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

No comments: