Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snelling Road Race and Beyond

Although I didn't train too much during this week, I felt okay heading into the weekend and my Saturday race.  This would be the first race in which I had a teammate and therefore we would get to enjoy the benefits of team tactics.  I woke up at 4:30AM on Saturday to drive 2 hours to Snelling, CA for the venue of the race.  After picking up my race number I set up my trainer, chatted with a few teammates, and began my warmup.  After a good warmup I lined up for the 50 mile race with my teammate Jason.  Jason could actually race in the 35+ category but was nice enough to switch and join my race so that we could race together.  The course was a 11 mile loop on rolling hills and we were scheduled for 4 laps with a neutral 6 mile rollout from the park where we started.

During the neutral rollout I had the chance to chat with Jason about some tactics for our race.  We discussed that I would try to get into a breakaway and that he would stick with the pack and try to be fresh for the finish if the peloton brought back the breakaway that I was hopefully in.  This is a pretty typical team tactic but it would be both of our first attempts at making it work.  This is about the time when our team tactics went out the window.  I began to feel that the back of my bike was hitting some very solid bumps as we were heading out to the course.  I peaked down at my rear wheel to see that my back tire had gone flat.  Jason saw my wheel at about the same time and we both came to the conclusion that our team tactics were finished.  I pulled over from the field and began the long trek back to my car.

I thumbed a ride from a passing car and was dropped off back at the park.  I went over to a nearby official and asked if I could change my tire and get back out to the race.  He was concerned that the other race officials would not be able to distinguish which lap I was on and he therefore discouraged my re-entry into the race.  I changed the tube in my rear wheel (which had a puncture from one of the 2 pieces of glass  I found in the tire) and decided to ride out the finish line to watch the different races going on.

I watched the finish of the races, packed up my stuff and headed home.  Our team did okay in the races and Jason finished just behind the main field (he was stung by a bee on the forehead with about a quarter mile to go and was forced to take his helmet off to try and get the bee off his head).  After the race I pulled the stinger out of his head as it was still giving him problems.

Sunday was the team ride and it was a little bit smaller this week as many of our teammates raced the day before and probably took the day off.  I felt pretty strong and am doing a pretty good job of staying with the faster guys on the climbs, a sure sign that I am still getting better at this bike riding thing.

Two very exciting pieces of news to mention before I am done.  First, after "competing" in the Snelling Road Race on Saturday I submitted my request for a Category upgrade and was approved on Monday. This means that I am now a Category 4 racer and that I accomplished one of my major goals by getting my upgrade by the end of February.  Now I will have the rest of the year to work on my Category 3 upgrade.  Secondly, when I logged in today to finish this post the numbers show that I have now surpassed 100 page views for this blog.  Thank you all for taking an interest in my life and writing, I am trying my best to make each post interesting and to be consistent with my posting.

I am going to try and keep the next couple of posts shorter but more frequent to see if that works better. I find that it takes me a very long time(2-3 hours) to post a weeks worth of rides/races and I think it might be more interesting to read shorter entries that are more focused.  Luckily I have a short break from racing and will have my first Cat. 4 race on March 18th.  Plenty of time to take my fitness to another level as the fields will now be larger, the races longer, the talent pool will be deeper, and there is money to be won.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Copper Town Circuit Race

Quite a bit to cover this week but let's start at the beginning.  Monday morning I woke up at 4:15AM to catch a 6:10 flight to Kalispell, Montana.  If you have never spent time in Montana, it is quite interesting.  After landing and picking up the rental car I headed to my first meeting in Whitefish and passed one of the most unique billboards I have ever seen.  It was for the Blue Moon nightclub and advertised "Live Entertainment, Happy Hour Specials, World Class Animal Mounts."  You guessed it, they had the best taxidermy in town and wanted everyone to know it.  After 3 days in the cold weather I was definitely looking forward to our warm(er) California winters.

My first real warm-up before a race.  I am slowly learning.

On the way back I had received a phone call from our local bike shop to let me know they were finished with adjusting the brakes on my bike.  I had mentioned in a previous post that the new wheels I had purchased have extra wide rims and I couldn't get the wheels on without the pads rubbing.  Fortunately the bike shop had a few tricks up their sleeve and they fixed the problem.  The drawback was that there still wasn't much room between the rims and the pads and therefore the brakes were very touchy (grabby).  The solution is that I will have to file down the brake pads by about 1-2mm in order to regain some modulation and feel when braking.

Thursday and Friday were both very busy days at work, so much so that I never had a chance to get in a training ride as I normally do.  The result was that I was both frustrated and feeling underprepared for my upcoming race.  Saturday I went for a ride on my new wheels but it could hardly be called training because I stopped constantly to check that everything was okay.  On a side note, the new wheels are really fast, they seem to spin up quicker and maintain that speed much easier.  I am looking forward to using them in a race at some point.

Copperopolis is a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and they are host to 2 bike races every year.  The first of those races is the Circuit Race (basically a longer version of a criterium) and the road race comes later in the year.  I had heard that this was a good race from a teammate the week prior and after checking out the drive time and my start time, I knew I couldn't pass on this race.  This would be the first time that I started later in the day and I was excited to sleep in and still have plenty of time before my race.  

Town Hall building of Copperopolis.  The entirety of the town square looks like it was built for a movie set, especially since there wasn't another town for miles.
Kelsey and I left around 10AM for my 1PM race and drove east across the central valley to the Sierra foothills.  The town center of Copperopolis was the setting for our bike race and it was a wonderful location for a bike race.  The course was closed to traffic so we never had to worry about other cars and the pavement was pristine.  The course was approximately 6 miles long with a loop around the town square and then a 3 mile ride to the turnaround (literally a 180 degree turn) and then coming back on the same road as you went out on.  The finish line had been moved out of town this year due to safety reasons and now ended about 2 miles after the turnaround at the far end of the course.

After picking up my race number in the town square I set up my trainer and proceeded to warm up for the first time before a race.  For all of you that don't actually believe me, I have the picture to prove it above.  After a proper warm up I headed over to line up for the race and Kelsey took her place right at the start line (different than the finish line) to take pictures of the race.

The field just before the start of the race.

One of my goals for the year is to learn how to "race smart."  By this I mean that I am trying to learn how to read a race and to plan and react to what may happen.  I am still learning but this week was the first time that I actually planned ahead and executed my plan.

The race started pretty quickly and within the first lap we had settled down and a breakaway of 3 riders had formed.  They gained an advantage of about 100 meters and there was really no concern from the field with another 3 laps to go.  By the end of the first lap I had learned 3 important pieces of information that I would use to my advantage throughout the race.  The first was that there were two sections of turns that caused the field to slow down considerably and thus speed up after exiting those turns.  The key for these turns was to be as close to the front of the race as possible to lessen the amount that you slow down and also the amount that you have to speed up after the turn.  A great analogy that I read in a book describes it this way.  At the beginning of every race, each rider has energy equivalent to a book of matches.  Every time that you are forced to sprint(such as to catch the field after a sharp turn), attack a hill, or spend time in the wind you burn a match.  The key is to save as many matches as possible for the end of the race.  In other words it is much easier to ride at a consistent pace than it is to ride slowly and sprint every 100 meters (kind of like the tortoise and the hare analogy, sort of).

Heading into the town square on the second lap.

The second revelation was that I quickly gained an understanding of the last 1km before the finish line. There was a hill just inside the 1km sign that was just steep enough to slow down the field every time that we went over it.  I planned to use this hill as the springboard for my attack on the last lap.  After this hill was a slight downhill for about 400 meters, followed by a brief rise, and then the last 200 meters were slightly downhill to the finish line.  The third and final revelation was that the wind direction was blowing mainly from the west and for the most part meant that it was a crosswind.

The second lap was spent doing my best to conserve energy by staying out of the wind as much as possible.  This meant that on the way out I always wanted to keep another rider on my right side (the wind side) and on the way back I wanted to keep a rider on my left side.  Sometimes this seemed too easy and other times it seemed like I was about to be run off the road.  By the end of the second lap we had not gained on the 3 man breakaway and the race had settled down without much activity.

On the third lap 1 of the breakaway riders had fallen back and was picked up by the field.  Before the 180 degree turnaround I had moved up to the front of the field and made sure that I stayed there thru the turn.  This meant that I spent about a minute at the front (which I normally would not advise) but I saved quite a bit of energy by not having to sprint to catch up after the turn.  I knew that I would need to be in a similar position on the next and final lap.  Heading into the town square for the last time I made sure I was once again towards the front going thru the turns.  I made a sneaky move on the outside of the field right before town and was able to move quickly thru the town square.  The video above shows how the field will get stretched out in the turns and this will force all of those at the back to sprint to catch up after these turns.  Note: You can probably hear Kelsey in the video realize that she is still filming when she thought she was taking a picture.

I spent the next half lap towards the back as I prepared for the last few hectic minutes of racing.  It was quite obvious that the field was not interested in catching the breakaway and that they weren't coming back to us at any great pace.  This meant that a bunch sprint was definitely in order and that the pace would increase all of the way to the finish line.

Right before the turnaround I moved up the inside of a few riders to make sure that I was towards the front going thru the turn.  After this turn I just did my best to stay out of the wind and tried to be as patient as possible before my attack with just under 1km to go.  At least 2 riders tried to make solo attacks as the km's ticked away but none of them would come close to sticking and when I passed the 1km sign I knew it was time to attack.  The only problem is that I was completely blocked in from having conserved energy in the draft.  After a few seconds I finally saw a gap and forced my way thru into open road and charged up the climb towards the front of the field.

I guess my plan worked almost too well because by the top of the hill I found myself at the front of the field with about 750m to go.  I wasn't sure how many riders had been dropped on the sprint to the top of the hill but I did know that I couldn't make it all the way to the finish line by myself.  I kept a fast but manageable pace for the next 400 meters as I knew that I was now leading out the sprint to the finish line.  With about 300 meters to go and just at the slight rise, someone attacked and I was quickly passed by 4 other riders.  I reacted quickly to increase my speed as the sprint to the finish was in full force.  Inside the last 100 meters I knew that I was beginning to gain on some of those that had passed me and with a final push I had managed to pass 2 of those riders back.

5th place is my best finish and I was very happy with the plan I had put in place and the success of that plan.  I am starting to feel more comfortable during the races and I am starting to understand what it is that I should be doing in order to get myself in a better position to win.  I have 1 race this Saturday and it will be my last race as a Cat. 5.  After completing this next race I will have earned my upgrade and the competition will get tougher.  Until next time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

This weekend marks for the first time in 5 weeks that I did not have a race to attend.  This also means that I was able to ride on our weekly Sunday team ride, something that I have not been able to do since December.  But before I get into my training from the weekend, I have some good news to share.  The Tour of California just announced the race route for this years race in May and one of the stages passes right near our house.  Not only that but the route will go halfway up Mt. Diablo and I will definitely be taking the day off work to watch as it goes by.
This map my be difficult to view, but the race route is in blue and we live right near the green state park near the top of the map.
In an effort to scout the best place to the watch the race, I decided to take a ride up the north side of Mt. Diablo.  Despite the fact that Kelsey and I have been living right near the base of Mt. Diablo for almost two years, I had still never taken the time to climb the North side (I had always gone up the South side).  So I took off on a damp and overcast Saturday morning and joined two friends up the climb.  The pavement was a little bit more choppy on the North side but we soon fell into a nice steady rhythm.  Having never been on this climb before we wanted to keep the pace pretty easy so we kept it at a conversational pace until we got to the junction.  The descent was cold but it was a good 2.5 hour ride.

On Sunday I joined the team for our weekly team ride.  We ended up doing a 50 mile loop with about 2500 feet of climbing.  The team rides always start on Sundays at 8:00AM from a coffee shop in Danville and normally the pace is pretty moderate for the first half hour or until we hit the first climb, at which point it turns into every man for himself.  On these climbs I normally get to judge my fitness level against others and I was very happy with how well I climbed today.  I managed to stay with the lead group on 3 of the 5 climbs and better yet, I felt pretty strong even at the end of the ride.

Ride Route:

One other item to mention in this blog post is the new wheels I recently purchased and am going to use in races this year.  I have been going thru some problems with getting the brakes to fit correctly onto the bike and once I get that sorted out I will post about the results.  A picture of my race bike below, minus the brakes (don't worry I didn't actually ride the bike this way):

You may notice a correlation of the blog title and my bike.
I am headed to Montana this week for work but I will be back to training on Thursday with a possible race on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This past Sunday was my first official criterium race, the Cherry Pie Criterium, called so because the top 3 finishers in each race are rewarded with a cherry pie made from a local bakery.  The race was in Napa so Kelsey and I had planned on going up the day before to enjoy wine country but we decided that we would rather sleep in our own bed and save the money spent on a hotel.  My race was a 7:30AM start time and it was 45 minutes away so we had to get up at 5:30AM to make sure that we had enough time to load the bike onto the truck, pack clothing for the day, and grab a quick bite to eat.  We left on time and arrived just before 6:45AM.

The morning was pretty cool (around 45 degrees) so I knew I would have to wear extra layers to stay warm during my warmup and the beginning of the race.  After parking I headed up to the registration tent to pick up my race number.  The line was kind of long as our race had a field of about 45 and this eventually ate into my warmup time (the bad habit continues).  I eventually got back to the truck and had Kelsey pin the number on my jersey as I unloaded the bike and put the rest of my kit on (kit is cyclist lingo for uniform).  As a side note, it generally takes me at least 10 minutes to pin the number onto my jersey.  For some reason I always seem to pin the jersey together so that I can't actually put my arms thru the sleeve so I was very happy to have Kelsey help and I must note that she did an excellent job.  After getting all of my clothing on and eating some energy chews, I went about getting my 10 minutes of warmup in before the race.

The field just before the start.  I am at the far right, just next to the orange sign.
During my warmup I did get a chance to ride 1 lap of the course and it basically looks like a big loop with a short climb up to the finish line and then a quick 180 degree turnaround at the top of the climb and then you head right back down to the flat loop of the rest of the course.  The whole course was about 1 mile long total and the pavement was pretty good so you should be able to take all turns at full speed (this won't happen later in the race with disastrous results).  

The field coming up the climb just before the turnaround.  

Heading back down after the climb, you can see the barriers at the bottom of the hill guiding us to the right.  Also note the hills in the background marking the western side of the Napa Valley.
The race started and with such a large field it was a little bit chaotic for the first few laps.  Luckily, the short climb did a wonderful job of weeding out all those that couldn't power through the short climb each lap.  Within the first 6 laps the field was almost split in half with those that couldn't keep up and we began to lap some of those that were dropped.

Turning around at the top of the climb.
The pace actually seemed to slow from laps 7-10 as the field rested for an obvious sprint finish.  Then on the second to last lap a crash occurred on the back side of the course with only a lap and a half to go.  I don't know the exact reason for the crash (probably someone braking in a turn) but I can tell you that 2 people went down right in the middle of a turn.  This causes all behind to quickly divert there paths or run over the downed riders.  Luckily, I was just far enough behind the crash to slow down and avoid hitting anyone or anything.  The crash took down about 5 riders, broke the front wheel off of 1 bike and launched 1 rider over a median and into the side of a truck (as noted in the prior post I believe there were no serious injuries).  In the process of avoiding the crash I had slowed to a complete stop and then was forced to ride hard to catch the field.  This was aided by a referee motorcycle "neutralizing" the field in order to help those caught behind the crash catch back.

The major bummer was that by the time I caught the field there was only a half lap to go and I was at the back without much time or energy left to move up.  I did my best to move up but it was to no avail and I finished the race in 23rd place towards the back of the main field.  It was a pretty exhausting last 1.5 laps but not nearly on par with the pain I experienced during the last 15 minutes of the early bird road race.

Yours truly just after the race.  Notice the wonderful pinning of my race number, I am jealous of those skills.
After the race Kelsey and I packed up the truck and headed to find breakfast as it was still only about 8:15AM.  We found a nice place called the Boon Fly Cafe and sat down for a meal.  I know Kelsey enjoyed her chorizo breakfast burrito but I thought the food was mediocre.  This might stem from my love of simple, unhealthy breakfast food so whenever a restaurant tries to make gourmet breakfast, it is mostly lost on me.  Either way, the pancakes I ordered were plenty of food so I left feeling quite satiated.  We drove back to the course and watched some of the higher category races as the day began to warm up.  Kelsey enjoyed sitting in the warm sun (I think it peaked a 68 degrees) and I got to watch more bike racing and continue to build on my memory bank of race tactics.  After watching a few more races we left, drove into Napa, and went to a wine tasting bar that we had been to a year ago.  It was a great way to wind down before our trip home.  

Next weekend marks the first time this year that I won't have a race to go to.  I am definitely looking forward to not traveling and getting to join our weekly Sunday morning team ride (although it typically turns into a race at some point).

Thanks for reading.

P.S.  I have posted a picture below of my fitness software that tracks power, speed, cadence, heart rate, elevation, and temperature on a graph (I began to discuss this in my previous post).  The yellow line is my power output, the red line my heart rate, and blue my speed.  You might be able to make out some of the other numbers but those are a couple to get you started.  All data from Sunday's race.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hello and welcome to my new blog.  No more emails being sent out, so you can check for new posts whenever you feel like it.  I don't have any specific schedule for posting but I will try for roughly 1 post a week.

So now to catch you up on the last two weeks.  I will start with the previous week first.

1 race, no crash, finished in the pack.

Last weekend was the last of the training crit races.  I ended up getting to the course late so I missed the clinic that precedes each race but since they were only practicing group riding skills, I didn't mind.  Besides this gave me the time to have an actual warmup before the race, something that I have been making a bad habit of skipping.  After my warmup I had decided that for this training race I would try to spend as much time as possible on the front of the pack.  I achieved this with only moderate success.

The race started and I promptly shot to the front of the race and set a fast pace.  After spending the whole first lap on the front of the pack I finally pulled off the front and let someone else take a turn on the front.  I was quickly dropped back towards the back of the pack and took a break for the next couple of laps.  I made a couple half-hearted attempts to get back to the front but they were destined to the fail from the start.  On the second to last lap I finally decided that I would have to move up and spent a half lap pushing the pace at the front yet again.  During the last lap I was once again shuffled to the middle of the pack and I didn't contest the sprint finish.  There were no official results for this race but I was happy with my performance and I now know how hard it is to ride at race pace without the aid of drafting.  As a side note I had read once that a rider who is drafting ends up using approximately 25%-30% less energy than someone without the aid of the draft, this I can now confirm is true.

I didn't have much of a chance to train during this past week as I was traveling in Colorado from Monday to Wednesday but I did go for a ride on Friday, and on Saturday I went for a ride up Mt. Diablo.  Saturdays ride was the second of my monthly "fitness tests".  I am glad to report that I am getting stronger.  How much stronger you may ask, well roughly 6% stronger.  Now the next question should be, how do you know you are 6% stronger.  Ok, let me explain.

In December of last year I purchased a wonderful little device called a power meter.  There are many different versions of power meters but the one I purchased is integrated into the cranks/chainrings (the ring that the chain sits on).  Inside this device are 10 tiny strain gauges that measure flex.  When you apply force to the pedals, the metal chainrings actually flex a very minute and consistent amount and the strain gauges measure this, multiply it be how fast you are pedaling, and then convert this into a universal unit of measurement (in the case of cycling, wattage).  To be honest, I am not really sure why they use wattage and as far as I can tell it really has nothing to do with me being a able to run a toaster, light bulb, or microwave for a certain amount of time.  All you need to know is that I measure my fitness in watts and the higher the number I can sustain for a longer period of time, the better I am doing.

In order to get a consistent test of my fitness level I have chosen the ride up Mt Diablo as my testing grounds.  I get a 20 minute warmup ride to the base of mountain and then I start the test.  The test basically boils down to riding as hard as I can for 20 minutes.  With some experience I have figured out when I can push myself and when I need to back off a little.  During this particular test I knew I was doing well when I set a personal record for my time to the kiosk (from 14:40sec to 14:05).  From there I knew I only had a few more minutes of pain and I would be done.  After the ride I downloaded my data(from my nifty bike computer) and sure enough I had increased my functional threshold power from 258 watts to 274 watts (roughly 6% increase).  I will explain functional threshold power in a later post but it is basically the same as average wattage.

That is all for now.  I will try to post a race summary of the Cherry Pie Criterium (that really is the name) in the upcoming days.  A quick teaser.  I didn't crash but I did barely miss a crash where someone's bike broke in half (I believe all parties involved were okay, no major injuries).