Monday, May 21, 2012

Niagara Classic 2012

Phil and I thought we had lined up at the front but as more and more cyclists spread across the full width of the start line, it appeared less and less a favourable start position... until I looked back. Behind us, 100 plus cyclists  occupied as much of the road as I could see. Eventually, they would split the pack into two groups, the Elite 4 group and the Masters 3 group, but the glance back made me thankful for my place on the starting grid. There were 5 of us in this race so, with such a strong presence, we were hoping to use our numbers to our advantage wherever the opportunity presented itself.

The Kurzawinski M3 crew: from left, Dave Berry, Martin Davis, Larry Bradley, Richard Westwood, Phil Hodginkson.

My main objective going into this race was to work for Phil and help him to get the 3 points he needed to be able to upgrade to Master 2. That meant, a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place and he would earn the necessary upgrade points to be promoted. Despite admonishens from the OCA about registering in M2 with the requisite upgrade points, most of the new Masters 2 riders had not earned their right to be there. But Phil was adamant about earning his upgrade and for this I have the greatest respect. Which made my decision to work for him in this race an easy one.

As with every race this year, I went into this race with a game plan in mind. Larry was also able to work this race into his calendar and so with Larry's excellent time trialing abilities and my climbing abilities my thinking went along these lines. Larry would control things from the front for the first 10.3 km of each lap whereupon I would move to the front to control the pace up the 2 km climb, allowing Phil to save his legs for the final climb. As I write this report, I'm even now confounded as to how I could be so naive regarding my game plan when all previous cycle race game plans went out the window as soon as the starting horn started. And so it was with this race.

When the starting horn went off, as per usual, I spent the first several seconds getting clipped in wherein a dozen or more riders went around me. But once I'd gotten clipped in, I moved over to the right shoulder where I could see the rest of my team ahead of me. With some aggressive riding, I was able to move up the right side and was soon up beside Phil and could see Larry and Martin up near the front. We made the turn at corner 1 and Martin and Larry took over the front and kept the pace reasonably high most the way to corner 2. Once we made the turn at corner 2, I became more aggressive about moving up towards the front. Coach had stressed the importance about being at the front going into corner 3 and especially negotiating the double S-bend just prior to corner 3 so I was extra vigilant about making sure I was in the top 5 through this section. In fact, once we made the turn at corner 3, I accelerated and found myself at the front of the pack. A quick look back showed Phil on my wheel so I kept the pace high for the 1.6 km until the base of the climb, intending to maintain a steady pace all the way up the climb where Phil could stay on my wheel and conserve his energy. Apparently, the other 80-10 riders who flew by me at the base of the climb had not subscribed to my game plan. By the time I crossed the start-finish line at the top of the hill, a small gap had formed to the group of 10 or so riders who had made it more quickly to the top of the climb. I closed the distance between myself and that group and humbly settled myself in behind, taking in huge gulps of air as I attempted to recover from the brutal assault on my system that was climb 1 of 5. As I started on lap 2 of 5, I took stock of my situation. It was time to re-evaluate my game plan.

My new and improved game plan for lap 2 had me conserving energy, not just on the 1.6 km stretch prior to the climb but also the 10.3 km before that as well as the 400 m climb itself. But I still wanted to help Phil so when I saw a lone ride break away and gap the peleton with Phil at the front, I rode up beside Phil and asked him if he wanted me to close the gap. Phil didn't seem concerned: "Nah, let him hang out there for awhile," was his response. So, I did but not before taking a decent pull on the front to relieve Phil. But once we made the turn at corner 3, I went back into energy conservation mode.

I continued my strategy of energy management on laps 3 and 4 and the pattern was much the same. For the first 10.3 km, my energy output was very low. It tended to increase significantly for the 1.6 km section leading up to the climb and then became high but sustainable for the 400 m climb itself, aided somewhat by being able to latch onto the steady wheel of JJ Woodley each lap. I did feel somewhat ineffectual as a team mate to Phil but my revised game plan was to "keep my powder dry" until the final lap where I fully expected to be able to devote my full potential in working for Phil. The fact that Larry was spending a lot of time at the front bolstered my decision to save my energy.

Energy expenditure (in Watts) for the first 10.3 km section of each lap, the 1.6 km section leading up to the climb and the 400 m climb itself.
Lap First 10.3 km 1.6 km leadup 400 m climb
1 177 338 459
2 172 253 443
3 110 276 435
4 116 288 446
5 132 353 462

The table above details my energy expenditure for each lap of the race. A few patterns emerge. Clearly, for the first 10.3 km, the peleton were out for a Sunday ride, for the most part. Apart, from the first two laps where I took a couple of pulls, my energy expenditure during this 10.3 km section was in the low Zone 1 range. My average wattage is typically higher for an easy recovery ride. Things changed once we made the turn at  corner 3. Thereafter, the pace jumps up into high Tempo to Threshold range until the climb where there is a maximal effort well above supra-threshold level. It was my 338 Watt effort during the 1.6 km leadup to the climb, followed by a 459 Watt effort up the climb itself that caused me to revise my race strategy at the start of lap 2; there was no way I could keep that effort up on every lap. And in fact, as you can see from the table, my effort leading up to the climb was much more reasonable on laps 2-4, enabling me to save something for the climb itself. My effort on the last lap over this section is another story.

Going into the last lap, I was fairly pleased with my revised game plan. Larry had done a pretty good job of controlling things at the front where ever he could, thus relieving Phil of some of the burden of that task, so I hadn't been missed there. Furthermore, I had saved a lot of energy by hiding in the pack for much of the race. I was still reasonably close to the front of the peleton and felt confident in my capacity to be able to help Phil on that final lead up to the climb. Leading up to corner 1, the pace quickened somewhat which was to be expected on the final lap. We made the turn at corner 1 and I accelerated in order to defend my position. The pace of the peleton slowed predictably after 400 m or so and quite suddenly a half dozen riders went by me. This wasn't good. I looked for a means of moving back up but I was against the invisible yellow line and for me it was not an option to cheat my way towards the front. We made the turn at corner 2 and again another 6-10 riders raced by me. "No worries," I thought, "I should be able to move up once the peleton strings out approaching the double S-bend." But as we approached the double S-bend, the peleton remained all grouped together; there was no thinning out until the bends itself. I thought a couple of times of taking a risk to move up: once while riding alongside the shoulder, I had a thought to move up along the shoulder itself and during the S-bends I could have risked moving up but both moves would have risked not just my own safety but the safety of others so I held my position and as we exited the second S-bend, I glimpsed Phil up ahead, already making the turn at corner 3. By the time I saw him again, he was already in a small group that had gapped the rest of the peleton. So much for my revised game plan.

From corner 3 until the finish line, it became a strategy of minimizing my losses. Not much of a strategy really as it entailed basically riding as hard as I could to the finish. I thought in the back of my mind that I still might be able to gain a lot of positions back as I had been conserving my energy up until now. But apparently, some of the other riders had been doing that as well. Indeed, the table above shows that I saved my best until last both on the 1.6 km leadup to the climb where I average 353 watts and the 400m climb itself where I averaged 462 watts. For my efforts I was rewarded with a 10th place finish which is not bad I guess but once I had crossed the line, Coach made me feel like I had won the whole thing.

Huge effort at the finish line.

Regarding my objectives for the race, I flopped completely. Chalk it up once again to in-experience. I am learning something every race and I know for next race what to do differently: stay at the front for the whole of the last lap. It is one thing to conserve energy where ever possible but I'm thinking the last lap is the place to use that energy. For the team as a whole, however, we had a pretty decent showing. Phil just missed out on a top-five finish, placing 6th place, but he did take second in the King of the Mountain points. And his girlfriend Jen, took 3rd place of the Elite 3 women. So two podium finishers. In the new sportif category, Marek placed 4th with Wes coming in 9th. I don't know what happened to Stan and Andy in the Masters 1 race. I'll have to get the story some time during the week.

Jen takes 3rd in Women's Elite 3.

Phil takes 2nd in KOM points at Niagara.

Here are the results of the day:

Sportif Men Results - 24.6 km - Average Speed 33.7 km/h

420512099KRZTON, Marek

921412098ERENBERG, Wieslaw

Master 3 Men Results - 61.5 km - Average Speed 36.0 km/h

63474360HODGKINSON, Phill

103574633WESTWOOD, Richard

243275252BRADLEY, Larry
553174639BERRY, David
583374517DAVIS, Martin

Master 3 Men - KOM Results


Elite 3 Women Results - 49.2 km - Average Speed 32.5 km/h

320775432FAWCETTE, Jennifer

Master 1 Men Results - 98.4 km - Average Speed 37.9 km/h

PUL11874390BLAZEK, Stanislav
PUL11974412D`ANGELO, Andy

Monday, May 7, 2012

Springbank Crit 2012

Five O'Clock in the morning was early to have to be up for a race. I've certainly been up that early before for running races and especially triathlons but it had been awhile. It was probably harder on Jon as he often doesn't even get to sleep until much before then. Shortly after 5:30 we had the bikes loaded on the back of the Hyundai and were on our way to London, with a brief stop at Tim's along the way for breakfast and a coffee.

By 7:30 AM, we were at Springbank Park in London, picking up our race numbers with enough time for a few laps around the 2.2 km course to warm up. Martin and Phil had arrived earlier and were already on the course warming up when we arrived. We did our final warm up lap together with Martin and I couldn't help but note that, judging by the sheen on his face, Martin appeared to have been working very hard during his warm up.

My goals going into this race were pretty much the same as for Tour of Bronte: gain more race experience, ride aggressively, help team mates where feasible, and finish with the pack. A fifth goal was to get some good training in. I had done a solid 100k ride with my FMCT buddies the day before, with plenty of Tempo riding, so I was treating this as a training race of sorts with no expectations of a top placing.

Martin and I lined up along the front row of the start line (just below and slightly to the left of the 'A' balloon in the map above) with Jon just behind me. Phil was also on the front of the start line but further to the right. The "gun" went off, and as is becoming a habit, I didn't get clipped in right away during which time at least half the field passed me... again. The same thing happened at Tour of Bronte but there I was able to get back to the front without too much difficulty.  At this race, not so much. There are 2 corners on this course that were tricky. The tight left-hander at corner 1 was one of them and I had to brake going into the first turn, braking hard enough that my rear wheel slid sideways which apparently unnerved Jon a bit. I think he found somebody else's wheel to follow after that. This slow down was followed by a brutal acceleration as the peleton raced onto the fastest part of the course, a sweeping left-hander that descended towards the river. Here, I had to dig extra hard due to the accordion effect which tends to exaggerate deccellerations and accelerations for riders at the back, I thought to myself "this is not where I want to be". With speeds close to 60 kph, this section of the course is very fast but also narrow, making it hard to move up along this section. As if the downhill wasn't enough for pushing up the speed, we had a tail wind all along the section which made the top speed even faster. There was little chance of moving up along the section by the river; the speeds were just too fast and the course too narrow. The uphill at the end of this section was one place where it might be possible to move up but everyone was digging deep at this point so you'd have to burn a lot of matches to try and move up there. The steep uphill is followed by the second tricky corner on the course, a sharp, narrow dog-leg that turns away from the river and begins the return trip towards the start-finish line. From here until the start-finish straight, the course sweeps left, uphill and again I found myself having to dig deep following the predictable slow down at the dog-leg. Just before the start-finish straight is a chicane which is the third tricky place on the course as 50+ riders vied for the best line through the chicane and. again, I was subjected to accordion effect. I managed to get through the chicane successfully but still near the back.

Lap 2 was more of the same. I was at the back and working hard because of it but experience told me that things would begin to settle down in a few laps after which time I should be able to move up. By lap 3, my patience was beginning to run thin and I began to actively look for places to move up. As we sped down the fast, narrow part of the course, I did manage to move up a few and was positioning myself to move up around the sweeping left hander when suddenly the pack slowed quite dramatically. A rider in front and to my left swerved across my line, forcing me to change and just like that I was heading for the curb. Maybe I panicked a little but I have been in enough motor cycle crashes to know that if you're going to fall it's better to do it on your own terms. I braked hard just before the curb, practically dove over the handlebars, and did a rolling Judo roll onto the soft grass, bringing my bike safely along with me and managed to come out of the incident completely unscathed. In hindsight, I could have tried to jump the curve, which I'm sure is something Stan or Coach would have done, but I didn't think that fast and my bike handling skills aren't yet at that level. As I righted my bike at the side of the road, the peleton rode away without me.

For the next lap and a half, I chased the peleton and it wasn't long before I began to pickup some stragglers. The first guy I picked up was a Reynolds Cycle rider and the two of us began to work together. We picked up another couple of riders in short order and about a lap later, I saw Jon who had been dropped from the peleton somewhere before the chicane. I yelled at Jon to jump on as we went by and then we were five. I figured with 5 riders, we should be able to get a decent rotation going and actually entertained some ridiculous illusion of catching back onto the peleton. But our rotation wasn't very organized. Two of the riders had clearly been dropped from the peleton for a reason: they were weak riders and they frequently abstained from taking their turn at the front. This tended to affect the rhythm of our rotation. To make things worse, the Reynolds rider, though strong, wasn't very experienced in echeloning and would frequently pull to hard when it was his turn at the front, instead of easing up, causing the rest of us to have to dig deep to catch on. The end result that, as a group, we disorganized and not really moving that fast. It wasn't long before we were caught and lapped by the peleton. I tried a few more times to get our group organized but in the end determined that I was better off just taking long pulls at the front. After a few such long pulls, there were three of us left: Jon, the Reynolds rider, and me.

With 5 laps to go, I'd had enough with the futile attempts at echeloning and just stayed at the front, put my head down, and went into time trial mode. It wasn't long before I was alone, having lost my 2 remaining companions, including, unfortunately, my son, Jon. I covered the last 5 laps pushing 288 watts at an average of 37.2 kph. Compared to the 41.5 kph at 270 watts I output while with the peleton, I was fighting a losing battle but I'd signed up for a race and was determined to put in a race effort. I finished 6:19 behind the peleton. As it turned out, Jon had slipped off my wheel because of a gap left open by the Reynolds rider but he continued to work hard and finished only a minute or so behind me. I kind of wish now that I'd sat up and waited for him. But one thing I've learned about cycling is you do a lot of second guessing yourself after the fact.

Phil accepts his 4th place prize.

Phil and Martin both each had a good race with Phil taking 4th place of the M3's and Martin coming in 8th spot. After the race, the four of us, Martin, Phil, Jon, and I, compared notes. I expressed my frustration at once again having difficulty during the early laps of the race and received some helpful advice from both Phil and Martin. Martin's advice was to get in a really good warmup. I thought back to the sheen on Martin's face prior to the race and realized that this was advice he himself heeded. And it seemed to be working for him. Phil's advice was to practice clipping in. This definitely is one source of my poor starts and something I'll consider going forward. Phil also mentioned using Speedplay pedals which he finds easier to clip in and this may be something to consider going forward also. There are so many things to learn in cycle racing. Every race is different and many factors can affect one's race outcome.

I didn't do so well at meeting my objectives at this race. I didn't finish with the pack but I did ride aggressively. I didn't exactly help out my team mates though I did help Jon for awhile until dropping him with 5 laps left to go; that part wasn't much help, I'm sure. I did gain more race experience, to be sure and I definitely did get in some good training. Next race is the Niagara Classic, the third O-Cup race in the series where, once again, it will be back to the drawing board.

2012 Tour Of Bronte

Ok, so because Larry's race report pretty much covered what happened during the intermediate race at the Tour of Bronte, I wasn't going to bother finishing mine. But then, Wes had taken to many great photos, I felt I just had to get a few of them in.

I have to confess, I was ambivalent about signing up for this race, especially with much of the course being on gravel, but I signed up anyway realizing I could use the race experience. My objectives going into the race were: finish with the pack, trust in my fitness and ride strong, be a good team mate where ever the opportunity presents itself, and just get more race experience

Originally, this race was to have all the usual categories so I should have been riding in the M3 category but due to low registration, the organizers eliminated the usual categories and instead hosted only 3 categories, a beginner, intermediate, and open race, with the aim of increasing the field size for each race.

I had originally intended to buy some wider 25C tires to ride with a little lower tire pressure than usual to improve traction and handling on the gravel but, as with so many things these days, I never got around to it and so ended up racing on my skinnier 23C tire with the usual 110 psi.

The race didn't start until 12:30, as opposed to the more usual 8:30/9:00 AM start times I've gotten accustomed to, so there was lots of time to get ready. I picked up Larry about 10:15 and we drove down to the west end of Oakville together, found a place to park not too far from the park (I parked offsite to avoid the $16 park entrance fee ), and rode into the park carrying most of our gear on our backs. We arrived at the race site before 11:00, in time to see Coach and Wes setting up the Team Kurzawinski tent. Gotta like having your own tent at the race.

Larry, Coach, and me chilling in front of the Kurzawinski tent, prior to race start.

With plenty of time until the race start, Larry and I registered then went out on the start-finish stretch to warm up. I had learned from last race, Calabogie, the importance of warming up before and not during the race. After the warmup, I lined up along the front with Phil, feeling relaxed and ready to start the race until Phil pointed out that I still had my jacket on. It was too warm a day to be racing with a jacket. "Oh crap," I thought and rode back towards the car to ditch my jacket. Halfway to the car, I ran into Coach and was able to dump the jacket with him. By the time I got back to the start line, pretty much everyone else were lined up and I was stuck at the back. When Coach saw me lined up at the back, he coaxed me into weaseling my way up to the front, on the grass but just off the pavement. I felt a bit cheesy for doing that but at least I was lined up at the start.

Larry and me at the back end of the pack for the start of the race.

When the gun went off, I was slow getting clipped in, and with the fast pace typical of the start of these race, I dropped quickly back through the pack and was soon hanging near the back. But such was the nearly 2 km length of the start stretch that I was able to get reasonably close to the front again before the first turn

Tour Of Bronte Race Course
Our race had between 50 and 60 riders and consisted of 8 laps of the 8 km course for a total of 64 km. The first part of the race course is a nearly 2 km stretch of mostly good pavement. The first turn marks the transition from pavement to gravel so it's one place to watch out for. The next 3 turns on gravel are close together and are tight and slow. Corner 2, in particular, we were warned about as a potentially incident-prone corner. After the first 4 turns, the course is fairly fast, even for gravel until just past the registration area where there is a rather tight left-hand turn with plenty of gravel. My first time through, I took this turn on the inside and ended up bumping elbows with at least one rider. And judging by the verbalizations, a few people were having trouble with traction.. Thereafter, I chose to take this turn more towards the outside where the gravel wasn't as loose. Once past the registration area, there were a couple of tight left handers before the course went back to ashphalt just before the park entrance. The asphalt part of the course mostly consisted of a long out and back from the park entrance down one side of a divided roadway and up the other side until the turn back onto gravel at turn 1.

In front of the registration area, approaching the tight left-hander.

As is becoming a pattern, I struggled the first lap, mostly hanging off the back of the pack. But once my metabolism had gotten up to speed I began to ride more aggressively and closer to the front. By midway through the second lap, I had made my way to the front and was there when Phil made it into a break of four. I eased my pace a little to give the break a chance as did the rider on my right who must also have had a team mate in the break and it was probably a good couple of hundred meters before anyone behind us caught on. By the time other riders began to come around us, the break had a decent enough gap that they were able to stay away.

Having a team mate in the break meant that Larry and I weren't expected to take a turn at the front and for the next 3 or 4 laps, we really didn't have to work that hard. A team Novo rider who was taking turns joked about having to "bump me off". I laughed and just enjoyed my free ride while it lasted.

About lap 5, our free ride ended as came up behind Phil. At the time, I didn't know whether he had fallen off the back of the break or had an incident but it turned out that he had crashed on turn 2 with one other rider in the break and wasn't able to catch back on. Unfortunate because now it meant we had to do some work up front.
Phil trying to catch back onto the break away after crashing in turn 2.

For laps 6 and 7, in an effort to try and close the gap to the break, the peleton was able to get organized, thanks to a couple of more vocal riders, and we got an echelon going along the paved section and we began to make good time. Not everyone took part in the echelon but Larry, Phil, and I all contributed. The problem is that this organization only lasted for the paved section. Once we got to the gravel section, the organization fell apart and the pace slowed considerably. I tried to get something going but just ended up off the front by myself. Clearly, we weren't going to catch the break away group.

I think it was probably midway through lap 7, just after passing the registration area that Phil told me we'd lost Larry. That was unfortunate; he'd been riding strong up until that point and it would have been nice to have him for the run-in to the finish. Towards the end of lap 7, with one lap to go, I rode beside Phil and told him I'd try and "lead him out" for the finish. He replied that we could try that. I made sure to stay up at the front for that last lap and as we came onto the paved section I was in a prime position. I had taken note of a few of the stronger riders in the group and fully expected someone to jump at some point along the finish stretch. The jump came a bit earlier than I expected but I was ready for it. With about maybe 500 meters to go, a Vinybilt rider jumped. I was on his wheel right awa with Phil behind my wheel, both of us perfectly positioned for the sprint finish. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, I swerved for some reason which caused Phil behind me to also swerv and he ended up on the grass, losing his momentum for the sprint. So much for team tactics (sorry Phil!). With about 250 meters to go, a Peterborough Cycling club rider jumped strong but this time I wasn't ready. I tried to get on his wheel but his kick was too strong. ut I didn't give up and kept pushing, gradually closing the gap. Unfortunately, I ran out of road and wasn't able to close in time. I was beaten to the line by a wheel.

Just missed taking 3rd spot but also fortunate to hang onto 4th.

Stan was in the parking lot as I rode in and he asked me how I did. "Fourth place," I said. "No wayyyyyyyyyy," he replied. I didn't think 4th place was a good result as it wasn't a podium position but it turns out prizes were awarded 8-deep for this race so I did end up on the podium after all. Cool!

After the race, Larry and I hung around to watch part of Stan's open race. I thought, our race was fast. Those guys were even faster... and their race was longer. I've got to hand it to those Elite 1/2 and M1 guys, they race at a pretty high level.

Stan, second from left, lined up for the start of the open race.

We stayed for about half of the open race, enjoying the warm spring day and then it was time to leave. All in all, a pretty successful race for me. I finished with the pack, got some valuable race experience, rode aggressively, and was even able to help my team mate get into the break. Maybe there's hope for me yet!

A little clowning around time with my team mate, Larry Bradley.