Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hyde Park Crit

Without going into details, near the end of May, I was doing hill repeats up Everett and cracked my road bike frame.  It took a while, but the lifetime guarantee resulted in me getting a new 2013 frame.  I received this frame exactly 2 days before my first race back.

My first race back was  Tour de Grandview.   While last year’s course was tough with a significant climb on the loop, this year’s course looked more inviting, but in fact, ended up being way more painful.  My heart rate before the race even started was in the 140s.  Early in the race, I made a bad mistake trying to take a corner and ended up doing a header into a bush. 

Of course there is photographic evidence, which left my boyfriend to ask, “what were you looking for in that bush?

To which I responded, “My cycling skills apparently.”

Fortunately, my bike held up, and I was able to get back to the start for a free lap and get back in the race.  (Note: In crits, until about 3-5 laps to go, you have what are called “free laps.”  If you have a mechanical or are somehow impeded, you can go off course to the START/FINISH and an official will push you back into the race).  A  couple of laps later, some lady just walked out into the field.  I doubt she will make that mistake again as she softened everyone’s fall, but one racer was carted off in an ambulance, another girl’s $4K frame was a goner, and I was on the ground once again.  I got back up, they then neutralized the race for 20 minutes, and then re-started the race with 3 laps total.  I ended up getting 12th, but it wasn’t the greatest race.  I had a few cuts and bruises, a few muscles felt tweaked, but I knew that I wouldn’t really be able to assess the damage until the next morning.

I then drove down to Cincinnati to spend the night at a friend’s uncle’s house.  As I drove, I called my coach and told him basically that racing the rest of the weekend was completely dependent on how I felt in the morning.  I also told him that if that race had been my first, it would have been my last.  He understood.  I called my boyfriend who was about as sympathetic as possible, glad I was okay, and then I called my mother who suggested that I needed to find a new sport. 

After driving around the apparently small town of Cleves, Ohio, I finally found the house of said uncle.  I was a good hour earlier than all the other guys coming down, but I wanted out of Columbus in a bad way.  Eventually, everyone else staying there showed up, and we all found our little niches on the floor of the basement (note: fully furnished, super nice, comfy carpet floor).  I don’t think I have ever slept so well on an air mattress.

When I woke up, I had that pre-movement realization that the next instance was going to make or break my weekend.  Would I be in lots of pain and be foregoing racing, or would my body have taken the blows with only minor stiffness?  I slowly moved to collect my glasses and low and behold, I felt pretty good.  My left glut was definitely sore, but all things considered, I was shocked by how good I felt. 

Apparently, the bagel I had had for dinner the night before hadn’t quite been enough as I was absolutely starving when I woke up.  I went upstairs and ate my breakfast and some of Sunday’s as well.  I sat and chatted with one of the guys I didn’t know, Jeremy, and discovered he was quite the accomplished cyclist.  He offered to take a look at my bike as I told him of my coach’s concerns post crash.  He noticed that the derailleur hanger wasn’t too bad at all, noticed what gears it didn’t like, but agreed that I shouldn’t be racing in them regardless so it wouldn’t be a problem.  He also went through the course we would be racing that day and gave a pretty accurate depiction of what to notice and which lines are optimal.  After discussing things like Strava segments and recent rides I had done, he told me that he thought the course would suit me well and suggested that I should attack and see what happens.

After getting lost a couple of times and struggling to find somewhere to park, I finally settled into a nice church parking lot.  I had plenty of time, but wouldn’t really let myself getting ready until noon for my 12:50 race.  My boyfriend had sent me a text and it simply said, “Give ‘em Hell !”  I don’t know why, but that stuck with me.  I did my typical soft pedal warm up.  I had noticed that the 180 turn, of which I was fearful, was left to right, which is the opposite direction of anything that I had ever practiced so I took a piece of closed off road and practiced going left to ride or clockwise through a 180 turn.  I got my heart rate up on a false flat and generally told myself to trust in my abilities. 

Then, with about 10 minutes to go in the men’s CAT 4/5, it started to rain and rain kind of hard.  All I could think of was Jeremy saying how he hoped it wouldn’t rain.  My socks were a little soaked, but I just told myself that we were all racing the same race with the same conditions, can’t do much about it.

I rode a few laps of the course, and as always, women just flew by me.  I don’t know why, but that always makes me feel okay, like, they look at me and think, look at that turtle, she won’t be an issue to beat.

They had us stage near the bottom of the hill and ride up to the start/finish.  Many of the women were a little nervous about the conditions and the words “safe” and “cautious” seem like appropriate adjectives to describe the attitude towards the race.

The course start/finish was about 30 yards before a flat and kind of wide 180 through to a straight away that was probably a third of a mile to a narrow left turn up a hill that had about 40 feet of elevation gain over .1 of a mile, a right turn up a little more to the top, then a right turn down the hill and a right turn at the bottom to the straight away that was about a quarter of a mile long to the START/FINISH.  I am guessing on distances, but that seems about right. 

Our race was 30 minutes long with no primes.  At the whistle, I started my watch and jumped to the front of the group  so I didn’t get behind anyone through the 180.  I had gone down twice the night before, and I wasn’t about to go down because someone else didn’t know how to ride.  I stayed in the front through the straightaway to the climb.  I kind of wanted to see how everyone else handled the hill.  I was in front and only a couple of people passed me on the hill.  I took that as a good sign and was able to stay near the front through the turn and the straight away.  I believe another woman was ahead of me, that woman and a couple close to me slowed down considerably as the group bunched up to go through the 180 for the second time, and as we made it through, I heard the sound of a tiring slipping and sure enough someone was one the ground.  I kind of looked at the other girl who made it through before the crash to see her reaction, and she didn’t do anything. 

I don’t know if I am proud or if I should have done it or what, but I took advantage of the crash and attacked through the 180.  I didn’t feel too bad as anyone who went down would get a free lap as we were right next to the START/FINISH so really it was the people upright who had to react.  I fully expected the entire field to catch me on the hill  but I rounded the turn, and there was still a gap.  I sliced through the downhill turn and no one caught me, I got to the start finish line, looked back and had a gap of about 5 seconds, which might not sound like much, but when you are going 21-22 mph, 5 seconds is about a 50 yard gap.  It might not have been that big at that point, but it was noticeable.

At that point, I had to make a decision.  I was about 6 minutes into a race that would be about 30 minutes long.  There was a huge field (at least for a CAT4 race) that, if they worked together, should be able to catch me.  Should I sit up and re-join the field, or should I try to stay away?  I opted to stay away from one main reason: my advantage was my ability to corner.  Going through it solo, I could slice through the 180 taking any line I wanted as fast as I wanted.  The field would have to slow down approaching that turn to take it safely, giving me probably a second or two advantage on every lap.  I also had my choice of lines through the narrow uphill turn and the fast downhill turn.  

With 24 minutes left in the race, there are several things happening, the most important of which is that we are racing an undefined number of laps.  In a crit that is timed, the officials calculate the average time it takes per lap, then after several laps, they put up a lap count to determine the ultimate length of the race.  It’s a double-edged sword, the faster I went, the more laps I would have to do and seemingly the longer the race would be, but the faster I went, the bigger the gap I had and the better the chance I had to win.  Yet, in a solo attack, the longer the race, the more of a disadvantage I had, if that makes sense.  Basically:  Faster à Winning à Longer  à Losing. 

For the first several laps on my own, there was no lap count, so I was literally racing to take up time.  They finally posted a lap count at 6.  I believe we did about 12-13 laps, so I probably did about 5 laps not having any idea how much longer I would have to try to keep my lead.

During the race, there was an announcer, and he was loud enough at the START/FINISH that I could hear the things he was saying.  At one point, I recall hearing him comment on my form, down in the drops, very even cadence, that I looked exactly the same every time I came through the START/FINISH.  I took that as a good sign as 1) CAT 4 women rarely get compliments on technique and 2) if I were starting to red line, then there were be cracks in my form.   I think he added something like, “she is showing you how to win a bike race.”  At later times in the day, I heard him say things like “see how the rider is looking back at the group to see how big of a gap there is, a sign that the effort is taking it’s toll.”  While I agree that I looked back because I was working hard and needed to make sure it wasn’t in vain, there were also times I looked back because it was just an impressive gap to have made. 

There were also spots where I knew people were cheering and while they initially weren’t cheering for me, I feel like my attack really excited the crowd and by the end almost everyone was cheering for me.  On the hill, there were people cheering for Nicole, whoever she was.  I could tell how I was doing based on where I was on the hill when they started cheering.  When I no longer heard them cheering for Nicole, I knew that my gap was pretty significant. 

Finally, I got to the START/FINISH and saw 6 on the lap count.  Oh thank goodness!  I started counting down the number of times I had to climb the hill, that’s all I really wanted, a number of times I was going to have to climb that stupid hill.

During the race, I had about 3-4 people giving me time splits (how much time I had on the field).  One of the guys I trained with was an official for the race, and while he couldn’t really cheer for me over everyone else, I would look for him every time through, I knew he was cheering for me, and it helped.  I saw one of the guys I used to race at Westlake, and he was really excited and gave me that bit of encouragement I needed when I was just wanting the effort to end.  Another one of the guys I train with was there with his wife and family, and he was cheering for me as well, giving me time splits.

Then, with about 3 laps left, I heard the announcer say that they were starting to work to reel me back in and my split had dropped from 12 seconds to 9 seconds.  I started doing the math and knew that I still had an advantage on the turns, so it was unlikely they had enough to catch me given 3 seconds a lap, but I opted to push a little harder on that next lap.  I dug a little deeper, telling myself that hell or high water, there was no way anyone was going to catch me.

Looking back, It kind of reminded me of when I first started riding, and my now coach held these Wednesday night workouts.  There was one person that everyone knew was my nemesis.  When we would do time trial workouts, someone would usually say “just imagine ‘insert name here’ right behind you.”  I used to joke that I would cut off my arm if that is what it took to make sure she didn’t pass me.  That’s how I felt at the end of the race—I wasn’t going to get caught. 

When I came back through, my split was back up to 13 seconds.  At that point, with two laps left, that gap was going to stick unless I did something stupid.  When I came back through for the bell lap, the time was up to nearly 20 seconds, the chase had given up to conserve for the final sprint, the race was mine.

On my last lap, I smiled at all the people giving me splits throughout the race, and I told the people on the hill that I was happy that I wasn’t going to have to see them ever again.  I got to the finish line and gave an exuberate scream and arm pump.  I would have raised both arms, but I didn’t want to be that idiot who crashes a few feet before or after the finish.

After taking a cool down lap and seeing some friends in staging, the announcer called me over to interview me after the race, and I talked him through my race and why I was confident I could stay away.  It was interesting that, as I was talking, the 2nd and 3rd place finishers were standing there, and they nodded in agreement that my advantages were significant and that my thought process throughout the race was dead on in regard to how the attack could work.  I also gave my friend who was an official a hug. 

Some afterthoughts:

1. Even as one of the first races of a long day of racing, there were hundreds of people out along the course.   It was really cool to race with so much crowd support.  In fact, later in the day, I went to buy a cookie and some people stopped me and said, “hey, you were that girl who did the solo attack in the women’s race.  That was awesome!”  It was cool to know that not just my friends were cheering for me.

2. My friend’s wife was saying how annoyed she was getting with the announcer, particularly when he said that they were reeling me in.  I guess my gap wasn’t getting that much smaller, and she wanted to yell, “No they are not!”  Ultimately, I doubted there would be sufficient organization in a CAT4 race to do the work to catch me and no one was willing to do the work on her own.

3. I wonder if this race would have been so sweet if it weren’t preceded by such a miserable race the night before.  I was so excited to call my coach, and he was so ecstatic.  I was kind of surprised, I even felt compelled to say, “you know Pete, it was only a CAT4 race.”  To which he said, “it’s one of the biggest races in the state, enjoy it!”

4. It was probably about the best 30 minutes I have had on my bike.  My average heart rate for the race was about 186, while it was starting to climb the longer the race went.  Below you can see the chart efforts, pretty consistent, although the heart rate started to climb the further the race went.

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