Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tour de Frankenmuth: these cats is cRaZy! Carnage! Destruction!

A while back, I decided to sign up for Tour de Frankenmuth. Two laps of a 16 mile course in Frankenmuth, MI. It would be my second ever bike road race! I didn't really train this winter or most of this spring. According to my workout log (aka Strava), I started working out more than once a week starting on April 27th.

So...4 weeks. I trained 4 weeks for this race. Not enough time to gain a great deal of fitness or strength. But, my goals were humble. I didn't want to get dropped, I wanted to finish with the lead pack. And I didn't want to crash.

I had no idea how difficult this race would make that second goal of mine!

Lets do a quick recap leading up to this race.

Starting on April 27th, I rode about six time per week through May 19th (three weeks). This past week, partly by design and partly because of laziness, I didn't ride much. On Monday, I did a 10 mile ride on a bike path at 10 mph average. And on Tuesday, I did a 32 mile solo ride at 17 mph. Then I did absolutely nothing but sit on my butt and watch Netflix on Wednesday and Thursday. Tapering, right?

I planned on going for a short, light ride on Friday...just to loosen up the legs and make sure my bike was shifting and otherwise functioning well. But instead, Kendal and I went to dinner with Dan. We went to Sushi Dabu and I had a big ole bowl of sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개)!

Fantastic! Good pre-race dinner? I have no friggin clue. Don't care! And at the time, I wasn't worried about the fact that I hadn't ridden since Tuesday and I that I hadn't gotten all of my gear in order.

We got home from dinner around 8:30pm. Packet pickup was at 6:30am in Frankenmuth. That meant we had to depart our home around 5:00am. I figured I should probably start getting all my gear ready. Spent some time adjusting the front derailleur. Then I laid out my race clothes in the bathroom, put all my race essentials in my gym bag, and put my bike and pump by the door. Then I mixed up one bottle of Hammer Perpetuem, mixed with Hammer Endurolyte Fizz, with a shot of 5-Hour Energy. I'd never had this combination of stuff before. But, I have a tendency of trying new things on race day despite everyone saying you should never do anything new on race day. I made up my mind what I wanted to eat in the car, and turned in for the night. It was 10:15pm. Probably fell asleep around 10:40pm.

2:20am. I'm awake. Blerg. I think I was able to get about another hour of sleep from 3am to 4am. I really wanted to sleep more. Oh well. Quick shower. Woke up Kendal. Packed up the car. We were on the road by 5:10am!

We arrived at Zehnder's (the start and finish line) at pretty much exactly 6:30am. The parking lot was already starting to feel busy. I went to pickup my race number and packet. The guy at the table started looking through a stack of registrations. Went through them again. Asked another guy next to him to go through his stack in case I was in the wrong stack. Nothin'. He then says to yet another guy,

    "Remember how we lost him and then found him? Where is he?"
    "I don't know. Should be there."

Awesome! This has to be a good sign! Eventually, they found me in the original stack. Then I did my usual pre-race porta potty routine and went back to the car to pin my race number on my jersey.

I feel like something has to be said about affixing race numbers to jerseys. You see...there are many barriers to bike racing. The cost of the equipment, the cost of entry fees, traveling to race destination, fitness, fear of humiliation, lycra phobia, crash aversion, etc. But for whatever reason, one of the most off-putting elements of bike racing for me is pinning that stupid race number to the jersey correctly! It's...impossible! I always have it pinned loosely and out of sorts, so that it billows about like a kite catching wind. I just don't understand why in 2013 we're still using safety pins to affix these numbers. No buttons, clasps, snaps, velcro, adhesive, or other more convenient system? Unreal. Luckily, Kendal was able to get my numbers pinned reasonably well even though she claims it took her 20 full minutes to get it right (might be an accurate estimate).

Still had close to an hour before the my wave started. So...I sat there in the car doing nothing. They say you're supposed to warm up before races, that it'll loosen up your muscles, get your circulation going, or something like that. But I refuse. I don't really know why. I just never feel like it, I think because I'm so nervous. And I was more nervous for this race than any other race in recent memory.

Kendal convinced me that I should warm up. I decided I'd at least make a show of it. So I got all prepared, unloaded the bike and tooled around at 7 mph on a street near by. I went back and forth a couple times until I noticed my friend Sarah in the parking lot.

Unlike me, she was actually warming up. I stopped warming up to chat! As it turned out, Sarah forgot to bring her water bottles! So I went back to my car to fetch one small water bottle I had as a spare. My race started at 8:18. It was 8:03. I decided to head over to the start line. While walking my bike towards the start with Kendal, I spotted the porta potties again. That was all the catalyst needed for my body to require using them one more time. By the time I got out, it was 8:10. My original plan was to start at the front of our group (lesson learned from Cone-Azalia). But I had to scrap that plan. I was at the very back of the field of 50 because everyone got there before me. Blerg.

And...we were off!

It was a pretty easy rollout at first. After the first turn, the guys up front pushed the pace for a second. And then let off the gas. This happened pretty often. After every turn, I'd have to sprint to catch back up with the wheel in front of me. Now, I'm not a very experienced racer. But I have heard from experienced racers that being in the back is awful because of the "rubber band effect": small gaps in the front that are easily closed become big gaps by the time they reach the back and take greater effort to close. I wasn't sure if that's what I was experiencing or if the front was actually pushing the pace in sudden bursts.

In any case, being stuck at the back, my race became a one of steady efforts on the straights and sprints to catch up after every turn.

The other tough part about being at the back is that I found it hard to move up to improve my position. The roads were narrow, with narrow lanes (center line rule was in effect). And there were too many riders. I just didn't seen any gaps to move up. I tried passing several riders once when the field strung out in a single file, but I found myself without any draft. After a few minutes of that, my energy level started to wane so I slowed down until I could find a wheel to follow.

The funny thing was...I really was not expending a lot of energy overall. Even with those sprint efforts after every turn, this entire race felt easier than some Ann Arbor Velo Club recovery rides. But that makes no sense. I averaged over 23 mph in this race while the AAVC recovery rides are usually more like 17-18 mph average. But I can tell you with all honestly that I hardly had any sweat on me and my legs were fresh by the end of this race. Just bizarre.

Now, what I haven't mentioned yet were the crashes. Yup, plural. It. Was. Crazy.

The first wreck happened just six miles into the race, just a few bikes in front of me. A local rider I've become acquainted with, Joe G, was involved in that one. Total bummer! Super nice guy and just a shame his day ended early. Luckily, I've learned he's fine and his bike is mostly fine as well. I didn't see what happened...but a few riders just hit the deck, and those of us behind them had to scramble to avoid it.

The next two crashes have sorta blurred together in my mind. Both were very nearly disasters for me. Again, they happened just a few bike lengths in front. Again, I don't know exactly what happened. The second one took out a bunch of people. They were sprawled all across the road, and I had to take a quick emergency detour on the grass to avoid the carnage.

The next crash still has me spooked! This third one also happened just a few riders in front of me. We were moving too fast, and it happened too close to me. There was no detour for me to take on either side at that speed and proximity. The only thing I could do was grab brake, and grab brake hard!!!! Both my wheels locked up and I was skidding. My front tire was pointing forward. But the rear of the bike angled right, and started skidding me to the rightward edge of the wreck. I was pretty sure I was going to avoid the downed riders, but as I was skidding, I was certain that I'd tip my bike and take a tumble. The rear fishtailed a little from side to side and at the same time I started to pedal instead of holding on the brakes. By divine intervention, I stayed upright and was able to keep moving forward. Heart was in my throat and I was cussing like a sailor out of frustration.

I cussed a lot after every wreck because they were so near me. I'm pretty sure the riders around me thought I had Tourette syndrome.

This third wreck was unusual. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not. But the riders up front gassed it pretty hard right after the wreck. If intentional, it's not very sportsmanly. Anyway, I had to go into time trial mode for a bit to catch up.

The last wreck happened soon before the finish. With around 8-ish miles to go, the pace really picked up. Finally! I was still at the back of the main group, unable to move up due either to lack of opportunities or lack of recognition of said opportunities. But, I felt reasonably fresh and figured I'd do the best I can in the sprint to pass as many people as possible.

Right before the final straight away, there's a very very sharp turn. Well, wouldn't you know it, a rider a bit in front of me goes into that corner too hot and wipes out, taking down at least one other rider. This wreck held up myself and a few others...which eliminated us from the sprint finish with the rest of the guys up front. I managed to out sprint all but one of the guys around me in a half hearted seated sprint effort.

After finishing, we learned about other wrecks in some of the other categories. And then we witnessed an awful wreck taking out a lot of riders in one of the higher cats right in front of us. There was a strong smell of burned rubber in the air from people skidding their tires while going down. It was horrible. Bike wrecks are fascinating and sometimes even funny on YouTube. But in real life, it's just awful. I felt so bad for those guys. Took out a bunch of AAVC riders too.

This race was just too crowded...roads too narrow...speeds high in sections....and probably in our category, a lack of enough collective experience.

I ended up finishing 19th. But I considered it a resounding success since I didn't crash. And I finished with the main group, just 14-ish seconds behind the winner! I'm pretty sure with better positioning before the sprint, I could have finished in the top 10.

My friend Sarah came racing past as I was in spectator mode. It looked like she was in 2nd place while going by. But she thinks she got 4th by the time they reached the line. Very very close finish for 2nd and 3rd place among the cat 4 women! Either way, she had a great race among some pretty strong riders!

I signed up for a bunch of bike races in my first season bike racing. I hope other races aren't this crazy. We shall see! I have concluded that it is CRITICAL to be up front. All the wrecks happened in the middle or back of the pack. And the back has to deal with extra effort imparted by the rubber band effect.

Here's my Strava stats for the race:

Next up? West Branch Classic road race!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cone-Azalia Road Race

Have you seen that movie, 'American History X'? Do you remember that scene where Edward Norton's character curb stomps that other thug? Well...that's what the field did to me today. The field curb stomped me.

Following on the heels of fairly good recent crit results, what went wrong?

1) First and foremost, I'm just not strong enough. At this moment, the fastest I can do a solo 30 mile ride is at about 19 mph average. The lead pack, over a 30 mile course for cat 5, average around 23 mph. I estimate that I need to be able to average around 21 mph to have the general fitness to be competitive at the cat 5 level, to hang with the pack.

2) Dead legs. Over the past couple months, I've been averaging around 10 miles or less saddle time per week. This past week, the weather finally got warm. And I put in around 180 miles prior to race day.

  • Saturday: 13.2 mile Willow Time Trial and 5.9 mile leisurely ride with my wife Kendal
  • Sunday: 9.5 mile Ann Arbor Velo Club Spring Training Criterium
  • Monday: 30.1 mile "recovery" ride with AAVC/UofM (recovery my ass!!!!!!)
  • Tuesday: 50 mile solo ride
  • Wednesday: 16.1 mile moderate ride with Kendal
  • Thursday: off
  • Friday: 26.5 mile to pre-ride Cone-Azalia course
  • Saturday: 19.6 mile not-slow-enough ride with Sarah
  • Sunday morning: 8.6 mile ride to Milan to Cone-Azalia starting line
Someone check my math. 180-ish leading up to Cone-Azalia? Probably too much considering I'd been averaging 10 miles a week while the weather sucked.

3) After hearing about all the horror stories about this race from my friend Geoff, about how the course destroyed forks, bars, seatposts, wheelsets, and frames, I decided to go with indestructible gear. So I rode my 23 lbs all steel Some Double Cross with 1700g handbuilt Velcity A23 box section wheels. I had a set of 25c Continental Grand Prix 4-Seasons pumped up to 90psi. I think the tires were fine for this rough course. The pressure was fine. But my bike and wheel weight? I think they hurt me. Especially since I'm a small rider (135 lbs).

4) I started the field near the back. The rollout was pretty leisurely. But not long after we made that first turn, people in the front took off. I was in no position to latch on. And by the time I got around the people in my way, the group was far ahead. I didn't have the strength to catch up. So I rode a lonely solo ride, with minimal help.

5) The course was tough. Plenty of wind. And lots of gravel to pavement transitions. I'm not a strong enough rider to fight the winds myself. And I didn't feel great about the turns, so I'd take them at sub-10 mph. Lots of potholes too. Even if I had managed to be with the group...I'm not sure how comfortable I would have felt latching onto someones wheel, not being able to see the obstacles in front of me.

I still believe the biggest factor was just fitness. I think I need to figure out how to train, instead of just going on rides. I have three weeks until my next race. Hopefully I can at least finish with the pack!

On to better news regarding this race though! My friend Charles entered this race at the last second (day of registration). He's been sick for 2 weeks and hasn't been able to train at all. And, he hadn't slept in way too many hours (he came straight from his graveyard shift at work to the race). He stayed right up there with the pack, and was leading the group for large a large portion of the last lap. But after the group turned onto the straight before the finish, they thanked him and left him. He managed to hang on for 11th place!!! Well done, tired man!!!!

And my friend Sarah, racing in her first road race, finished 2nd among the cat 4 women!!!! She almost texted me this morning to tell me she'd be skipping because she felt so uneasy about the race...but decided to show up anyway. Good decision! One of the other girls, a pretty strong local rider, attempted a solo breakaway with 5 miles to go. Sarah and another rider decided to work together and reeled in the breakaway rider with probably no more than 1 km left to go! Good job!!!!

As a side note, after I got back home, I mowed my lawn. I mean this: mowing the lawn was WAY harder than Cone-Azalia!!!!!!! I really need a propelled mower or a riding mower or one of those Husqvarna robot mowers. I also need to not let it get so long. And I need a smaller lawn.

Now...get on your bikes and ride!!!! :)