Friday, April 23, 2010

Sea Otter Race Report

Oops! I did a race in California, and then segued it into a full-fledged vacation and totally forgot to write about it! I've been hanging out in San Jose and riding for a week now. Meanwhile, my websites went down (internet! noooo!) and I am too busy pedaling, eating and sleeping to fix it.

Since Linnea got her PRO license we had to go to Sea Otter this year, because that's where PROs go in April. Like salmon returning to the stream from which they were born, only with fewer spawning opportunities, if the sausagefest that is the expo area was any indictator.

As I'm but a lowly Cat 1, I had to race Friday with the rest of the non-PRO folks, and instead of racing the new, absurd, 5k PRO course we were on the traditional (and also absurd) 19-mile course that they've been doing for years. And we were riding 2 laps of it. 38 miles? I haven't raced that far since the Darkhorse 40! No, wait, I DNF'ed the Darkhorse after 15 miles... so I haven't done 38 race-pace miles since the Vermont 50.

Oh, crap, that blog post I linked to is from 2007? This is gonna go well...

Sea Otter is actually quite a bit like the Vermont 50. You start in a big group on pavement, everything stays together for a few miles, there's a rush to the first singletrack, and then you loop all over the countryside stringing together a few good sections of trail via a ton of lame doubletrack and tons of climbing.

Well, let's see, what did I think of the Vermont 50 a few years ago?

Spending 20 minutes churning away in the middle ring on something I could ride my road bike on isn't really my idea of fun.

Ouch. That quote could actually apply to Sea Otter as well. The course is only 30% singletrack and only 5% unlock-your-rear-suspension-technical, so it mainly comes down to who can climb long doubletrack hills the fastest. If I wanted to compete in steady-state power-to-weight contests I'd do indoor TTs. Bah.

Ok. Bitching is over. Sea Otter makes me appreciate every course we race in New England, so it's a good race to do for that reason alone. I'll probably go back next year, and complain again. Race report, onward!

So we start on the track. A car racing track. Really. 25 guys and it's a solid mile of riding on the track until we hit the dirt. I have no idea why. I sit in along with everyone else as we buzz along at 20 mph, and then promptly go to the back when everyone sprints for the dirt. We exit through a narrow gap in the fence and of course, as the tailgunner I have no chance of riding it. I'm totally ok with that because we have 38 miles left to ride.

After the fence we go back onto pavement because it's a sweet mountain bike race!
True quote from this picture: "this start is retarded"

Then we bomb down across a ridgeline at 9000 miles an hour on a work road, which is not technical at all but terrifying nonetheless in traffic.

Eventually we get to the one awesome singletrack downhill, made slightly less awesome by not being able to see the trail because I'm tailgating a guy like a total moron. But then made slightly more awesome by not running him over when he crashes!

Later in the lap, I was flying down a paved downhill (because it's a sweet mountain bike race!) and the guy ahead of me decided to slow down to 10 mph to navigate a 15 degree bend onto a dirt road. I was not expecting this and nearly killed both of us while screaming "inside! inside!" at him. Before I could finish feeling superior due to my "mad cornering skills," we headed up a double track climb and he dropped me like a rock.

There was some interesting and even moderately challenging singletrack near the end of the lap so of course I don't want to talk about that, it wouldn't fit the narrative! Plus, I was lonely, although I was able to use the silence to determine that my cassette was loose. Like, really loose. It sounded like I was being chased by panhandlers.

The lap ends with the "legendary" 800 foot climb back to Laguna Seca. It starts on pavement (again, because this course is so awesome) and I made the mistake of looking at my watch. 25 minutes later I was still climbing. And still not halfway done with the race. Or happy.

Spectators watching in awe as I clean this uber-technical section of the climb.

Linnea was faithfully waiting in the feed zone with a new bottle for me, so I had to pick it up and ride hard so that she didn't realize the 4 guys ahead of me were actually some age 30-34 dudes who'd made up five minutes on me on lap one. No baby, I'm totally racing head-to-head with these guys, look at how awesome I am! We are going really fast, you should be impressed, just try to forget everyone who already came through the feed zone ahead of us.
Taking a picture while handing off a bottle is how you get your pro upgrade.

Needless to say this head-to-head racing did not continue very far onto lap two. In fact, there's not much to say about lap two, except that it was like lap one but with fewer guys from my category around and more guys from the later categories trickling through. After 2:25 of racing, I was back to the bottom of the heinous finish climb, racing entirely against guys who had started five to fifteen minutes behind me. Oh, this is going to go WELL.

Well, at least I didn't hit anyone with my parachute. My fried legs spun as best they could up the hill, and while the ten guys that passed me were racing quite impressively, I wasn't anywhere close to the most toasted person on the hill. So that was invigorating. I wanted to think that the guys who could barely pedal were Californians who had been training for Sea Otter since January, instead of early-season Easterners like myself, but their skin tone suggested otherwise.

In related news, I have some SICK tan lines now. I look like Michael Rasmussen, but skinnier.

So anyway, the course eventually put me out of my misery after 3 hours and 1 minute, 39 miles and 4000 vertical feet of brutality. I ended up somewhere around the middle of the pack for all experts overall and 8th/21 in my class, which was pretty disappointing coming from racing the Pro/1 New England races. After some intensive time with my coach we decided that midpack Cat 1 was just fine for an Easterner, and I should shut the hell up. So I will!
My coach and I, relaxing on the floor post-race.

Then I spent two days running around the venue yelling at Linnea while she tried not to get killed by Olympians. It mostly worked. She wrote about it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hopbrook Dam Race Report

Dudes! MTB race season is back! It's April, so everybody is absurdly pumped to race the same old Hopbrook course! Time to prove, yet again, that me riding fast in a 30 minute TT doesn't mean I will ride fast in a 2 hour mass start!

This time around, the race conflicted with Battenkill, so it didn't draw 400+ racers, and everyone couldn't start asking, "omg, is mountain biking BACK!?" (No. It's April. This always happens.) But we still got 20 guys in Pro/1, so I would have a bunch of dudes to chase and pass when they broke their recently-put-together bikes...unless I was one of those dudes.

Actually though, since I was on last year's race bike the odds of finishing were high... much higher than, say, Linnea's odds, after she, Kevin and I spent all of Friday night cobbling together something for her to race on.

(Before I forget, she DNF'ed after a lap because her trashed middle ring couldn't hang onto the brand new chain we used. Oops!)

I started the 2010 season with a totally awesome reverse holeshot. It was awesome because less than a minute into the race Matt Green tried to lead everyone off the course. I looked up and ten guys were dismounting to jump back over a fence, and then they ran into ten guys who were on the course and basically everyone got off their bikes... except for one super awesome dude who was riding in last place and was able to stay on his bike into the first singletrack section.

I might've even passed one person in the melee, but when the dust cleared and the race strung out I was still firmly planted at the back of the pack heading out onto the course. One of the nice things about the Pro/1 race is that you can pretty much ride wheel-to-wheel through the uphill technical stuff and no one screws up and causes a chain reaction of dismounts, so I was still pretty close to the front. Thus I saw no reason to move up, because Kevin and everyone else I had a chance in hell of beating was still right in front of me.

Then we dropped into the first fast rock garden and Greg Whitney BLEW UP. As Myerson would say, "it was like he rode over a land mine." Somehow Greg managed to avoid piercing his kidneys on the many sharp rocks, but he still managed to block the whole trail with his body. I was not ballsy enough to bunny hop over him, so I locked it up and skidded to a stop with my front wheel resting on his frame.

By the time I got around the mess everyone else was gone. Shit. So after five minutes of racing it's basically a two hour TT? Why do I love this sport, again?

So I time trialed along for a while, trying not to panic. I could see a plenty of folks ahead on the climbs and my younger, stupider self (aka "6 months ago) would have gone anaerobic to get back up there, but I stuck to the plan and only rode a moderately-unsustainable pace on lap one.

Despite this I still managed to get totally owned by a tree at low speed -- I dodged it with my bars only to hook a pedal on it, getting my foot pinned between the tree and crankarm while I fell on my stem, and then thrashed frantically in place trying to get off the tree and moving forward once again. Pro.

Tree-hitting aside, I managed to return to competitiveness by the end of the lap and was still in sight of Kevin and Chris Hamlin, with Jeff Landfried right on my wheel. Totally not a TT! So exciting!

Jeff proved annoyingly hard to drop, and Kevin and Chris proved annoyingly hard to catch. Midway through lap two, on the biggest climb, while I was thinking "crap, I can't get rid of Jeff!," Jeff said to me, "I forgot how much race pace hurts" and suddenly disappeared. Phew. Unfortunately Kevin and Chris were apparently quite familiar with how much it hurts (apparently Chris did the Yale ECCC TT earlier that morning? Really?) so they stayed solidly ahead.

That's ok, I'm just pacing myself along here, no worries. Started lap three 30 seconds or so behind them, but then midway through the lap they randomly slowed down and were just ahead. I finally lost my willpower and decided it was time to burn what remaining matches I had to catch up. I caught them on the big climb and announced my presence by breathing really hard.

Mysteriously I did not feel very recovered, even as I drafted them at 5mph while climbing. A few minutes later Kevin took the lead (for the first time in hours, the lazy wheelsucker) and I was definitely NOT recovered... just confused about how I was suddenly clinging for dear life to some wheels I had just easily caught up with.

It turns out that Kevin is one of those bastards who can actually execute the "save something for the last lap" plan, so while Chris and I were just trying to hang onto something like race pace Kevin was about to do a negative split on the final lap. After ten minutes of clinging Chris cracked, and I followed shortly thereafter.

As always, lap four was nothing but counting down the number of climbs left, while trying not to cramp up or throw up, since my stomach had no idea what to do with the gels I was dumping on it. Fortunately Chris was even more cracked than I, so I was spared the agony of racing him head-to-head for the last half hour. I eventually rolled in to a semi-respectable 13th place, a minute back of Kevin.

Now I'm off to Sea Otter for 9 days to find out if Linnea's winter on the trainer makes her able to hang with the best pros in the country. I already know that my winter of not riding the trainer makes me unable to hang with the best Cat 1s in California, but it should be a good time anyway. Especially if New England is cold and rainy while I'm gone.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wells Ave B Race Report

It turns out that training crits are really fun. It's been long since established that I don't like doing intervals, and I pretty much only hurt with a number on. I've tried to use road racing to satisfy my number-wearing-training needs before, but I usually end up being bored for most of the event. I'm not strong enough to attack with any success and I'm not weak enough to be anywhere near in trouble of getting dropped. So I generally do nothing, just like everyone else.

But! The training crit is a different animal, because there's really no score keeping, so "winning" is only weakly defined. I can do all kinds of stupid stuff, chase primes, avoid the final sprint, and claim that I "won" by meeting my "training goals." And since I had a number on, I wasn't doing intervals, but I was trying hard!

So yeah, Wells Ave, you will be seeing more of me. This was my first Cat 4 race ever, and my first criterium ever, so I placed myself in the B race. Linnea made her road racing debut in the C race, and thought it was easy enough to ride the B race next time. Perhaps my dream of crashing out my girlfriend in a sprint will finally be realized.

After about 5 laps I found myself moving up on the inside when the pace slowed, and I decided it was a good a chance for a random attack as any. I looked back, pleading with the field to send out a bridge attempt, and they obliged. Mike from Back Bay came across, I waited, and we set out on a merry 2-man TT as only two mountain bikers can.

Looking less than aero in my cross position [ from uri]

After 1.5 laps we were up to 15 seconds and I was thinking to myself, man, this road racing stuff is EASY. There were even a few times in Mike's draft where it even seemed like our effort was sustainable. Then they rang the prime bell (I'd like to think in recognition of our efforts) and *poof*, a 15 second lead disappeared in barely more than a lap. Welcome to road racing, Colin. I did manage to hang onto the lead just long enough to win the prime, getting passed by the sprinters after the line.

Then I went to the back of the field to suffer for a while.

After 10 or so laps of hanging perilously close to off the back, I decided that I wasn't entirely out of matches. Anticipating another prime, I moved up hard on the start straight, and sure enough, they gave us the bell. I slotted into third wheel, behind some Threshold guy leading out some non-Threshold guy with super nice wheels.

Threshold dude pulled all the way to turn 4, when nice wheels dude launched on the outside of him. It seemed kind of silly to go the long way around, but then again, I had zero desire to try to jump after him while still in the turn, so he got a gap quickly. Threshold guy tried to chase, but of course this didn't work because he'd been pulling for the entire lap. I stayed on his wheel until he sat back down and then launched.

I can't judge distance on a bike, but nice wheels dude was really far away already, maybe 30 yards? Whatever it was, when I looked up after five seconds I almost gave up when I saw the gap. But it's a training race, and I'm already sprinting in my biggest gear, might as well get in a good effort for the powertap I didn't put on this bike...

After 10 more seconds I realized it was going to end up just like the Noho sprint against Colin Murphy from back in the day, nice wheels guy was cooked and just TT'ing seated to the line as best he could. I came screaming by seconds before he crossed the line, which led to him violating the "no cussing" rule quite loudly. That was at least as rewarding as the can of Shaklee drink powder the prime ended up being for.

After that I was definitely cooked, I tried to attack one more time with Uri and was able to take exactly one pull before swinging off and saying to him, "dude, I'm done, see you later." And then I sat up for real on the last lap and came in 30 seconds behind the sprint, because I like my collarbones.

Post-race the entire internet gathered to make fun of my 3cm bar drop and extremely non-slammed stem. It was a glorious expression of roadie elitism rarely seen by the general public -- if we're lucky, the comments section here will continue the assault.

But seriously, I should probably flip that stem. To be cool, or aero, or pro. Whatever you guys want.

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