlling and making the race. StarkVelo showed up with at least 6, and Summit had a typically large presence. The plan is to let the early stuff go, and get to work at about lap 3. We've got the line up planned out with Ray going first, so he can get warm, then committing more and more effort and people on each successive attack.

So we had the typical parking lot flyer out there for the first lap or so. The boys are all near the front and the guy comes back by the second lap. Heading to the line on lap three and Ray is on the right, as two Stark guys go up the left. Gary and Rick both see it, and Rick yells for someone to get on it. Ray doesn't go... but Gary is all over it. I figure they'll be back and the timing is right, so we block. A Summit bridges, and the break is 4... 2 Stark, 1 Summit, and 1 SBR.

We've got some help with the block as Stark sends a couple up to the front. Summit also blocks... or at least does not actively chase, and the break is set. With the three main teams represented up the road, it's not long before they've got 20 seconds.

An Orrville and UMPC (I think) rider come up to work, both are lone representers of their team... I just sit on their wheel whenever they are up front. The UMPC rider does most of the work. no one else is interested. Then Orrville guy trys to bridge, alone.... for three laps. It's ugly to watch knowing that he will not make it. He basically kills himself in the attempt... it's the last we saw of him.

Before the race, I gave Dave K, our racing cat 5 team mate, the job of Director Sportif... he's to give indications of the gap size. If we're in a break, tell us what the gaps are... and he was stellar. At the beginning, he was calling the break as we passed... I waved that off, and he started the hand signals. Very nice. If people were paying attention, they'd know... if not, we weren't giving it away. Even some of the guys paying attention were getting the numbers wrong.

So, the laps tic off.... the gap is at 15 seconds, 25 seconds... stabilizes. The whole time I'm thinking, if Gary comes off this, we have to bring it back, and I communicate to the new plan to our guys. I know Gary is strong, and he's got a real nice finish kick, I'm not sure how much he's working as I can see him on the front when I can see the break. Trust your team mate, until he proves otherwise though... so we continue to actively block. Jason, Pete, Rick, Ray and I are all over everything.

There was only one pull by Stark that seemed to do anything to pull the break back. I think the guy was just getting excited as he came up the hill at the same time the UMPC rider was fading back. I jumped on his wheel, then instructed the guy to slow it down... So slow pel, and the gap opened to 45seconds with 6 to go.

45 seconds! Now what do we do... I figure the break is pretty well established, and I start talking to Ray about another attack to totally kill the group. I'm thinking both of us can go, but he's hesitant, thinking it'll just pull the group along. I think we can jump hard enough to open a gap, and have the other guys block and kill any followers. This would help us get away for the remaining spots, or if the does break comes back, it will give us a new break already established.

We're still discussing with 5 to go, and a Stark "attacks" at the top of the hill.. attacking on the downhill is not very effective. I think it was supposed to be a bridge move, but it does nothing but pull the field and cut the gap considerably as the field was all over it. And the guy continued his attempt, much to the chagrin of his team mates. As the attack ramps up, I tell Ray it's time, and I think he agreed. I'm pretty sure this pull cut the gap in half.

Next time up the hill, some guy behind us yells to the whole field.... "That break is gone, now is when Summit, Stark and SBR should start attacking again." So I bring out the cattle prod and convince Ray to go NOW! Ray, Attack! Now, Ray, go NOW!!

I thought about going with, but I also knew that I would probably cause the same reaction that the Stark guy did... I know I had some shadows today, and I figured one guy had a chance. Ray can time trial as he's already proven at Presque Isle, so he goes about 3/4ths of the way up the hill. He does cause a reaction, and I call for Pete to cover the first surge of guys, Jason gets on another and we effectively squashed all follows and blocked the group back down.

Ray took a lap and a half to make the bridge... for a while it looked liked he was stuck, and I thought he wouldn't make it, but it worked. The break looked to be coming back, and Ray joined right in... now I liked the numbers game much better. 2 Stark, 2 SBR and a Summit. With any luck, Stark had been working like crazy to establish the break, and we could now use Ray's "freshness" to get some better placings. Hopefully 1/2.

All the fun up front, and we're 1 lap to go before you know it. There is another jump from the UMPC guy over the top of the hill, and Rick was right on it, totally deflating this guy. Rick stayed there for the remainder of the lap.

Coming around the last bend, we could see the break playing the finishing games. The Summit guy had attacked the break with one to go... blew himself up. I saw Gary jump about 200m BEFORE the bridge... wicked long sprint, that had to be about 600m. I thought they were doing the multiple attack thing. I couldn't see the rest of what happened as we came into our finish. I jumped as we crossed the bridge and got a nice gap, and just gauged my efforts, constantly looking back, to take the field for sixth. Rick held on for ninth.

At the top, I first saw Gary holding up the one finger! So SBR got the win, but who? I assumed it was Ray since I saw Gary jump really early, and he was the first guy we came up on... but no! Gary won with a 600m plus sprint! The dude is a stud to pull it off from there!

I think Ray was too busy watching Gary's beautiful sprint or just isn't used to this course yet, but my guess is the second stark just opened a gap for the first and that took Ray out of second place. So it was Gary (SBR), Stark, Ray (SBR), Stark... the Summit held on for fifth. I saw him as I was coming up the finish, but no way were we close enough for me to get him.

I've never been in a cat 4 race that has been this tactical. The teams all worked like teams. I honestly believe it was SBR that did the work to cement the breaks chances with our blocking. Sending Ray on the bridge with 4 to go worked out beautifully to take the pressure off of Gary going against 2 Starks, and free him up to go for the win. And the team got 3 placed in the money (top 7), and 4 in the top 10.

Everyone worked for the team goals. The whole team was actively participating in make this race... again an outstanding job of team racing. I had quite a few comments on how well Snakebite was racing as a team, which has been one of my main goals this season. I love it when a plan comes together... even if it's not actually the plan that we planned.

Overall in RATL we took 8 of 20 top five places, which is more than any other team attending. We were the only team to get two wins, and one of the most aggressive teams even if our numbers were not in our favour. Very nice job team.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

RATL 3 5/5/2007

Cinco de Mayo and race 3 of the Summit Freewheelers RATL race series. This week, we had 5 in the cat 4 field with Rick Adams, Gary Burkholder, Chris Bilowich, Jeff Comer and myself. The field was slightly larger than last week at 31, but the mix was different. Summit still had 6 or so, as did Stark, and MVC showed with 4. So I got a little more nervous about getting a break off that might actually stick for an appreciable time.

I contemplated going out hard from the gun... but I backed off the idea, then Mehul from Spin rode away from us before the first turn. The comments about him coming back were flying as the field settled in. Almost as soon as he was back a lap later, another guy goes (Stark?), with Doug from Summit. They get a couple hundred meters up, and some guys started to get nervous. I noticed that Doug wasn't taking any pulls... so I knew they'd be back soon. I'm not sure why he wasn't working, but I told one of our guys that we didn't need to work to bring this one back.

Sure enough, they came back within a lap and it's Gruppo Compatico for a lap. Heading up the hill on the fourth lap, I tell Chris he can go whenever he feels ready. I expected it to be on the next time up the hill, but he attacked over the crest, and took an MVC with him. Very nice... a Stark and a Summit guy bridged up before I got a good block going. So 4 away, with SBR, MVC, Stark and Summit included, all the teams with numbers. This could be very good! I got an MVC on the front with me, and we're both in the blocking mood. So they get a reasonable gap and it's looks good for everyone. There were a few guys that would come up and work to bring the break back, and I'd do my "sitting on" thing. The gap would come down, then they'd pull off, and I'd soft pedal and let the gap grow again.

It looked like the group was working well together, as I saw different guys on the front. Chris was working, so I knew this could stay out there a bit, and might soften some of the other guys in the field working to bring this back. The break stayed away for two or three laps, when Summit Doug comes up and works to bring them back. I don't understand, but it's a typical Summit move. We're all together in the parking lot again.

I don't see any other SBR's near the front, so I give it a weak attack up the hill. Someone is right on my wheel, so I figured I was just turning the screws a little. At the top of the hill, I back off expecting someone else to pull through, but no one does, so I'm sure it's all together. When I do get off the front, I see we've got 4 away again. Summit Doug is with us, as is Spin's Mehul and a Stark (I think... I'm having trouble identifying the fourth guy in these breaks for some reason.)

Mehul and the fourth guy do some pulls, then I come through at the parking lot. I try to pull off and again, Doug doesn't pull through. Doug isn't contributing... again. Weird. Well, I'm not going to kill myself for this break then either. I didn't really commit when I started it, so it's no loss for us anyway. Sure enough we're back in before the end of that lap.

For a third time, a break gets way with Summit. And again, they actively bring it back. I guess this was the Summit strategy of the day. Get in every break, but don't contribute to it's success. Then pull back every break regardless of who is there. I'm not sure what the motivation of the tactic is, but at least they were following their plan. What this SHOULD do is prevent them from having to chase any breaks that they make, because they know that their guy will be blocking the break from success. It's interesting because Chris recognized that there was baggage in his break... and then was not sure if he should continue working either. Pretty observant for his first really successful break attempt ever.

So, that was pretty much the whole race. Gary tried to get off the front a couple of times, but didn't really get a gap. There were a few other small gaps formed here and there, but invariably someone would get nervous and chase their team mates back.

At one point, an MVC got away with another two guys. We didn't make the break, but I wasn't ready to have the team chase it back, since I figured Summit would be more than willing to do that. Gary and Chris where near the front, and I told them to relax and give it some space. There was another MVC next to me, when a third MVC jumped to either bridge or pull the break back. I gave a shout, and Gary and Chris jumped on the guys wheel... as the MVC next to me tried to call his guy back. Oops. Another team into chasing their own break down. The MVC next to me was pretty frustrated with his mate.. "That's the third time he's pulled one of our guys back... maybe I can get one of your jerseys." I just smiled and said "maybe he feels his chances are really good today." Typical cat 4/5 mentality I think. Everyone of us thinks we're the strongest guy in the field, so we'll chase every break so we don't miss our chance for glory... even if it kills those same chances and/or works against the team goals.

For the most part, I did my best to keep the team calm, and get ready for the finish. It was working pretty well with three to go, I knew I had three guys around the front waiting to build a lead out train. So I started to work the order. With two laps to go, there is a mass of 3 MVC on the front, and Gary was in there policing the front. Chris was a bit behind them, a few wheels ahead of me, and Rick pulls in beside me. I tried to get the train to be Gary, Rick, Chris. But the positioning game is already starting. I give Rick the instructions, and we try to get Chris' attention. Communication is a bit rough at this point as we're all trying to stay near the front.

Bell lap, and we're all in some position, but we're not very organized. The field is doing the "last lap roll over". It's kind of like a big kahuna wave... guys are all trying to move to the front, then they fade back as the pace picks up, carrying other guys back into the field.

Gary is near the front keeping the pace high. I'm trying to be patient, but I also want to stay in the front 10. Chris is ahead, and I'm working to get his wheel. Rick got caught up in a roll and is now behind me. OK Chris, you're it for me now. Through the parking lot, and the roll continues... I'm trying to surf the wheels to stay near the front. Gary is pulling still as Chris falls back behind me.

Gary is still pulling around the last turn. I'm about 10 back, in the center of the field... as Gary pulls off the front, I'm coming up behind him, and I call for him to keep going. But he's cooked. OK, I'm on my own.. this is still good. I've got a decent position, and I can follow anyone's wheel. Around the bend before the bridge, and Rick gives it the gas, calling as he comes up on right side. I try to jump his wheel, but he's got a Summit in tow... so I'm on that one instead.

Over the bridge, and the group starts the sprint. An unattached guy goes up the left edge hard and gets a gap. Rick pulls it up the first hill and the Summit dies right where Rick pulls off... so I go off hard in pursuit. The unattached guy has got a nice gap, and is still working. Does he have enough? I'm gaining, but not fast enough. He even has time to sit up and raise his hands... a very nicely timed jump. I came across in second about three lengths behind, and Chris dug in for fourth, disproving his "I've got no sprint" comments once again.

So we had two in the top five. Not the win, but still some very good results for the team and another great team effort. Everyone contributed to the team goals. I'm really pleased with how SBR has been racing in the cat 4 field this year.

OK, I'm now sitting on 17 points to my cat 3 upgrade. I need 20... now my goals are clear for the last RATL next weekend.