Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Lessons Learned

Stage Race - More photos!

I got my first taste of being in a lead breakaway group this weekend – what fun! If not for the flat I got at mile 37 (of 51), on the final lap, I’m sure I would have been gunning for the finish with the other five riders in the group. Ah well – it’s enough to know that I did what I wanted to do at this stage race: stay upright in the crit (came in 7th), finish with the fastest speed at the end of the time trial (11th place?), and work to stay in the lead pack no matter what in the road race (came in 8th – the flat cost me two spots). Went into the RR in 10th place in GC and finished with 8th in the end.

Being the first race I’ve been at without teammates, I took Pat and Kelly’s advice and focused on my own race skills: being safe, moving up to a better position at the optimum time, how to pace in a time trial (this needs work and aerobars!), and how to just stay tucked in. All of their advice worked to perfection…almost.

Criterium: (1.1 miles, good surface, flat, four turns and one railroad crossing) In a mixed field of Cat 4’s and 35+, our field was about 35 women strong—and a bit scary, since my last crit was the early bird in February. Lots of Left Coasters and Velo Bella’s. It was a lonely morning for the sole Touchstoner and thus really difficult to hold on to a good position in any of the early laps. Any time I managed to get near the front (but still tucked in) all of the sudden the field would accordion and it was chaos. Within seconds I was in the back. Frustrating. Fortunately, on the final lap and two turns from the final straight away, I fought to get up to the front third. Going into the final turn, I pushed a little harder expecting the sprinters to take off and kept a line that allowed me to pedal through. While I couldn’t find a good wheel to grab (people were either too fast or too slow), I did manage to pass a good number of people. Phew! Safe and through the finish and on to the next stage that afternoon…

Time Trial: (10.3 miles, ok roads, three turns, headwind, mostly flat) The sun was unbearable. The small Touchstone contingency (Ken, Pat, Kelly, Steve, and my dad) found ourselves setting up shop in the almond orchards of northeast Madera. “Hot” couldn’t describe the temps in the sun. Any thoughts of not carrying water on the 10.3-mile stage for “aero” purposes quickly evaporated – literally. Seeing everyone in their TT helmets, aerobars and disc wheels (some even with TT-specific bikes), I was a little envious. At 2:35, I took off with a heart rate already above 170…way too high. The racer 30 seconds ahead of me started to get bigger and bigger and I thought, “How cool would it be to catch someone?!” Well, I eventually caught him, someone who was just out on a ride. Oh well. A few seconds later, I myself got caught by someone with aerobars, Starla from Dolce Vita (who eventually took second or first overall). It was a painful 10 miles. The heat emanated from the pavement and I was almost out of water. My HR was way above LT and I still had 5 miles to go. (This sucks.) I came into the final turn and knew I had just one mile left. I took the last of the Enervit and started to increase speed. At the 1K marker, I saw the white tent--the finish, Shangri-La, an oasis that seemed forever out of reach. (Man, I feel like shit.) By the time I crossed the finish, I was barely breathing and yet couldn’t stop pedaling in fear of instant cramping. Shade, all I wanted was shade.

Road Race: (17 mile loop, mostly flat, headwind area, bad road section, steep section of rollers to finish – a course that suited me well!) I attribute my fast recovery and strength I felt in this 3rd stage to the Chili’s steak and potatoes breakfast I had a 6:45am (leftovers) and the PBJ sandy I had at 9:30, two hours before my race started. Come 11:30, I was feeling good and the weather was ever-so-slightly cooler. With a two-mile promenade to the course, our field of 15 or so, “agreed” to stay together for at least the first two laps. Once the race started, one rider was immediately off the back with a flat tire. About 12 miles into it, on the worst piece of road you could imagine, we lost another rider whose seat popped off (!) which we all ran over but escaped unscathed. (My dad said he saw her finish the lap out of the saddle. Impressive since that meant she had to ride 5 miles or so standing.) Once we hit the rollers at the end of the lap, I sensed our “agreement” was about to become null and void -- not intentionally but just out of pure attrition that happens when you hit the climbs. Immediately, my HR jumped and Pat’s voice came down like the voice of god, “Just hammer to stay with the lead group through the rollers – it’s short and you’ll be glad you did.” I was. Once I crested the first roller with the pack, I was able to draft enough to get through the next few with very little effort. By the time we reached the last, our group was down to six and stayed that way for the next full lap and for a bit into the third – until visions of actually getting some point for this race came to an end with a damn flat. I pulled off and watched the group of 5 ride off. I had the new tube in-in record time (for me)-only to find that it was a short valve. I couldn’t get air in. Now what?! Cry? I looked down the road and saw a cyclist – no spare. The five cars that passed were all locals – no spare. Another cyclist! And, he was unclipping! A Sierra Nevada rider from Sac who got dropped from this Cat 3 field saved my ass. While I knew I had already lost my 6th place by maybe two riders, I just had to finish. The Sierra Nevada rider (Andrew?) and I rode side by side pretty much to the end. He was good company and a nice way to get my mind off the oppressive heat and the loss of the race.

I spun my way up the rollers and to the finish line, coming in 8th for the stage and 8th overall. I’m pretty happy with that. Definitely looking forward to this race again next year.

Ken did great with an impressive 3rd place in GC (and $5!). My dad did well too, taking 26th in a tough field (Masters 45+). Not sure how Kelly and Pat finished but I'm sure they did well.

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