Monday, August 13, 2007

Canal Classic Race Report

It's been a while since I've done any real efforts on the bike. I went to the Little Falls Canal Classic race with one big goal in mind: don't get gapped on the first hill right out of town at the beginning of the race.

I did not make that goal. But I did have a lot of fun. When you're not in the lead group, you hope to settle into another group and have a mini-race with the guys around you. Forget those strong guys up the road. Once the groups on the road have been decided, then it's time to pull out the experience card and have some fun sticking the knife into whomever is left behind with you.

I went to the race with my friend Bill. It's safe to say neither of us are in the shape of our lives right now. We lined up midpack at the starting line. The race director announced that, as usual, the leading police car would lead us through town in front of all the spectators at a neutral pace of 10 to 12 miles per hour, then pull off near the top of the hill going out of town. The race would really begin there. Of course, those of us who've done this race ten or twelve times like Bill and me, knew that there's no such thing as a neutral pace, and it's darn near impossible for police officers to drive their cars under 25mph.

The siren went off and we started. I quickly made my way to the front as we wound through town. Down mainstreet, we took the right to start the climb and Bill appeared right next to me. The police car was going just shy of 20mph and my watt meter already read 385 W. Ouchie. I pulled to the right and tried to set a tempo I could maintain for the entire hill. People were rocketing past me. Every third person said, "Come on, Tim!" "Keep it up, Tim!" "You can do it, Tim!" The encouragement was nice, but it made the suffering just a little worse knowing that so many people recognized me as they went past.

By the top of the hill, a big group of about 35 riders was coming together at the front, and leaving me behind rapidly. To have any hope of catching them, I needed them to start dogging it on the rollers and I needed reinforcements fast. I could see Bill about 100 meters back in a small group so I sat up a bit, getting ready to chase hard. I settled into a group of about six. A couple guys had obviously cracked wide open on the climb and weren't able to push hard yet, and another older guy quickly earned the nickname "Surgie" due to his paceline technique. We'd start a rotating paceline and he'd suddenly come shooting by on the left. About thirty seconds later, we'd catch him. I said, "There's no reason to surge ahead like that and break up the paceline. Let's work together." to which he responded "Yeah!" in a tone that made me think that he thought that was what he was doing already. Huh? Okay, whatever.

The main group disappeared quickly over the rollers and with another medium grinder before the main four mile climb, I knew they were long gone. Our paceline was erratic with differences in ability, experience, attitude, you name it. We surged and sputtered down the road. I looked at Bill and smiled. "Well, we're in our own special little hell here for the next 25 miles."

We hit the next climb a couple miles later. Bill was suffering with stomach cramps in the intense heat of the day, and our little group was splitting, with another group coming up on us from behind. With about 100 riders on the course behind us, we were guaranteed to end up riding with someone. I eased off just a little to try to help pace Bill. We crested the climb and hit a few rollers followed by a long descent toward the base of the big hill. The climbs hurt, but I was feeling okay on the rollers. I was already thinking about the finishing sprint. When you're sprinting for 40th place or so, you need little victories.

On the downhill, I tucked into my ancient Scott rake bars and rocketed down the hill with Bill on my wheel. As the grade leveled out, I realized that I'd put a few seconds into the group just coasting down the hill. Sigh. I sat up and pedaled easily waiting for them. We took the right hand turn and onto the lower slope of the big climb. There's a steepish section for about a mile near the beginning, but then it tips down to a more easy grade for the last three miles. Bill's stomach was still holding him back a bit on the steep section and I stayed with him, but we kept the guys up the road in sight. A group of about ten was closing in on us. As the grade eased a bit, Bill pulled past and started setting pace. My watt meter jumped and as my heart rate popped back up to redline, I said, "Well, you're feeling better!" We traded back and forth a bit as we both alternated between feeling better and suffering miserably. Another mile up the hill, we'd were on the tail of the group we'd dropped out of, and the following group was nowhere to be seen anymore.

With plenty of rollers and fast sections after the main climb, there's little reason to try to leave a group behind unless there's another group to bridge up to, so we rode out the rest of the climb with about six guys. There was one obviously very young guy who kept leaping ahead half a kilometer, then blowing hard and coming right back. That was entertaining to watch. Another young guy kept hand signaling before pulling off the front of the paceline. I suggested that he could just make a quick glance to make sure no one was next to him before pulling off instead of making a signal. Another rider in the group played the role of the local tour guide. There's always some local guy who knows every darn crack in the pavement, upcoming turn, and nice view and likes to help out by pointing them out. We passed a rider or two who had been blown from the leading packs and couldn't or didn't want to sit in with us. I got into full glasscrank mode, and put in just enough efforts at the front to keep the pace up and people happy, but I had no interest in hurting myself.

At one point, one fellow pulled off the front and as I rotated past, he asked, "Do you think you can you maintain 22?" We'd already been going a little faster than that on the flats, so it seemed like an odd question. I paused briefly and replied, "Sure. Except on the uphills and downhills."

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the race. I had fun watching the guys around me waste energy. There's a quick chicane with about 200m to go to the line, and I usually like to be first through those turns. I can usually take them faster than others seem to be willing to do, it sometimes gives me a good gap going into the sprint, and it's safer than being behind someone. I asked Bill, "You know what I like to do at the end, right?" He nodded.

With about ten miles to go, there were some sharp little steeps and over the top, three guys had gotten a couple hundred meters on us. I wanted to close the gap before we hit any significant downhills where they might pull away. After I checked to see if Bill was on my wheel and ready, I cranked it up and made the bridge. We'd gapped the others, but they made it up eventually.

The young kid who'd surged earlier went ahead a few hundred meters, but had blown so hard that as we coasted past on the next long downhill, we dropped him for good. It felt strange dropping someone that quickly on a straight downhill.

With about three miles to go, a slight grade uphill caused another split. Bill was on my wheel, and I was following two guys. Three or four were up the road. This was looking more serious. I felt like I could bridge to them, but I wanted the two guys in front of me to work hard first. The leading guy was wearing a pretty nice kit, and I suspected he was glass cranking. We were not closing the gap. He pulled off finally, and "Mr. 22mph" took over. We inched closer. About two miles to go. We were coming up on a little shop we always notice that has signs that read "BICYCLE REPAIR. ADULT PRODUCTS." Seriously. What more do you need? That landmark meant the finish was coming very soon.

The guys up ahead were obviously working pretty hard. We needed to get up to them now. The finish was too close. Our leader finally pulled off and I stepped on the gas. I bridged the gap with only Bill on my wheel. It hurt more than I wanted it to. We only had about a mile and a half left for me to recover. Right after we bridged, an older guy in front of me yelled to the rider leading the pace, "The finish is coming, go hard now!" They weren't wearing the same jersey, so I was surprised when the guy obeyed and upped the pace. He pulled off, cooked. A very young guy launched on the right side, but the older guy leading me was happy to chase. He closed the gap with about a third of a mile to go, and kept going. I glanced back to see Bill tucked in on my wheel. The chicane came into view and I stomped on it, passing on the left. I leaned over hard to the right, then back to the left. My legs were threatening to seize up entirely, so I sat and took a few fast pedal strokes as hard as I could. I felt like I'd gotten a gap through the corner so I looked back. Bill was about twenty feet off my wheel, and the rest were sprinting but not gaining too quickly about thirty or forty feet behind him. I was safe, and as long as Bill kept his speed up, he'd be fine too. He came up alongside me as we crossed the line. I was pretty sure he'd nipped me by a tire's width but the electronic timing reported I was .003 seconds faster.

In the end, we had a hard workout, and had fun winning our mini-race against others around us. We took the glorious positions of 41st and 42nd overall. I enjoyed listening to and telling the usual post-race stories, catching up with people, sucking down free soda, and applauding as the trophies were handed out. Indeed, it's been a while.


At 2:44 AM, Blogger Sev said...

Thanks for the read mate! Sev.


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