Monday, September 28, 2009

Racing with the conditions.

This weekend was the StarkVelo Kent State race. As everyone has stated, they put together a really nice course, lots of long stretches to test the fitness and some technical twisty bits with elevation to test the handling. Very nicely placed together.

I like to get to the venue early. It gives me a chance to scope out the course and test some stuff out. Usually I get about 2 hours before the race to change anything I need to. On the way down, it poured, but at the the University, it was dry but overcast. Certainly a tubular course, I got out the grifo's and took a lap.

Being a non-PRO, these tires are expensive... so I don't like to take them out on pavement unless necessary. That said... it forces me to race them without a lot of practice. This year, I've been practicing more on the Vittoria tubs, just to get that feeling, but it's not the same. On the first time around, I stacked it right at the building turn. Oh, how do these work again? The only other problem spots I had were the drop after the "pain climb", which required a quick 180 to climb back up, and then the off camber descent. The back tire just broke loose and would drift. I threw the Vitto's in the pits, and headed off for a second lap. Better, but after drifting the descent/off camber section, I rolled the rear tire.

I had a feeling I needed to reglue these tires, but I had hoped I could go longer before I had to do it. I guess not, and I should be grateful it was during warm up. It would have been a nasty run to the pits from there. So... swap out the Grifo's for the Vitto's and I'm back to rolling.

The sky opened up on the B race... seriously. Then the lightning... and they shortened the race to 3 laps in 29+ minutes. The rain stopped almost at the first sound of thunder, so I hit the course again to see the changes with water.

About 35 racers lined up, and I had a reasonable start, sitting somewhere in the top 20 I think. First lap mess caused a split between the guy in front of me, and the field, so I went after it. And that seemed to be the whole race. Once we got into the technical stuff, a couple of guys got aggressive to gain a place around me... which really ticks me off... and then they would loose it on the climb. I was literally pushing some guys over to get space on the climb. Nicely, not knocking them down mind you.

Into the descent/climb, and through the off camber. I think I've got that dialed. I just need to hold my position, and start making things up. Not to be though, I get by a few as their fitness shows, but for some reason, my handling is crap today. It's either to much tire pressure, or just a bad driving day on my part. My wheels seem to not want to turn, so I'm loosing time in the technical bits. I can make up some in the long straights but not enough. Without my technical advantage, I'm loosing places that I should NOT loose.

I end up reshuffling into about 20th, then the wheels start to come loose about lap 4. I loose space in the technical section, and a couple folks pass me on the hill, with a couple more close behind. We're gaining on 17th place, but it's grouping up... and I screw up the off camber section and go down. Two guys pass and open a gap while I try to get off the ground.

And that's pretty much the race. Sitting in 25th place, I can keep everyone at about the same place until I get into the technical bits because now my confidence is gone. Physically I feel fine, and I'm still pushing the pedals.... I'm just having trouble making the turns...

With 3 to go, I can see Paul and Matt about a half lap back, and I start to calculate if I'll get caught. With 2 to go, I'm pretty sure I'll get caught.... so now I go into the calculation mode. Push harder if you don't want this to be your last lap!

It's pretty clear that everyone else has figured out the course... and I'm actually getting better myself, just not quickly enough. I'm still loosing ground on 24th place... who actually moves ahead of the next guy up the road. Through the technical bits, Paul is gaining... so I go into my sprint mode. I'm am running from getting lapped.

Paul hits the descent, as I'm picking my way through the off camber section. I make it into the 180 before the start/finish, and I know he can catch me... but I also see that Matt is far enough back that Paul doesn't NEED to pass me.... so I just need to work!

Paul gives me the mercy lap. I'm the last one to finish on the lead lap.... He follows me along the course to the pit... where I can wave and say thanks before I continue on to the barriers.

Heading out that straight Paul came along me on the road and said.... "They told me not to lap that Spin rider cause he really wanted to do another lap." ...and I honestly did... which was evident by the way I was running from him at the end there.

It didn't matter at all, except that I got to stay out there for another 10 minutes. I couldn't catch the next guy on the road... and it's not like I did any of the sections any better, I just got in a little more work. I backed off the effort as I got to the technical bits and just rolled it in.

In hind site, I ran to much pressure. I did finally figure out some of the turns... but I really need to figure out how to practice that stuff in wet conditions. In road racing... you always run about the same gear. My tires are almost always at 100psi, I just drive the corners a little different in wet than dry. It's just wet pavement or dry pavement. There are so many more variables in cross.... grass, mud... whatever. What type of mud? How much pressure? And I don't ride this stuff enough to know what would really work, or how to adjust if I've chosen incorrectly. I'd really like to have a nice practice area closer to my house that I can try different equipment in different conditions. I need to buy a farm somewhere.

As far as the series goes, I'm thinking hard about the points system this year. The system is stacked in favour of a top 20 place. If you are in the 20-29 places, you get a flat 50 points. So fighting for a position here is strictly on a "bragging rights" basis. Outside of the top 30, you only get 5 points. It kind of indicates that if you are not in the top 30, you are in the wrong field... which I disagree with, since I like racing in a bigger field so that there are people to race against. You can drop 3 of 9 races, so that does negate some of this.. because 1 race does not hurt as much. But I can see some guys dropping down a category after the third race of the series... or earlier depending on their schedules, simply because of their overall point total.

I'm pretty happy to see 35-45 folks in the A race. and the 45-70 in the B's are also fantastic. I guess the only folks that should be moving down are those that end up 2 or more laps behind the leaders.... but if we held that as a real rule, then a lot of guys that raced in Vegas would not have even tried.... what fun would that be?

Next up Leroy. What's up with those start times? ... always a critic I guess.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wendy Park!!!

It's HERE! Finally it's cross season.

The first race of the year was at Wendy Park near Edgewater, which seemed to be kite capital, and the Cleveland Browns stadium. Driving in, I could smell the meats cooking. Hmmmmmm.... but I'm hungry for some cyclocross. Another Browns highlight, arranging for a flyover for the cyclocross race... a pair of US Marine C130's at about 1:00... a little late for the start of the B's and a little early for the A's start... but still pretty nice.

Team Lake Effect again did a nice job of putting together a challenging course with a good mix of pavement, gravel, off camber turns and elevation gains. They did a nice job of using all the park had to offer... even if the park also offer lots of glass causing quite a few flats.

I used history as a guide... since last year was a WICKED bad flat fest, I brought two sets of clinchers and as a back up to the back up a set of Vittoria tubies... cause that's how I roll, bring lots of extra wheels. This year, I will not be bringing the Surly tank as a backup bike. It's SO heavy compared to the race bike I figure I'd only grab it if I broke my race bike in half.

Early arrival again, I got a couple laps in before the B's went off. No master's field this year, so I'll be racing the A's. I think this is a good move on the Lake Effect guys part, bigger fields should help other guys move up and not sand bag the B race. It's always better to be racing someone... even if it's not the guy that eventually wins the race.

Being nice weather, EVERYONE showed up. There were 60 guys in the B field and 40 in the A's. I got a second row spot, out of about 7. The blew the whistle, and the guy in the front row misses his pedal, and I'm immediately about 20 places and 10+ seconds back. Through the first set of turns, and a team mate slides out on the off camber... I make it around with minimal delay, cause I was going high anyway.

It's pretty cool being on this team, cause there were so many guys on the team there. I think there were 9 team spin guys in the A race, and a lot of B's hung around to cheer. Always makes it more fun. So we hit the pavement with a few team mates, and we're off in chase.

Somehow it sorted out that Mike Plank, Dave Steiner and I are rolling in chase of Jason whose in a group with Ross from Solon and Jimmy Mac from Cornell. There's another big group ahead of them, but you race who you're near. We're working a bit together, though it's not like we're truely organized. I took a big pull coming back along the pier, and up over the rise, and look back and Dave is GONE! I had no idea what happened to him until after the race.

I ended up pulling Mike around for a lap... and then I must have taken a nap or something, cause he pulled a gap... then opened it up considerably. Nap... yep that would be nice about now. Brett from Solon ends up catching me, and Dave is chasing. Brett and I roll around for a lap before I give him a few second gap with 3 to go... I can't let him get to far away... I think I can bring him back in the last two.

Dave is gaining slowly, and I'm maintaining on Brett. With 2 to go, I start pushing harder... so I must have been napping for a bit there. I'm gaining slowly on Brett, through the pier and up the hill, Dave catches back on when Brett is about 20meters ahead. We catch him at the sand, and Dave gives a go. Brett and I stick with it and I jump up to Dave through the barriers. I have a feeling we've got Brett on the ropes, so it's sprint out every corner. Dave and I are encouraging each other. Brett is gone, and I hang with Dave for another half lap before he opens a gap on me. No pressure from behind so I roll in as hard as I can.... and boy do I hurt.

Spin did pretty well considering the guns that showed up for the first race of the season. We had 5 in the second 10 places... and probably could have had more without the flats that plague Wendy Park. I'm thinking that Wendy Park is as hazardous as the goat head cactus in Colorado.

I ran my Michelin green file treads and was happy enough, though I think full on tubies would have been nice.... but a little to nice to risk the punctures. I've got to work on my cornering again though. I was playing it pretty gingerly on a few of them.. either not trusting my equipment, or afraid of going down and hurting my already tender ribs. Either way, I'm happy with my overall performance for 17th. Sure I would have liked to have been fighting it out in the lead chase group, or even have been going for the top 10. Realistically, I think I can improve in a few areas right away, like staying focused throughout the race. The other goals will need to remain in the "stretch" category.

I have to say I feel like a rock star with all the lenses around. Special thanks to Robert and Victor Dvorak for taking some great shots of the race I've included... They got a lot more on their sites. They even make me LOOK like a rock star!

And you know, it doesn't matter how well you go as long as you look good doing it.