Tuesday, March 26, 2013

And So it Begins Again

 It seems as though it was ages ago when last I put together a race report. The reality was that it was not and in fact, it was only early last month that the cyclocross master's worlds were held. The winter here in New England, as those from the region will freely admit, has seemed long and harsh. It has been a real winter, one with persistent snow and cold and wet, gritty roadways making cycling a daunting task. The first snows and cold for that matter, were late to appear so we, or at least I, was lulled into thinking  this would be another no-op winter. Soon after we got home from the worlds event I was proved wrong. A long line of steady storms and below average cold weather was in store. Riding bikes became a chore of bundling against the elements and in all honesty, we have yet to really diverge from that.

In the meantime, another season of bicycle racing has crept upon us while we weren't looking. This past Sunday was the first race of the season, a short MTB time-trial called the King of Burlingame in RI. This race has been going for some number of years yet Cathy and I had never done it. Part of the reason is that it's a short race and a relatively long drive. The race also used to conflict with a more local road race that I would do back when I was road racing more. Last year we actually registered for the race but when we woke up early to a steady downpour the day of the race, we decided to stay home instead. Turned out the conditions were fine in RI of course.

We got in what was supposed to be an easy road ride on Saturday but ended up being two and a half hours of misery fighting a brutal headwind and cool temperatures. That evening we attended the grand reopening open house at the newly revamped Blue Steel Cyclery in Manchester, NH. We had a great time seeing the new shop and hanging with cycling friends. It did however mean we were home late which when combined with up early to head to the race, made for a painful Sunday AM. Fortunately we got the gear and van packed up the night before so without much adieu we were on the road, through Providence and at the venue, the Burlingame State Park.

A quick change and we headed out for a short pre-ride to get a sense of the terrain. The start was about a half mile from the parking lot up the road so we made our way to the trail-head. The terrain was hilly and there were lots of pine and rhododendron growing everywhere. This was very similar to the cape, which was no big surprise as we were only a short distance from the shore. As we got into the first mile or so of course it was very fun trail that was well designed with good flow, making excellent use of rocks and technical features. The difference between this trail and most of the stuff on the cape is that these trails were designed and built for MTBs rather than dirt-bikes. The new Scalpel was handing the terrain really well, good as this was only the second ride on dirt for the bike. I just hoped the carbon wheels would survive the rocky sections. Given the time we had to turn back and get ready for the start. This included adding a little more air in the tires, just in case.

For the pre-ride we wore some extra clothing but for the race you wanted to pare down a bit so as not to overheat. The rub came from the fact that the start and finish were in different places so we opted to not wear extra clothing and drop it at the start. This was a bad idea as we literally stood there shivering, unable to get warm. Because this was an individual time-trail, the racers were set off individually in order at 30 second intervals. I registered late so was one of the last of my wave to go. Finally I was off and the world melted into the task at hand, as always, the race. The race has come to be an old companion, a familiar and dare I say, comfortable place where everything else fades away. All of the worldly troubles and woes disappear. For all the pain and suffering of the race, I really enjoy the luxury of the single minded purpose and focus. I tend to excel when I am focused but freely admit to struggling with that same focus in many aspects. Guess I'm just not wired that way, to multi-task, juggle or walk and chew gum at the same time.

For me, last year's race season has really kind of run into this year's race season, the lines blurring and there being no real distinction. It's clear that at some point there will have to be some distinction and down time but I'm planning that for late summer. For now, I'm working with the fitness I've retained while trying to build the endurance back up gradually from that of the short and intense cyclocross race format. So far so good though like last year, I'm seeing massive fall-off when I try and do too much. If I do a couple of solid two plus hour efforts during the week then there doesn't seem to be much in the tank on the weekend. If I get a hard long weekend of riding, I'm in the hole for much of the next week. Hopefully a couple more cycles of that and I'll be able to muster a few hard efforts a week and still be able to stay on top of recovery. I can say for sure that I'm still dealing with the after affects of a really long and tough week a couple weeks back. That said, I had some good efforts in the cold and pelting snow last Thursday which have me hopeful.

Sidetracked again. The race, yes, I was talking about the race, which is actually not all that interesting, especially given that it was an ITT. Within a quarter of a mile I started to catch folks that had started in front of me. That started a steady chain of catches every half mile or so for the first few miles but then settled down. Most of the passes were fine though a couple of catches were in technical sections that didn't promote passing. Rather than be a douche I tend to just wait until it's clear. This only costs a couple seconds and affords a small reprieve to catch your breath and really give it heck for the actual pass without digging too deep. On the section of road that very thing happened where I was catching a racer and knew that I needed to get ahead before we ducked back into the woods. That meant killing myself on the road, which resulted in the successful catch and pass but included me promptly washing out on a corner and laying it down. Fortunately I kept hold of the bars and got my feet under me while still sliding and was up and on the bike before the racer came back around me. That effort really left me gasping for air though.

The course was fun, fast and twisty with loads of high speed log hops and some good rocky technical sections to add some excitement and challenge to the mix. A couple of these sections, rocky stepped ups, would have been better had I seen them before so as to practice them. The result was that I blew a couple and had to scooter up the last step or bail off and run up. This is always sloppy when performed at the last moment. After my washout we hit bridge after bridge. I'd been pushing as hard as I could the whole time and felt like I was moving well but was still a bit disappointed with my numerous bobbles. That coupled with the running time that I could see on my Garmin had me way off the pace from the previous year. I was already over 38 minutes and no end was in sight. It wasn't long though, literally seconds, and I saw someone on the side of the trail waving frantically and then I saw the finish just up ahead. I dug deep for the final sprint and passed under with just over 39 minutes on my Garmin. Unfortunately the stupid GPS shuts off when speed drops below a certain level, like in really technical sections, and is then slow to pick back up. The result is a lag and disparity between the running time and the elapsed time. I've seen this before and knew that I should switch to elapsed time but the setup is a PitA so I didn't. Official results had me at just over 40 minutes, which from the previous results was not stellar.

As I rode back to the finish, where instant digital results were displayed on a monitor (they used timing chips for the race) I was told my time was not in fact that bad and that I'd narrowly edged out Mark, who had been leading the old man's division prior to that. I felt good about that and spend some time chatting with Geoff and Rich and a bunch of others waiting for Cathy to finish up. She did in good form as always and then we headed back to the van for some warmer clothing.

After changing the plan was to go do some more riding but first we took a look at the results. Mark was congratulated me on 2nd and I was a bit taken aback wondering who in the old mens category had beaten us both. He said no, second overall, which I hadn't realized yet not seeing the results. As it turned out Brian, a slightly less old man in the age bracket one up from me, who did a last minute day of registration, was the only one to go under 40 minutes on the day. Apparently the course last year was bone dry it was a little warmer and a little faster. Brian is a fierce competitor and incredible athlete and champion so I take no (well, at least little) shame in losing to him. Truth is the only times I've ever beaten him were when he had mechanical issues. I do wish I'd found those few seconds to duck under the 40 minute mark but like all time, you can never get it back.

It was a good first test and a great first race on the new Cannondale. The bike literally flew and handled great. Cathy had a great ride and worked super hard as she always does. We are going to work on polishing the technical skills and confidence that she already has long had but have tarnished a bit. I'm really hoping for some good things this year and a progression from the wonderful results of last year. At least this is a start on the right foot.


CB2 said...

If I hadn't told Jim I was a no-go you'd be wearing a plastic crown!
Nice "recovery" ride on Tuesday.

mkr said...

Nice, so I can blame Charlie for losing and not my lack of physical ability :) Actually, we can blame the woman who ran over you Friday.

Yes, last night was brutal. Literally had post-race-gut all night afterwards.