Friday, September 7, 2012

Tour Di Via Italia 2012

Sunday morning consisted of a continental breakfast and watching the F1 Belgian Grand Prix and the last hour of the Vuelta a España on T.V. With the weather network calling for rain all afternoon and evening and the air laden with moisture as we left the hotel, my outlook for a good race that afternoon was not optimistic. But the rain held off and as I did my warmup ahead of the race, I actually started to feel good about the race and my chances of a 4th place or better which would earn me the upgrade points I needed to move up to M2.

The previous day's Provincial Criterium Championships had been comparitively easy for me so I was fairly well rested for the start of the Tour Di Via Italia Criterium on Sunday. Finishing my warmup, I rode up to Stan who had found a good spot along the main drag from which to watch the race. "How much time do I have left?" I asked.

"Two minutes," Stan replied.

"Oh crap!" I clipped back in and headed towards the start line, stopping in front of the Cervelo tent just long enough to purchase a Cliff bar and gel. I consumed the Cliff bar while the Commissaire went over her pre-race instructions and stuffed the wrapper into the back pocket of my jersey just as the neutral lap started.

The course for the Tour Di Via Italia, like most of the cycle races I have participated in this year, was rectangular in shape. The rectangle for this race was approximately 2 km long, completely flat, and held in the "Little Italy" district near downtown Windsor. The M3/E4 race was to be 20 laps plus a neutral start lap. With the road being completely closed for this event, the course was fairly wide everywhere except the first turn that had a round-about with traffic islands in the middle and at the entrance and exit to the round-about. This effectively narrowed the course from the 4 lane wide main drag down to just a single lane leading into the first turn.

Tour Di Via Itallia 2 km crit circuit.

As is becoming a habit with me, I watched the first couple of laps from the back of the 33 rider peleton but the accordion effect was a bit too much for meback there. The accordion effect, whereby surges and slow-downs tend to be exaggerated towards the back of the peleton, was particularly bad coming into and exiting from the first corner where the round-about was so I moved to the front both to get away from that. I was also a bit nervous about becoming entangled in a crash at that first corner as it seemed a bit sketchy as seen from the back of the pack. Plus, Stan kept yelling at me to get to the front each time I went by his bench along the main drag.

With the wind coming from a northerly direction, there was a bit of a headwind along the West section of the course as well along the main drag (top section of the course). And while there were some faux attacks made along the main drag, mostly by riders show boating, most of the real attacks occurred along the bottom section of the course. One Elite 4 rider, Niles Vaivars, was quite strong and launched numerous attacks during the early part of the race. Another Elite 4 rider, Christopher Rowly from the Hamilton Cycling Club, was also quite active on the front. Unlike the previous day, where I sat in for the second half of the race, I was a lot more aggressive during this race and covered all attacks as well as launched a few of my own. On a couple of occasions, I found myself with Vaivars and it looked like we might have a chance to stay away but on each occasion we were reeled back in.

Me, with my nerdy glasses, leading the pack towards the start-finish line.
There was a close call at the round-about corner somewhere around the middle of the race. Some guy had sprinted off the front along the main drag causing the rest of the pack to give chase. But as he crossed the start-finish line, the break-away rider who was clearly show-boating put his hands in the air in mock triumph and slowed up causing the pack to bunch up behind him as we entered the round-about corner. I found myself several riders back as we entered the turn. The pack was definitely too bunched-up going into this turn and a couple of riders didn't hold their line. The rider ahead of me and me had to go up and over the island exiting the turn in order to avoid a collision. Thereafter, I made an effort to be at the front of the pack heading into corners.

The pace picked up a little on the second to last lap as expected but not as much as I thought it might. Even the last lap was not as hectic as I expected and I found it fairly easy to be at the front going into the last turn. My time trialling power is much better than my sprint power so my strategy for each of the races I have been in this year, including the Midweek Crits, has been to try and get into a break. But if it comes down to a sprint, as this race did, I've learned that my best chance of placing well is to get an early jump. So I positioned myself 3rd wheel going into the final turn. With the distance from the final turn to the start-finish line being 500 meters or more, I was a bit surprised when the rider ahead of me jumped. I stuck to his wheel hoping to be able to sling-shot around him a little closer to the start-finish line but he ran out of gas a lot sooner than I expected. Riders flew by on both sides. It was "deja vu all over again" as I looked to be boxed in once again but because the main straight-away on this course was wide I was able to get out from behind the rider in front and onto a faster wheel. I heard some screaming behind me, apparently from someone I had cut in front of but with the road being so wide I considered his reaction a bit over stated.

I gave it everything I had to the finish line, passing a couple of riders along the way and it looked like I might get 4th place but I was nipped at the finish line and had to settle for 5th. Fortunately for me, one of the riders who finished ahead of me was an E4 category rider and so I ended 4th M3 rider, earning the 6 upgrade points needed to move up to M2. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Provincial Criterium Championships 2012

Four of us drove to Windsor Friday night for back to back criterium races on Sat and Sun. The Provincial Criterium championships was the first of these, held at the Ciociaro Club in Windsor. The Masters C/D race, for men 50 and over, was scheduled for 1:00 pm on Sat. While we could have easily made the 350 km trip on Sat. morning, arriving the night removed the added pressure that comes with racing on a travel day.

Friday night was spent consuming copious quantities of alchohol. I didn't intend to consume that much, myself, but once I lost track of that tipping point, it went all downhill from there. Not that I'm complaining; I had a great time discussing race strategy with Stan who was equally inebriated. From a race-preparation perspective, our consumption was less than optimal. But from a fun perspective... well, I had a blast.

Saturday morning, we had a quick continental breakfast in the lobby of the Howard Johnson hotel we stayed at, watched the last hour of the Vuelta a España, and then drove to the race site, arriving with plenty of time to pick up our race numbers and get in a warmup.

Ciaciaro Crit Course

The Ciaciaro crit is run on a 1.3km course with 8 meters of climbing per lap.It is a 20+ feet (1.5 car lanes) wide track designed specifically for Bicycle Racing. The turns are gradual and safe. A small hill, approximately 8 meters high, is situated in the south-west corner of the course followed almost immediately by a downhill. The Masters C/D race was scheduled to be 50 minutes plus 3 laps.

Only 17 riders lined up for the start of the Masters C/D race, consisting of 13 Masters C (age 50-59) and 4 Masters D (age 60+). Three teams were represented with two riders each, including 2 Team Zuck (Marc Polsinelli and Bruno Grossi), two Team London (Charlie Squires and Joe Narciso), and Stan Blazek and myself riding for Kurzawinski Coach / Charlie and Marc were 2nd and 3rd behind Stan at the Provincial Road Championships so I figured they both would be a factor in this race but Stan had told me before hand that Bruno also was a strong rider.

From the start of the race it was Bruno who did most of the attacking with Stan marking every attack. I sat at the back of the pack for the first several laps and nearly got dropped when the 2 riders in front of me got gapped on one of the pack surges. I stood on the pedals, bridged up to the pack and kept my momentum going along the Southwest stretch of the course where I noticed that Stan and Bruno were beginning to establish a gap. I blew by the pack and quickly bridged the gap to Stan and Bruno but before the three of us could even get a rotation established, the pack and reeled us in. 

A few laps later, Bruno again launched himself off the front with Charlie Squires in tow. Being close to the front this time, I was able to get in this break and we were soon joined by a London Wheelers rider. I thought that this break might have a chance to stay away but Polsinelli shut down our advantage before we got a chance to stretch it out.

A lap or two later, Polsinelli and Squires drifted off the front a bit. It didn't take long for my team mate, Stan, to jump on this one and, with Grossi and I both patrolling the front of the pack, the break got a bit of a gap. Grossi and I were soon joined by the 2nd Team London rider, Joe Narciso, and between the three of us, we managed to disorganize the pack long enough for the break to get established. For the next several laps, the gap stabilized. There were 3 or 4 riders from the pack who were willing to work to try and close the gap to the leading trio. But each time that a worked would move to the front, Grossi, Narciso, and I would jump on his wheel, effectively disrupting any organization that the pack tried to establish. With about 15 minutes left to go in the race, the break had extended its lead far enough that the pack was no longer much of a threat. 

One of the three riders in the break, Charlie Squires, was a Masters D rider, so I knew that a podium spot in the Masters C category was still up for grabs. So, on the last lap, I tried to position myself near the front for the final sprint to the finish. Since sprinting isn't one of my strong points, I wanted to try and get away early and hope to surprise the rest of the pack. But Narciso was way ahead of me and jumped before I had a chance to do so. I quickly jumped on Narciso's wheel but by the time he reached the final turn, he had run out of steam with me stuck behind him. I watched helplessly as half the pack went by on the outside and ended up crossing the line 4th or 5th out of the pack. But before I had even crossed the line, I heard Phill yell out that Stan had won which made my race effort satisfying after all.
Stan Blazek takes Provincial Championships, Marc Polsinelli (left) second.