Monday, February 29, 2016

Froze Toes...More like Blown Over

Welcome reader to my first race review of 2016.  As some may know I consider myself both a cyclist and triathlete, and compete in both actively.  I have posted race reports before and encourage you to check some out.  This will actually be the first time I am reviewing a cycling race so I will bring the race to you as I saw it unfold from inside the Cat 4 race.

Prerace smiles
In bike racing we are separated by Categories.  These range from Junior, Cat 5 (entry), 4, 3, 2, 1 (pro).  A racer can hold a license starting at age 9.  I have been a Cat 4 racer for a while now, not that I am sandbagging, but I have been waiting for my oldest son to reach that level. He is 14 (race age 15) and is competing in his first year as a Cat 4. I have deemed myself his personal domestique (a worker bee) for the season or until we move up a category to 3's. Since he is also a junior he races with a handicap in a sense.  His gearing is different than mine.  He is limited in the amount of gears he has to choose from.  This is done in order to help teach the youth of our sport to spin, learn fundamentals, build strength, among a multitude of other reasons.  I say this because when he is racing against me or the others in Cat 4 his gearing is a distinct disadvantage. He has to use drafting, teammates, and leg speed to overcome what the older guys have in gears and power. 

Connor (my son) has come a long way and this race was a sort of coming out party for him as a bike racer, or if anything a "wholly crap it only gets faster from here" wake up call.

I found me wanting to get out of Iowa and away from the trainer and found a race in Columbia, MO.  It was called Froze Toes and it is the closest open road race that I could justify us driving to (only a 4 hour drive from our house).  We left early in the morning and headed south to hopeful
warmer temps.

A windy 'Murica
Weather on arrival:
60 degrees, sun but with overcast moving in
28 mph sustained winds from the SW

The Course:
A 31 mile loop with 4 turns headed north, turn to east, then 15 miles of hell with turns to the south, then west for an uphill finish into the wind. This is a rolling course with mild hills, and a finishing 2 miles that could rival the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

The Race:
I had spoken with some other racers upon our arrival who had completed the race earlier and gotten a good heads up of what to come.  It was my feeling that the group would hit the gas and not let off until the 3rd turn of the race hoping by then they had a small break.  A small group working together in the winds could get away leaving the bigger pack fighting to organize and catch them and most likely not being able to do so. Well this strategy did get employed in our race.

As soon as the group rolled past the neutral line someone stomped on the gas pedal.  With the wind at our backs we were cruising at 30mph and I found myself pedaling with relative ease.  I had made sure Connor was up ahead and looking to make the front group. I was going to sit back in the pack save myself for the headwind and work my way to him eventually. Well, remember what I said about his gearing, at 30+ mph he is out of gears and unable to make life easier by shifting, he had to spin his legs at over 125 rpms for 10 miles or so. While in contrast I am pedaling easy at 90rpm or not pedaling at all.  About 4 miles in I could see the break forming and there were 3 groups beginning to take shape.  I found myself in the 3rd group and quickly made a move to the second pack.  I found Connor in the 2nd pack and could see he was spinning to stay but looked strong.

I moved to the front of the pack to slow the effort a tad.  A lot of energy was being used to try and catch the break and I knew that most, if not all of them, would come back with the winds we would be turning into soon. Controlling a pace can be difficult but I think the riders were happy to slow a bit from 30 mph to 27 mph.  I found another rider to share some of the work with and he agreed to work to keep the pace steady.  Our group was about 25 riders with about 10 riders off the front and about 10 riders off the back in the 3rd group. For the first 10 miles 3 to 4 riders in our group worked to keep pace and I did my best to make sure Connor did not work at all and stayed on my wheel.

Post race smiles

As we came through the first turn to the East the group maintained pace and we could see the lead pack still.  This was a short section with the wind and man did it feel great.  As we came to the 2nd turn the race was now on. The group pushed the pace immediately exiting the turn and blew the pack apart with the strong crosswind.  Connor had to use the other riders to maintain position. Unfortunately with the pack strung out he caught the wind and got blown off the back.  I saw this happen and could see the dark place starting to come across his face.

I sat up and let the group go to slow myself down so I could shelter him and get him back to the finish line, because 16 miles of 30 mph winds alone, sucks. He managed to push himself to me.  I shared a gel pack with him, gave some words of encouragement, and told him to not give up because the race had just begun and the riders would come back to us.  I consider myself a diesel engine on the bike. I can mash the pedals hard for long time.  And in this moment that was what it was going to take to get back to the group.  We never lost sight of them and possibly only 1/2 mile of lonely, desolate road separated us. Once he caught my wheel, riders began to loose the pack.

My constant pace saw Connor and I gaining on the dwindling group ahead of us. One by one we caught riders.  I never relented the pace and Connor never left my side.  With about 1 mile to the final turn we caught the pack again which had dwindled its numbers to about 7, but I had managed to collect about 15 riders and bring us back together.  There was still a small group off the front of us and we would not catch them. So Connor and I decided to go with a pack finish.  Going into the final turn the roads turned to absolute crap. the were rutted, filled with potholes, and very difficult to find a solid path on.  I moved Connor to nearly the edge of the road and found the most stable of lines.  We were only allowed the use of one lane of road with crossing the yellow line being a disqualification.

The sign of a good race
The riders were not too jumpy and we pedaled easy until about 1000 meters to go.  I got Connor to move up to about 3rd rider in our group at the bottom of the hill. I chose to ride behind him and block as long as long as I could. As we began to crest the hill to a false flat, Connor held his position, but the hill kicked up just enough in the final 200 meters that the pack began to press and the field sprint was on.  I watched as Connor shed his last little bit of energy and finished well but nearer the back of the pack.  I was the last one in our pack to cross the line.  Connor placed 22nd I was 26th out of 45.  In our pack we had roughly 6th place to me.

For those data geeks:

Intel is always important and I try to be very aware of positioning, so when I lost the main group I was unable to figure where we needed to be. But for Connor our goal to finish in the pack was met.  He proved he has the skill and desire to succeed and it should be a great year to come.

Kudos to all riders for being careful and racing well.  This was a well organized race and a solid group of riders.  There was only one flat tire and no crashes that I was aware of in our race. 
Just a couple of turkeys