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.