Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I have much to learn.

I did the Westlake Tuesday night worlds yesterday. Ryan, Tom K, Brian, Mehul and another Spin guy were also in the field with the usual 6 or so RGF, 6 Carbon and 10 Lake Effects.

This being my first of the year, and that I haven't raced much yet this year, I had no idea how I would go. My plan was to get in some training efforts, despite the World Champion status, this is a Training race after all.

So we roll out reasonably easy, until Matt Weeks opens it up a little. Roll around a bit more and Matt decides to go off the front. No worries there, I figure RGF and Carbon can work to bring that back, and they do. Soon another group starts to go with representation, so I get to the front and work to bring that one back.

I'm still on the front when Tris (Carbon) goes with Bob Martin (RGF) and Rudy (Lake Effect)... as they go (on the opposite side of the field) I'm thinking one of my Spin guys can get on that one... I'm not going to. URK!!

Lesson 1: If a move goes with all the big boys represented... don't assume someone else will get it. I should have just gone and thought later. The doubts were flying at that point, so I watched the race go away from me... and in short order I knew it. There's no telling if I could have stuck on that move, but we'll never know now, because I didn't even try. Shoot. The break went out to about 30 seconds or so, and then just sat there... while Stephan from RGF pulled us along.

Being the only other team with numbers not in the break, it was really our responsibility to bring it back... but we also knew that we're a bit outclassed by the RGF/Carbon/LE big guns, and I think intimidation played a part. We'd get a couple guys on the front pulling along, but the other teams would insert in the pace and screw us up... very effectively. What are we to do?

So I tried some attacks... I could open a small gap, but they'd shut it down pretty quickly. Then someone from one of the represented teams would attack, and I'd jump on that one. Kind of a "once bitten, twice shy" thing. I certainly didn't want another split of RGF/LE/Carbon going up the road without Spin being in it, and if that meant I'd cover everything, then I certainly would get some training out of it.

It was kind of crazy to get brought back, and then have to jump immediately onto the counter attack move. When that got brought back, I decided to sit in a bit... by choice or otherwise. Then Tom comes up and says, "come on John, let's get a paceline to bring this back." Ugh, OK. I'll do it. We get four or five of us to the front, and roll through. Much to the delight of Tom Frueh (Carbon) who starts cat calling, or cattle calling, whatever.

Lesson 2: I have not raced with the team much, so I don't know everyone yet. We certainly were not aggressive enough on protecting our pacelines. Instead of just letting a few guys work, we had made an effort to bring this back. And we were getting swarmed with RGF/Carbon guys inserting themselves into the line. We made multiple attempts, but when our guy would pull off they would drift way back into the field instead of fighting to get on the wheel of the last guy on our team. We didn't have enough guys, or didn't know to, put in a gatekeeper at the back of the chase line. At one point, I tried (and failed) to move Dan Quinlin (Carbon) off the wheel of one of my guys... HA, elbows out, but I'm not going to bump him off... even if I was ready to start actually bumping. I did get his wheel though, and it's not like he really slowed it down... he just pulled through.

We did put some time into the break, right about when a van pulled out between the field and the break. It was also just about when we were going to pass the B field, so we were slowed to B field pace, with the van between the fields as the break went out a bit again. Oh well.

The nice thing about last night was even with the break gone, the field still wanted to race their bikes. So if Spin or Snakebite weren't working, Carbon/RGF/LE would be on the front just keeping the break within the 30-45 second range. They never got out of sight... which means the other teams may have been toying with us.

The break was far enough out that Bridgette did ring a field prime or two. Coming around the back on a 1 point prime, I found myself in fourth wheel behind Andy (RGF), Tom (Carbon) and Polo (RGF). Mehul came on my wheel, and told me that RGF was setting it up for Polo. So I figured I'd work to get Mehul up there to contest it. At 500M Stephan (RGF) goes up the left with Brian (Carbon) on his wheel, so I go on the right to jump on that... and I'm third wheel with a small gap. (HUH?) Brian just looks behind him at 200m, and I jumped at 150... got really clear and won the prime! (Again... HUH?) I figured I must have just done a stupid sprint for nothing because there was SO much daylight between me and the rest of the guys... so I put my head down and tried to keep the effort up. Not that I had much left, and I was pulled back right at the turn.

Lesson 3: What is going on here? I don't know this yet. Why was I let go to get a point? Often teams let people go for cash... but points are precious. I've never seen a point given as easy as I got mine. I do not understand the dynamic of the primes in the A race yet... and this is at least my fourth year in the A race. I will say, last year one of my goals was to get a single point at Westlake. Now I feel cheap because it was basically given to me on my first attempt in my first race of this year. Now I've got to change my goals and try for a place instead.

As I get back into the field, Mehul asks if I won it... so that makes me more sure it wasn't a stupid sprint, then gives me a push to keep me in the field. I really appreciate both the warning of the prime, and the push... I didn't need the push, but it say a lot about him as a team mate.

So we kept at it. I would chase any attacks. We'd try to get a pace line going... it was frustrating in a way, but we did still race our bikes. I may have frustrated some of the guys that were trying to get away also... I knew that if I got into a move with them, I would have to do the work... cause they wouldn't take me up to the break... they knew that also. They also probably knew that I couldn't get across without their help. So every time they looked back and saw me, they knew they were done. I did see Brian raise his hand in frustration on one of those types of moves. I'm also sure that if they had seriously commited to the jump, they would have gotten away from me, and could have sent a few more splits up the road... but that would have broken the rule of chasing your own break down. It became a very tactical night which actually made it quite fun. Since everyone played by "the rules", everyone was allowed to race their bikes all night long.

Lesson 4: I can do much more work than I thought I could at the beginning of the night. I jumped enough, and pulled enough, that I was almost dropped on a few occasions. and I DIDN'T CARE! My goal was to get some training in, and I did. I managed to hang onto the field every time. So then I could get back up front and get some more efforts in. Not once did I say "If I work, I might get dropped." Instead I worked...then I said..uh oh, I better work to NOT get dropped. Very nice feeling, and a big confidence booster.

Lesson 5: On one of the effort to pull the break back. Tom got to the front and put in a big pull, then I went next. I'm not sure, and I want to investigate this, but I did something on that pull that felt fast, and didn't send my HR through the roof. It's hard to describe the feeling, but I've done those efforts in training before. My plan now is to search for that sensation to see if I can find it and use it when I need it in a race.

With 4 to go, I expected another attack, so positioned myself in the front 5-10. We just rolled around until the bell lap. I figured, OK I'll surf wheels and see what I can do. Two places left, maybe I can poach one of them off the sprinters.

Lesson 6: The big teams take crazy chances... as do some folks that have no reason sticking their wheels in there. If we had rolling enclosures, it might have been different. I was not interested, decided I had gotten in plenty of work and rolled in behind the field.

Two hours of race pace efforts with plenty of work. We ended with a 26.1 average, so we were not slouching, and I was part of the race... I can eat a bit of ice cream tonight! YAY.

I also have to give props to the two Snakebite guys in the field. They were working hard, and it made me proud to have been on the team in the past. Keep it up guys.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More on teamwork... postscript.

Get the blog written first, then catch up on everything else, right?

Today on VeloNews... Will Frishkorn wrote a bit about team work:

These are all roles of the domestique, the category that the vast majority of riders fit into. You’re at a race to do your job. You’re also at a race because it’s what you love to do. The satisfaction of teamwork, is something often misunderstood in our sport. The way that you’ll drive yourself into the ground, knowing that as soon as the throw-down comes, the race will leave you behind. The somehow-fantastic feeling of being fully spent, nothing left to give, that it’s all been left on the road and knowing that all that remains is a crawl to the finish.

I've never been so convinced as I was over this weekend. This was what I wanted to do for the team on Saturday, and felt like I succeeded. It may have been the most PRO I've been in my racing career. I'm looking forward to the next chance I get to do exactly THIS!

Read the whole article... it's well worth the short time spent.

Cycling is a team sport.

Last weekend Carbon Racing sponsored the Tour of the Valley stage race. Four races over three days, a time trial and Crit on Friday, a road race on Saturday and another crit on Sunday. My schedule would only allow me to race on Saturday, which was fine since I've only done 3 races so far this year anyway. I certainly didn't think I would be up for 3 days of hard racing at this point.

Spin did have 7 guys racing for the overall. Dave, Derrik, Jason, Justin, Pete, Thom and Tom. Thom rocked to an 8th place in the time trial, and won the crit on Friday to end up sitting in second on GC on Saturday morning. Without any other points, everyone else on the team was riding in support of Thom's GC.

I'd looked at the course profiles, and figured it would be a tough go. 66 miles of racing over a pretty hilly terrain. It might not be good for me to be racing distances as long as the longest training rides I've done all year. I've got plenty of training miles in, but effectively no racing intensity... so my plan for the day was to be a total domestique. I would work for the team however I could. I was hoping to conserve until we'd made it over the first KOM climb... then I could completely put myself into whatever efforts I could, not expecting to make it over the climb with the group on the second lap. If I did, double bonus, and I'd work more.

Sign in went well, and we ended up with 11 guys at the start, adding Mehul, Zak, Pete S and Myself. Thom would stay focused on the guy sitting in first place, and a Kelly Benefits rider that didn't have many points, but looked to be a threat. There was Pete and Tony from Lake Effect, Cameron from RGF and a guy from Stark that we were supposed to be careful about. That meant if we got into a break with any of these guys, and Thom was not there, we sat on and did nothing. If they were off the back of Thom's group, we could not work to get back to the group unless we could attack to bridge, but should do nothing but sit on. No personal ambitions today for anyone on the team. It's all for Thom.

On the line, it looked like maybe 50 guys. Considering there were about 35 GC riders, we definitely had numbers. Lake Effect had four or five, and Stark had three. The two guys Thom was watching were solo... though we did see Pete talking with Kelly Benefits, maybe looking for some help.

This race was extremely cool. We had a rolling road enclosure... no yellow line rule, which was really nice. There was space to move around the field instead of being stuff into one lane. The team spread out among the field, and Thom sat comfortably in the back. I tried to stay near the front, ready to do whatever.

As we hit the first climb, a guy next to me somehow crossed wheels or something and came off his bike... he managed to stay standing. WOW. The climbs were more than I had anticipated, but I managed over it just dangling on the back. Once over the top, I worked my way back to the front to get ready for the KOM climb that was next up.

Tom and I were on the front as we came to the descent. There was chip and seal that had been well swept off... but it was still bumpy and curvy. It could have been a blast if I had ridden it a few times before the race. Tom and I made it down sitting on the front, and then prepped for the KOM climb.

Not having raced much I had no idea how this climb would go. I was sitting on Kelly Benefits as he paced me right up the climb. I was comfortable, and looked back and we had a slight gap. COOL! Then a guy came around us and Kelly upped the pace a bit... I tried to match it, but it screwed up my rhythm enough that I lost those two and started fading back to the group. Thom was moving up to get on the front group, since KOM points counted toward GC. It was all good, I just need to get over the climb with the group.

I kept looking for the top of the climb as more of the field was going by. The climb flattened out a bit, then started up again, and the 200m to go line indicated I had almost made it... but a large part of the group had gone by.

Over the top, I was just off the back and regrouped with Tom and Dave. We grabbed Pete from Lake Effects wheel, and just sat on there. "Oh... that must be disheartening" You've got about 200m to make it back into the field, and look back to see about four guys sitting on your wheel, and three of them will not be doing any work to help you. Tom at least told Pete, "sorry, our guy is on top of GC right now, so it's all up to you to get back on". An unattached rider was behind me telling us to pull through, so I gave him the situation. He was more than welcome to help, but the three of us were going to sit on... if we made it back, great. If not that was fine too.

Pete was a monster. But so was the course. The rollers after the KOM were killing me. Pete pulled us back to the group, and I almost didn't make it. The others were sitting in while I still was chasing. Every part of my body was hurting... I looked back at some point, and there was NOBODY behind me for a very long way. Eventually, the course stopped the rolling climbs, and I was able to get back into the group... so I had some time to eat and recover.

At 66 miles, I had two bottles of drink mix on the bike, and another bottle of water in a jersey pocket. I made sure to bring lots of food also. I ate, and emptied one bottle of mix. As I switched the jersey bottle, one of the number safety pins opened.. and started to stick me in the back every time I pedalled. I'm flying downhill in my biggest gear in the field with one hand on the bars, and one hand trying to get the pin off me... after sticking my finger hard, I finally got it free... and I threw it into the grass on the side of the road. I hate littering, but I figured that was my safest move. I was returning some iron to the land I guess.

The KOM hill had done some serious damage to the field. We were down to about 30 guys, and the yellow jersey was one of the casualties. Someone said he had broken a spoke and fallen off the pace. We still have 9 Spin though... only loosing Mehul and Derrik.

Some of the racing then got kind of strange as guys on GC would try and attack the field. I'm not sure what they were thinking with about 40 miles left to race... but it had the effect of changing the pace in weird ways. At some point a guy did get off the front, and we had Zak off the front with him, or maybe he had tried to bridge up. Either way Zak was sitting alone with a big gap, and another guy was further up the road. Zak stayed away for a while... and we started getting time gaps when the other guy was about 30 seconds ahead of us.

By this time, I was ready to do work if needed. 30 seconds with another time up the two climbs, I figured was no real danger. The GC was based on points, not on time, and with Thom in virtual yellow, and Spin with numbers, it was obviously our duty to keep this guy in close enough to catch. Zak came back in shortly before the end of the lap.

Rolling through the start at the end of lap one, we got another time of 40 seconds. We were still rolling easy. It was extremely cool to go through the feed zone at the front... the whole field sat up as we rolled through, and the gap opened more. I started a little pull to try to get the speed up just a little. I pulled off, and spoke with Dave about when we should really start to bring this down a bit. When we got the 100 seconds time. OK, now it's time to do some work.

Dave and I went to the front, and started to pull. Tom, Pete, Pete and Zak joined in and we started a rolling team effort to bring the gap down. The next time we got was 40 seconds... after about three or four rotations, I'd had enough and started to fade back when Dave asked if that was enough... and I agreed. If we left the gap at 40, it would come back on the hills. I also wanted to have a CHANCE to get over the hill with the group. Though I doubted it would happen.

Over the first hill, I was danlging again. This time Zak and I were right there... and we worked together to get back on. I was sitting more in the field heading into the KOM, but felt confident after the efforts so far. We hit the KOM, and again I started fading off the back. I could see Lake Effect Pete again so I tried to pace the hill to stay close to him. I made it over the top just behind Zak and Pete. I managed to drive myself back to Zak, then we worked to get onto Pete's wheel. I apologized to Pete, but I certainly wasn't going to help... again.

It looked like the group was all together again, and about 200-500 meters in front of Pete, Zak, an unattached guy and myself. I made it over one roller, but my legs were not doing anything good... so I waved Zak through as I came a few meters off my group. Zak attacked Pete to get over the top, and then I was chasing the chase group. My legs were fine unless the road was going uphill. I could stay close on the flats and descents, but I lost ground every time it went up. The field was right there... then they were gone. Pretty soon, so was the chase group and I was alone.

So 50 miles or so into a 66 mile race... and I'm done. I figured I'd done my work, but would try to ride tempo for the remainder of the race to just get back. When I came around a turn and up a rise to see Dave getting onto his bike. If he needed a wheel, I'd hand it over... but his legs had just shut down. So I had company on the rest of the ride. Sherman in the the wheel truck had dropped back to see if Dave needed anything, so we knew we weren't that far behind. But Dave also knew the attacks had started so we were not going to get back into the field. He also didn't think that Pete would make it back in.

Since Dave was racing in the GC, I figured I was given a new job for the team. I could pace Dave in, saving him some energy for Sunday's race. Very cool, even though I'm dropped, I still can do work to help the team. We didn't kill it all the way in, but we did try to keep a reasonable pace... at least until the rain started. I'm going to guess we rolled in about 10-15 minutes behind the field, considering some bikes were already packed on their racks.

Thom had gotten third place after attacking the field with a mile or more to go. Kelly Benefits bridged and Thom thought they were going for the win. Unfortunately, somehow someone else had already gotten up the road. But Thom was now sitting in yellow heading into the last race of the weekend. Very cool, he was far enough ahead that he only had to watch Kelly Benefits on Sunday.

I'll give away the ending. Thom defended well, and won the Cat 3 overall on Sunday. Dave rocked the last crit, got in a break with eventual second place GC guy, and worked hard to come in third in the sprint. Those points elevated Dave into 13th on GC, so even more team success there.

The team did an awesome job on Saturday, and I was a part of it. The weekend was also a big team success with 3 race podiums, and three members on the final GC podium... How cool is that! The race was absolutely cool, and extremely well run. I'm hoping to be able to swing going for the GC and doing all four races next year.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Twin Sizzler

Hey, I CAN race my bike!

I hit up the Twin Sizzler on the fourth. Loads of fun. And yes, the pavement into the finish is still really nasty.

Derrick, Zak, Matt and I raced the 35+ expert race, while just about everyone else on the team did the under 35 race. Props to them, because they ended up sending not 1 but 3 breaks up the road garnering 6 of the top 7 spots if we include the Spin Multisport Team, which we must since Dave and Aussie Rob drove the first break after about 2 miles in, and held that to the line.

In the 35+ race, we didn't talk much strategy... it is just the Twin Sizzler after all... "not a REAL bike race". Since I haven't raced much this year yet, I figured I would do a lot of covering and see if that could save someone else on the team for the finish.

I must have been away a while since almost all the Orrville guys were in this olive green and orange kit with something like a tin can on the front, and oneXone or something across the shorts... and there were quite a few of them in the field. Like more than any other TWO teams combined. At the whistle, they took off hot and we were racing.

The first move of the day came from one of the SpinMulti guys. He hung out there for a while before getting pulled back in, then Orrville's Lorson got a small gap when it looked like the Green guys were going to let him go... so I jumped across carrying another Green with me. We rotated through once before Lorson looked back and exclaimed that his team had pulled the field back.

So the stage is set. One guy can go, but more than one gets brought back pretty much straight away. I'm pretty sure I made my way into 5 or 6 moves, not one of them worked well together and all of them were pretty short lived. Derrick, Zak and Matt all made jumps of there own, making sure we had someone in anything that looked to move off the front, but nothing stay away.

I think I now know how to position myself for this race. RGF had three in the field and Stephan made one jump before the turn onto Smith road. It placed him right at the front, and he could sit there up the last (only significant) hill on the course. After all my jumps, I was sitting at the back.. literally back of the field of 25 that were left.

On the hill we caught the remains of the U35 field, so we now had about 50 heading onto the crappy pavement... and wonderful left/RR tracks/right lead into the finish. I was able to make it into the top 20 or so on the inside of the left hander, and make some more space over the tracks as everyone puckered up. Unfortunately that put me on the outside for the right hander, and after looking at my current placement, I decided to sit up, having done what I came for, which was to get the first race efforts in two months.

Now I have to get some more... I tell you, crack on two wheels.

Until next time.