Monday, April 22, 2013

Bloomfield Classic and Calabogie Classic - 2013 Report

Bloomfield Classic

With the UCI World Cycling Tour qualifying race fast approaching, Andy and I elected to add the Bloomfield Spring Classic Road Race to our already busy racing calendar. The Calabogie Road Classic was already on the menu for Sunday but the course is mostly flat and not good training for World Tour qualifier. The Bloomfield race, however, was very hilly and thus very suitable as a training race.

The alarm on my Blackberry blared angrily at 4:45 Saturday morning. I was packed already so it was just a matter of driving to Coach's home to hitch a ride in the club van. After a quick breakfast, we were on the road to Bloomfield, NY by 6:30 AM. Three and a half hours later, with Coach driving, we arrived at the school parking lot to sign in and pickup our race numbers.

This Spring has not been good for cyclists with below average temperatures and more rain than usual. On this morning, we had also to deal with 45 kph winds gusting to 60 kph. I took the time to swap out my front 66 mm Carbon race wheel and brake pads with my regular aluminum training wheel and pads, fearing how the strong gusts would affect my steering with the much wider race wheel. By 10:35 AM, I lined up with Andy for the 4 km neutral roll out.

Andy and I lined up for the start of the Bloomfield Classic.
Twenty six cyclists started the 5th wave of the Bloomfield Classic, comprised of 9 Masters 40+, 15 Masters 50+ and 2 Juniors. Interestingly, 9 of the 26 were from Ontario with 4 from Zuck Team, 3 form Team London, and Andy and me from Kurzawinski Coach. I found myself at the front of the pack for the neutral rollout but once we crossed the start-finish line, I quickly found myself at the back as the entire pack attacked en masse and I had to dig deep just to stay with the pack. That was my warmup.

Course profile of Bloomfield Classic.
The first couple of kilometers of the 18 km course include a couple of rollers which, done in the small chain ring at club-ride pace, probably aren't too bad. But big-ringing them at race pace, those rollers felt more like hills. I was able to work my way back to the front by riding up the windy side of the road but here I emphasis the word "work" as there was nothing easy about it. After the rollers was a long downhill where I was able to catch my breath and let my heart rate return to a more reasonable level. Steering became a bit of an issue on the long downhill with the wind gusts bursting in from the right side but not pedalling for awhile was a welcome relief. The fun began once we made the right turn into the head wind.

You would think that once the pack turned into the head wind that the pace would settle down as those at the front of the pack dealt with the strong head wind. But, no, we made that turn and the front rider attacked. I was about 3rd or 4th wheel going into the turn so it wasn't too bad closing the gap but that front rider put in such a strong pull that the entire pack was strung out single file for most of that "bottom" section of the course.

Bloomfield Classic - 1 lap = 18 km.
With the wind coming West by South-west, fighting the wind was easier over the second half of the course than the first but then there were the hills to deal with. At first, I attacked the hills with the lead riders but after doing this a couple of times, I discovered I could start the hill at the front of the pack, climb the hill at my own pace while drifting back through the pack, and save my "matches" for the inevitable attacks that I knew would come later and, in general, the second half of the course did become easier than the first.

The expected attacks came once we made the right turn to start the second lap. The first attack came right at the turn as the road pitched upwards. Closing that gap wasn't too hard for me, probably due to my new-and-improved power-to-weight ratio. When the second attack launched into the cross-wind, just passed the start-finish line, I didn't jump right away because Andy was ahead of me and, thinking he might make the break, I hugged the yellow line and blocked. I did jump once riders started coming around me on the windy side but by this time the gap was wider and I had to dig deeper than I thought possible to close the gap in that crosswind. When I finally did reach the front group, I was dangerously close to crossing the yellow line and almost seeing stars. I steered my bike over to the right just as the pack seemed to slow a bit and my front wheel got caught up against the rear wheel of the rider ahead. Boom! I went down.

I unclipped and stood fairly quickly, in time to see Andy barreling towards me. I nearly stepped right in his way as he crossed the yellow line to get around me but stayed my ground in time to avoid a second collision. Once Andy went by, I jumped back on my bike and began to pedal but didn't get very far with my handlebars twisted to one side. Off the bike, front wheel between my knees and the handlebars were soon straightened and I was back on the bike. Now I had to stop again to explain to the motorcycle commissaire that I was ok to go on. By the time I got going again, the front pack was already at the bottom of the long descent and making the turn onto the bottom section of the course. There was no hope of me catching them now.

Surprisingly, there were still stragglers riding by as I got going again and I was able to start working with one of them. We picked up and 3rd guy and between the 3 of us started to pick off stragglers ahead of us. I expected that as we passed stragglers that they would hop on the train and begin to contribute to our chase group but as it turned out we would pass them and drop them. Either they weren't strong enough to stay with us or they had no fight left. I suspect the latter.

Going into the 3rd lap, our pack of three became two as the heavier guy in our group wasn't able to keep pace on the hills. That was unfortunate but on the other hand, the remaining guy was pretty strong so I wasn't too disappointed. Half a lap later, the Pro peleton passed us and, rather than hitch onto the back as my riding partner did, I stayed to the right and let them by, as we are supposed to do, and just like that our chase pack was reduced to just me. It was at this point I considered calling it a day at the end of the lap. I've quit races before when things didn't go as planned and it didn't sit well with me afterwards so I steeled myself to finish.

As I crossed the finish line at the end of the 4th and last lap, Coach was there with the van. I was never so happy to see him. I was also extremely satisfied at having finished the race. As it turns out, I actually didn't do too bad either, finishing 8th in the Men's Masters 50+ out of 15.

Bloomfield Classic full results

Showing off my newly-air-conditioned jacket after the race.

Calabogie Road Classic

Waking up Sunday morning, with abrasions on my shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee, I had expected to be in more pain than I was but, after a good night's sleep, I didn't feel too bad at all. Moverover, upgrading to Master 2 meant my race didn't start until 11:17 AM instead of the 9:00 AM start I had last year so I was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before the race. And though it was cold on race morning, the wind was gone and the sun was out.

Relaxing before the call to the line.
Forty three riders started the M2 race of 75 km or 15 laps around the 5 km long race track. The peleton was well-behaved heading down the start-finish straight and around corners 1 and 2. The first attack didn't start until corner 3. After that, there were attacks on pretty much every one of the 19 corners for about the next 7 or 8 laps.

Calabogie Race Track
I could feel the previous day's race in my legs but happy to be able to respond to the attacks. While Phill and Camilo took turns in bridging and joining most the attempted break-aways, my plan was to just sit and watch for the first 11 laps. For the first 5 or 6 laps, I focused on staying near the front and with each attack, I worked hard to stay close to the front. But as I became accustomed to the rhythm of the attacks, I found I could sit further back in the pack, avoiding the dreaded accordion effect by anticipating attacks before they happened. I'd like to be able to say "before I knew it, lap 11 had come and gone" but in actual fact, it took some steely resolve to keep my focus and stay in the race. Lap 11 did come and go but I counted every lap.

By the time lap 11 came and went, it was pretty clear that nobody was going to get away. There were some strong riders in the pack but every time a group of riders went, there were equally strong riders at the front to chase them back down. It was a stalemate much as I expected it would be without much of a wind to make things hard for the chasers. I waited for the last lap.

Beginning lap 14, the pace picked up. Team CHCH, who had no fewer than 7 riders in the M2 race, marked each attack that was made and on for the last lap sent 2 riders to the front to make the race hard. I moved my way toward the front expecting all hell to break loose at any time. Things did start to get a bit hectic around corner 10 and as we turned corner 14 I stood to try and get a better position going up the small climb over 'Ralph's Bridge' but had to break as everyone moved over to the right side ahead of the right-hander on corner 15. From here, it was a fast downhill through corner 16 into the sweeping right hander at corners 17 and 18. I was on the inside of the track heading into the downhill but moved over to the outside to hide from the wind thinking also wanted to be sheltered from the wind as we came around corner 19 and onto the finishing straight. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to have this idea and, I had to brake as riders ahead of me cut the last corner to start their spin. In retrospect, I should have stuck to the inside of corners 17 and 18 to be on the outside for the last corner. I would have then been able to carry my momentum onto the finishing straight and might have finished higher up. As it was, I finished 18th, just behind Camilo and just ahead of Phill. All in all, though, it was a great weekend of racing.

Left to right, Camilo, me, and Phill.
full results:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Battenkill 2013 - Report

Andy and me before the start of the race.

I was at least out of the wind, standing beside my bike in the staging corral, five minutes before start time. But it was colder than I'd like. Still, it had stopped raining at least. When they called our heat to the start line, Men 4-D, Andy was still not back from the car where he dashed off to retrieve his Gatorade bottle. I managed to snag a spot reasonably close to the front of the 68 rider pack. Andy arrived a few minutes later and "excused" his way towards the front, sneaking in just behind me.

We had re-conned the course, in the dark, the evening before taking 2 hours to drive over the hilly terrain. It was pretty flat and friendly for the first 8 km so we'd figured to use this stretch as our warm up. But the pace was so casual, it wasn't really much of a warm up. The pace picked up on making the left turn onto Eagleville Road. A quick left, then a right through the covered bridge and then a hard right exiting the bridge. "YIKES!!!" The guy to my right went down hard on the damp pavement. I heard the familiar crunch of carbon hitting pavement as I went wide to avoid the carnage. Sprinting hard to catch back on, I glanced behind me. There was already a sizeable gap. Most of the pack managed to get back on but I'm fairly certain there were at least a few riders had their race end right there behind the crash barely 9 km into the race.

The hard right-hander exiting the covered bridge caused at least one crash in the Mens 4-D field.
The next few kilometers felt a lot more like a race until the road began to rise about 12 km in. Then the pace slowed down in anticipation of the climb to come. The climb was gentle at first becoming gradually steeper until after about 4 km the road kicked up. We rode hard up this steep section. But it wasn't a long stretch and I was soon speeding down the other side chasing riders ahead of me. Towards the end of the 1 km descent, I was confronted with flashing lights and other riders yelling "hold up, hold up!" I squeezed the brakes and managed to stop in time. Just! Ten or so riders straddled their bikes ahead of me. Still staddling my own bike, I sidestepped my way to the side of the road just in case anyone's brakes needed a tune up. Peeking ahead through the forest of bikes, I could see a body lying prone in the middle of the road.

It wasn't long before volunteers were waving us through. With one ambulance on the side of the road, lights flashing, and another screaming towards us from the road ahead, we gingerly navigated our bikes single file past the guy lying in the middle of the road on his side and were soon back up to speed. After a sharp left onto Juniper Swamp Road, we approached the first serious climb of the day.

With gradients above 12.5 %, the Juniper Swamp climb was hard. Having lost 10 pounds since the start of the year, I've been extremely happy with my power-to-weight improvement this year but I was getting dropped by the guys at the front and had to dig way deeper than I wanted to just to stay with the pack. Thankfully, the climb wasn't overly long and it all came back together on the following descent. Then we were onto a gravel section over some tough rollers leading up to the second major climb of the day.

The second climb of the day was hard because a) it was on gravel and b) it was on longer than the first. Being on gravel meant there wasn't as much room to maneuver and much of the climb had to be done while seated, for the traction. Being longer meant more burning in the legs before the top of the climb. As we started the climb, I noticed Andy to my left, standing already. After a 6 month layoff last year for personal reasons, Andy returned to racing in the Fall and promptly broke one of his ribs in the last race of the season. He worked hard on the trainer through the Winter to try and regain some of his cycling fitness but was concerned coming into this race. "You'll be fine! I told him confidently, "this race is meant for you." Andy is normally a stronger rider than I and being 15 pounds lighter I was sure he'd have no trouble staying with the pack. As it turned out, I was wrong. This climb popped him from the front pack. I, on the other hand, was still in touch with the front pack as we crested the top... or so I thought!

The descent down the other side was long and fast. It too was on gravel. I could see a group of 4 or 5 riders working together 200 meters ahead and tucked in to give chase. Feeling someone on my wheel, I flicked my elbow for them to pull through. Nothing! Glancing back, I saw a train of wheels behind me. "No way!" I thought. I stopped pedaling and took a drink of my water bottle before riders began to pull through.

With more guys working, the gap to the 4 or 5 guys ahead closed pretty quickly. Once together, the pack we formed an echelon but without the urgency of a break-away or chase group. The road was gravel for awhile which meant eyes ahead but once we turned onto pavement, I looked around for Andy. I drifted back through 5, 10, 15, 20 riders, looking, looking... No Andy. Bummer! It looked like I'd be without a team mate for the rest of the race.

At 42 km, we turned onto Joe Bean Road for what was, technically, the hardest climb of the day. Thankfully, that climb was on pavement. There were some steep sections on the climb where the gradient climbed above 10%, but with the climb over 2 km long the pack didn't so much attack the climb as grind it out. The steady effort was much more to my liking. At 57 years old, I can still do the shorter, anaerobic efforts. But my anaerobic efforts aren't as effective as those of a younger man. This type of climbing was right in my wheelhouse. I crested the top close to the front of the pack.

We had another long descent following the Joe Bean climb followed by a fairly lengthy net downhill stretch where I had time to take stock of how much effort I had put into the race so far. I was tired, I realized. I wasn't completely spent, I still had a lot left to give, but there were still two major climbs in the last part of the race, and I was hoping to have conserved more by this point in the race. To further dampen my spirits, I discovered that I wasn't even in the front pack. A break of 6 riders had established a gap of at least a couple of minutes and our pack seemed completely unconcerned about chasing. "When did that happen?" I thought. I resolved to be smarter about sitting in the draft at least until the 80 km mark for the start of the penultimate climb. "Think like Stan!" I told myself. That strategy worked. By the time we turned onto Meeting House Road, I was less fatigued and ready to tackle the final two climbs of the day. I even had time to take in and appreciate the beautiful scenery along this section of countryside.

Meeting House Road wasn't so much a climb as a series of steps. For me, the "climb" was quite manageable. I didn't have to turn myself inside out to stay with the pack as I did the first two climbs. We passed the "20 km to go" sign somewhere along here and I began to feel energized in anticipation of the race to the finish. The race was taking its toll on my body but the adrenalin was flowing the race was becoming more fun and less work.

Turning onto Stage Road for the final climb, one of the 'Through It All Body Shop' guys attacked the group. I recognized the plan and stood on the pedals to follow. "Woah there, big guy!" my legs told me, "where do you think you're going?" Cramps activated my right thigh in a way that wasn't helpful. I sat, downshifted and watched the 'Through It All Body Shop' guy ride away.

Spinning an easier gear worked for me. I was able to control the cramping and make it to the top of Stage Road third from the front. A second guy from our pack, attacked near the top, establishing a bit of a gap on the descent and I was able to close that gap on the downhill without cramping. Excited now, I passed the break-away rider to let him know I was with him and glanced back to see how much of a gap we had. At least 10 guys were stuck to my wheel. My heart sank! So much for that break-away!

They say it helps to visualize the things you want out of life, especially in sports. Visualize yourself sinking that basket, scoring that goal, doing that solo break-away for the win. In the weeks and days leading up to the Battenkill race, I had done a lot of visualizing. It seemed reasonable on paper: attack on the last climb using my superior power-to-weight advantage, extend the gap on the descent using my superior descending skills honed from past motorcycling days, then use my superior time trialing ability to stay away from the chasing pack over the final 4 km to the finish. These visualizations returned to mock me as I led the pack of 15 riders over the final flat 4 km to the finish. Being at the front now wasn't a concern. We were going slow enough that there really was no effort involved at all. Anyone could come around me if they wanted to and a few did. We turned onto Main Street, 400 meters to go, and again I was at the front. It didn't matter. For one thing, we'd be sprinting for 8th place. For another, I don't have good sprint legs. And this early in the season, with no sprint training at all... forget about it! So when the first rider attacked with less than 300 meters to go, I just gave it everything I had crossing the finish line, 8th in the pack and 15th overall, happy just to be finished.

My race over, I found my daughter, Alysha, by the finish line and we waited together for Andy to come in. Andy came in alone 34th overall, finishing between the stragglers of my group and the stragglers of his group he had left behind on the Joe Bean climb. Andy also was happy to be finished but, understandably, not as happy with his race. "Too bad you don't drink, Andy", I thought as I led the way to the Brown's Brewery tent for some much deserved Oatmeal Stout. Well... Alysha and I had the stout. After the stout, I filled up with some Brown's Best Bitter. Man, that was good beer. So good, in fact, that I made Andy take a detour to Browns Brewery on the way home, where I picked up some "supplies" to bring back. In the end it turned out I did win after all :)

This Whiskey Barrel Aged Porter is the best beer I've ever tasted.