Friday, July 13, 2007

First road ride since the accident...

July 13th was my first road ride since breaking my collar bone. The ride was in Utah at 4500 feet and it's been nearly a month off the bike so my power numbers were way down but at least it's a start.

This ride was made possible by my decision (with orthopedist consultation) to have a plate surgically inserted into my shoulder to connect the two ends of the broken collar bone. The general consensus was that although I could have let the bone heal naturally it would have taken a LONG time to grow back together.

Within 48 hours of the surgery I already had fantastic mobility and was able to get back onto the bike within a week of the surgery. It will be a long time before I'm back in race shape (probably next year) but at least I'm riding again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ooops, I did it again.

Well, I had another helmet-busting accident on June 18th while training during a family vacation to the Outer Banks. Unlike my crash last September, this accident involved a moving car and resulted in my collar bone being broken.

I'm really bummed about this one, but it could have been way worse. I could have been much more seriously injured and at least I was able to meet some of my main goals for the year (race wins, upgrading to Cat3, a great finish at Mount Mitchell), but it looks like my racing season for 2007 is done. To make matters worse, this will put a major damper on much of the riding I was planning to do during our 5-week stay in Utah during July and August.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Say hello to the new Cat3...

As of the Cape Fear Road Race I had enough points to request a Cat3 upgrade which left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand I definitely feel like my results since March have shown that I'm able to hold my own against the 4/5 fields but on the other hand upgrading to Cat3 likely means I'll spend some time being pack fodder.

In the end I decided to go ahead and put in my upgrade request which was accepted. Now I just need to train hard and see how I do. Since I'm now able to ride in Masters events I may do so but the top 10 guys in those fields are really good riders, so it may be 2008 or even 2009 before I'm competitive--if ever.

Oh well, upgrading will help keep my motivation from stagnating.

Monday, June 11, 2007

2007 Assault on Mount Mitchell

Ever since entering this event last year, I have been preparing for the 2007 Assault on Mount Mitchell. I won't rehash the details of the event, but let's just say it's a truly epic ride with an extremely painful final 20 miles.

This year's weather was fantastic: overcast and relatively cool (especially as we got closer and closer to the Mount Mitchell summit) with no rain during the ride. I could not have asked for better conditions. Unlike last year when the rain made group riding uncomfortable, I had planned to stay with the lead pack this year and was able to do so without incident. At times it seemed like we were taking it pretty easy, but even so we averaged 22mph for the first 82 miles of the ride.

That left just 20 miles of pure hill left to conquer, for which my training had not fully prepared me. Yes, I had done plenty of long rides leading up to Mitchell but NO NO NO I had not done any sustained climbing like this. Still, I plodded along and only had to stop one time (a two-minute break to drain and refill fluids) during the entire event.

In the end, I made my time goal with several minutes to spare (chip time: 5:42) and finished somewhere in the top 20 out of a reported field of 800 riders. I'm happy with that, but I'm already scheming for next year.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

2007 Cape Fear Road Race

Even though it's a great course and it's an event hosted by my own cycling club, I hadn't planned on participating in the Cape Fear Road Race this year because a change in the dates of both this race and the Assault on Mount Mitchell meant that they would be two days apart. However, with a promise to stay in the middle of the pack until the final hill, I convinced my coach that it would be OK to enter the Masters 4/5 version of the Cape Fear race because it was only 34 miles long.

As it turned out, I almost ended up not making it to the race after all (the web directions were, uh, somewhat misleading) but I showed up just in time to assemble my bike and rush to line. No warmup--but it was hot enough outside that no warmup was necessary, ha ha ha.

Did I mention it was hot? Holy hannah it was hot! With Mount Mitchell looming on Monday, I followed my plan and just sat in toward the mid-to-back of the pack for nearly the entire race and tried to avoid pedaling at all costs. I had two water bottles for race and thought that would be enough. It wasn't. Had the race lasted even a few minutes longer I would have started getting dehydrated.

With the heat keeping everyone's aggressiveness in check, it was clear that the whole race was going to come down to the last 2K before the finish. There is a nice 200-foot climb over 1K (just long enough and steep enough that I had to go into the small chainring) and then a final 1000 meters of flat-to-slightly-uphill coming to the line. I could tell things were going to spread out a bit by the top of the climb so my goal was to be near the front.

With 2.25 kilometers to go, I made my way up the right hand side of the pack, went to the front as we worked our way up the hill, and kept trying to go hard without blowing up. At the top, there were two guys who had stayed with me and we had some decent separation on the field but there was still a long way to go to get to the line.

I let another guy come around me and he pulled for a bit and then slowed to play cat-and-mouse. He kept twitching his elbow to signal that it was time for me to come around and take a turn but I was having none of that. I yelled out "sorry, dude, but I'm not gonna pull through" but he kept slowing down until I was worried the rest of the field would catch us so I went to the front and headed toward the line. I knew the two guys would sit on my wheel and sprint around me when we got to the 200 meter mark so I saved just enough in the tank that I would be able to manage at least a meager sprint to keep things interesting.

My sprint is pretty weak anyway, and after four minutes of VO2Max effort I wasn't hopeful, but a top three finish would be better than getting swallowed up by the pack. Sure enough, one guy came around and so with about 150 meters to go I jumped up out of the saddle with just enough ooomph to pass him and hold it to the line for my second road race win as a Cat4.

Here's a photo of the sprint finish. The photographer apologized to me personally afterward for having mistakenly bumped her camera to the wrong setting right before we came over the hill, but the photo is certainly good enough to get the general idea:

Average power for the entire race: 179 watts (29% of time spent not pedaling)
Average power for last 4.2 minutes: 420 watts
Average power for the last 10 seconds: a meager 882 watts--but just enough

Now I gotta rehydrate, keep the legs up, eat, and rest. Monday's gonna be tough.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What I Learned from the Dragon's Challenge

I've had a couple of days to think about Dragon's Challenge and how things went. Here's what I think learned last weekend:

  • My fitness is pretty good right now. Clearly the combination of long rides with significant tempo work, the Wednesday night team ride, and a rest week last week was really helpful this weekend. I felt that handing the surges in the road race and criterium was surprisingly easy. I was able to move around the pack at will which was really cool.

  • In watching the video footage that my wife took of the criterium, I noticed that the guy who won the race was very active--but it's not something I noticed during the race itself. I need to pay attention not just to what I am doing but also to what other individual riders are doing. Had I attempted a breakaway earlier in the race, it's pretty clear that this guy would have bridged up to me and we likely could have held off the field. I still might have come in 2nd, but it would have been fun to work a break like that.

  • Even though I haven't been specifically targeting 1-5 minute intervals in my workouts, I believe I'm improving in those areas. In my solo flyers at the end of the Saturday and Monday races, respectively, I basically set career best average wattage numbers in the 1-minute to 4-minute range. Even though these intense efforts came at the end of the races, I was still able to achieve personal-best wattages. I'm sure with even more focused work on this after Mitchell is over I can continue to improve.

  • If I want to get good at time trialing I am going to have to spend time on the time trial bike. I believe my FTP is one of my strong suits as a cyclist and yet I "only" finished 6th in the TT. Granted, after a conversation with my coach I made it a point to leave energy in the tank for Monday's criterium but averaging 285 watts on the TT bike is probably just as hard for me as averaging 310 watts on the road bike. It's a substantial difference. Time trialing has not been a focus this spring and it showed. After Mt Mitchell I need to sit down and decide what my goals are for the latter portion of 2007 and potentially include TT work in those goals so that I can bring my TT bike FTP up to a level that more closely matches what I can do on a road bike.

  • Winning and/or finishing near the top is extremely rewarding and makes the blood, sweat, tears, and previous failures all worth it.

Here's a photo from early in the criterium that I thought was particularly well-shot (kudos to the photographer). I'm at the front but taking it easy. The guy in the orange-and-black kit won the criterium. The guy in the orange-and-yellow helmet took second in the road race.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dragon's Challenge: My Own Private Omnium

This weekend's Dragon's Challenge races (a road race, time trial, and criterium) were originally scheduled as an omnium but when the criterium was promoted to state championship status for some race classes but not others that threw a wrench into things so the omnium was dropped but the races continued as planned.

When making my schedule for the season I had planned for this weekend as an omnium and so I decided to treat it as an omnium anyway, albeit unofficially. Once I learned it there were not going to be any cumulative points scored I probably should have just skipped the time trial altogether, but in the end I decided to take it a bit easy on the TT to save some energy for today's criterium.

I won the RR on Saturday and ended up 6th in the TT on Sunday just 40 seconds off the winner's time. This morning they announced that my race class (Masters 4/5) would NOT be considered a state championship event, which means I should have just gone all out during the TT, today's race be damned.

Anyway, today's crit was uneventful. The most exciting part of my race was actually the crash during the field sprint in the race that preceded mine. It was REALLY ugly. My family was actually at the race today and so I promised my wife that I would take a solo flyer on the last lap to make sure I wouldn't get caught up in similar ugliness.

I took off right before the last-lap bell sounded, got some good initial separation, held on as long as I could, but was caught and passed by one dude just before the line. My wife was pretty excited to see me stay upright and my kids were happy to see me finish in 2nd place. My daughter even caught most of the race on tape.
Here's a photo taken shortly before we crossed the line. You can see how spread out things were down the stretch. The snarl on my face (I'm at the far right) is a healthy mix of pain from being at my max heart rate and angst from realizing I'm about to get beat.

Oh yeah... even though nobody else is counting, I'm pretty darn sure I won my own private omnium. It's an honor I'll remember for as long as I can.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

That was close!

Here's the photo finish from yesterday's race. You can see just how close I was to being caught before the line. It's hard to see who's wheel crossed the line first unless you look at the shadow of the bike on the ground.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Dragon's Challenge Masters 4/5 Road Race

I raced with the old, slow guys today (Masters 35+ Category 4/5) at the annual Dragons Challenge Road Race held on the Fort Bragg military base in Fayetteville, NC. It was not a huge field size--maybe 30-40 riders--but it was probably one of the bigger fields at the event due to the sheer number of different race categories offered. The weather was warm (a high in the low 90s on the course today) so I was glad the race was only two laps of 16.2 miles each. Normally I favor longer races because the distance helps separate the fit from the, well, not-so-fit but with two more races this weekend I was glad to not have to spend any more time in the sun than necessary.

This event is extremely well organized but the road race is not a course that sets up well for me, at least not in theory... it's basically a sprinter's paradise with only a few rollers and a long straight shot to the finish line. Nobody was going to get away today and I didn't even bother to try. I just sat in the middle of the field and hung out. The average speed was about 24 mph but in the middle of the pack it felt like a recovery ride. Seriously, my average power for the all but the last 3 minutes of the race was 172 watts. On my own, that wattage would get me 17-18 mph at best.

With a little over a mile to go we were coming up the last hill on the course getting ready for the subtle, steady downhill that flattens out about 300 meters before the finish. I saw some room on along the right shoulder so I got up out of the saddle for only the second time all race and moved up to the front. When I got there, I coasted a bit to let others come around since we still had over half a mile to go and I didn't want to be the hapless leadout guy for the sprinters.

A couple of guys moved in front of me and I settled in behind them, but they started getting squirrelly so I thought "screw that, man" and went around them. Trying to avoid a crash at 30mph is not my cup of tea, and as I found out later there was indeed a crash somewhere back in the peloton that took out several riders including both of my teammates.

With a sprint that leaves a lot to be desired, I decided that I might as well go for broke. I stoked up the engine and spread out the field who lined up behind me but I could not get any separation from the group. As I glanced under my legs, I could see other riders pegged to my wheel so I knew it was not looking good: they would wait until the last second and sprint around me. With no other options, I just powered toward the line and held the wattage as high as I could for those last sixty agonizing seconds to the line.

As it turned out, the long run-in worked to my advantage and sprinters were tired enough by the time we got close to the finish line that they couldn't quite make it around me and I took the win by what seemed like less than half a wheel. I'll post a finish line photo if I can find one.

This is the second time I've gotten lucky like this... Absolutely no work for the entire race, a 2.5 minute effort at the end, and a big neener neener to the sprinters who had been licking their chops with glee. Sometimes the mouse gets away, I guess.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Meh. Rock Hill Masters 4/5 Road Race

From the topo map, this course looked like a great chance to get in a selection or at least have a spread out field but that didn't happen. Two hours of riding in which I thought I raced well (stayed near the front, attacked a couple of times--in vain) all came down to a humungous shoulder-to-shoulder bunch sprint.

Had I done some course recon I would have known about the final turn about 500m before the line and would have played that one better but blah blah blah the bottom line is that I need to work on sprinting if I'm going to win races like this. Things got a bit sketchy there at the end with handlebars touching and people crossing the yellow line early and such so as the herd thundered toward the line and I could see I wasn't going to finish in the points I just sat up.

The result of this race has bothered me for the last two days. Lessons learned: always always always know the run-in to the finish and never give up during the sprint. Oh yeah and I need to either earn myself some sprinting legs and tactics or find some races where there are some long climbs. Unfortunately, my next big races (Dragon's Challenge Omnium in Fayetteville NC) looks like more of the same mind-numbing bunch sprints. Arghhh.

Oh yeah, here's a picture from the criterium on Saturday. I'm the guy in blue-grey on the right who is about to end up getting his arse kicked in the sprint:

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rock Hill Criterium Masters 4/5 race report

Today was my very first race as a 4. Woohoo!

There were 50 guys in the combined field (with separate payouts to the 35-44 and 45+ groups). I lined up at the front and tried to stay near the front for the whole race. I thought I rode a pretty good race: stayed in the draft where possible, managed the corners well, got in a short-lived break, etc.

The criterium course includes six turns and a short hill which makes for some fun racing. Guys who can power up the hill and recover quickly have an advantage. Lots of guys were dropped and lapped. The corner at the bottom of the hill was a bit sketchy due to a cement median after the turn but I thought I managed that well, even coming down the hill at 35mph on the last lap. A few others did not fare so well but there were no crashes in our race though a few guys ended up doing some frantic bunny hopping as the median came rushing toward them.

Coming into the last turn I was 2nd wheel and thought I had a great shot at 1st or 2nd but I'm just not a sprinter type... not yet anyway. I couldn't catch the guy in front of me and two other guys managed to pass me as well so I came in 4th overall and 3rd in the 35-44 group of 38. I was pretty happy to finish on the podium in my first race as a 4 and I even won $50 (of which I gave $30 to some teammates so they could buy lunch as tradition dictates; unfortunately I had a three-hour drive ahead of me so I couldn't stay and eat with them--yep 12 hours in the car in two days!).

With a better sprint or an increased willingness to suffer over the last two minutes I might have done better but I can't feel bad about my results.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I'm a Cat4!

After 8 Cat5 races with varying success and with Rock Hill races coming up this weekend in which I might be able to earn points if I were a Cat4, I decided to request an early upgrade.

My request was granted this morning (on Friday the 13th--how lucky is that?!) so on Saturday and Sunday I'll be entering my first races as a Category 4 cyclist.

Considering that the only requirement to becoming a Cat4 is entering 10 events and living to tell about it, there's technically no reason to get excited but it's still something I've been looking forward to ever since I started racing last summer.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Greenville NC Cat5 Crit report: Humble Pie

I'll keep it relatively short today.

A really strong guy who won yesterday's race (which I did not enter) decided to sprint away from the group right from the start. My teammate and one other guy were the only ones smart enough to catch him and hold on. I simply brain-farted at the start. Mr. Strong Guy then proceeded to pull the breakaway group THE ENTIRE WAY. I got caught in no-mans land between the breakaway and the field and stayed there for what seemed like an eternity (maybe 10 minutes). There may have been another guy or two between me and the breakaway but I do not know. Because lapped riders were not pulled (and because they took the liberty to latch on to whatever group they could), it got extremely hard to tell who was where.

When it was obvious that Mr. Strong Guy was going to be able to continue to stretch the lead without any help whatsoever from the other two riders in his wake, I finally raised my glass to the better man and sat up to let what was left of the field catch me. I think there were 5 of us left in the peloton at that point but my heart rate was way too high at that point to know for sure. I was still motivated to work hard because I thought there were a couple of guys between my group and the breakaway but I obviously didn't want to pull the field up to the break because it would hurt my teammate's chances at a podium finish--and indeed I wasn't strong enough to do so anyway.

In the end, I worked really hard for 30 minutes but did not race very smart at all. Too many mistakes to name. With about a lap to go I was on the front trying desperately to catch a guy that I found out later was a lapped rider. Stupid, stupid, stupd. The four guys I towed along simply waited until I pooped out and then went around me. I sprinted to catch them but failed in the attempt. One of the guys who beat me was a 12-year-old kid on a silver Motobecane Le Champion (I own a black one). He rode very smart and stayed glued to my wheel from the time I let the group catch me to the time I pooped out. His dad has taught him well.

Here's a snapshot of the ride file. You can see that there are just too many anaerobic efforts that eventually caught up to me. My average wattage and normalized wattage were below what I can sustain for 30 minutes but anaerobic capacity was my limiting factor. Back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The winning move from last week's race

Here's a photo of the winning move. I spent $60 on various sized print versions of this photo for scrap-booking purposes (my wife has a little scrapbook where she puts photos of my "athletic" successes and failures), so I feel justified in posting a digital picture here even though I don't own the copyright.