Friday, May 16, 2014

Racing Bikes

This season has been a bit manic in ways. Big ups and big downs. I guess that they all are, really, when you look heavily at your personal results to judge yourself. It started great with the fat bike race back in January coming off a very upbeat finale to the CX season last year. That set the tone for the entire winter. It was all good, all fun, all the time. Then the snow melted and the weather turned to crap. But before the snow was entirely gone we had the VOMAR ride up in Woodstock VT. Not a race but an excellent time on the bike in some crazy fun conditions, which kept the momentum and enthusiasm going.

Then came the weather shift and soon it was time for the first real race of the sprint season, Battenkill. I want to hate that race, mostly because it is just such an expensive hassle. Last year Kyle and I raced together as a team and we had an excellent time in the 45+ race. This year we had a bigger crew and chose to race the 35+ race to include everyone on the team. This was a mistake. The field was small and wanted to ride slow between climbs. I'm terrible at the off/on type of riding and was doomed from the start. I came away with my best finish ever but felt really, really bad about my performance and frankly, myself. Fortunately, Kyle absolutely killed it at Battenkill this year, a man truly possessed. He some times lacks confidence but I think that day, it was not the case and it showed.

That stuck and I was determined not to have the same thing happen again at the next event. Unfortunately, the next event was a crappy road circuit race down in Myles Standish state park. I'm terrible at that type of event, the ones that are not hard enough to promote natural separation. I tried some stuff and was very active but in the end, it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. The second race of the day was even worse though and again, I came away down.

That all changed some after the Rasputitsa race in Newport, VT. This was promised to be a hard race with some features that played well to my skill set. It also got some big names and bigger horsepower. My kind of race, really, one that in all likelihood would start out hard and just get tougher as we went. It did not disappoint. The tough guys from all over New England as well as across the border coupled with a few professional cyclists made it an honest race with no place to hide out. Things went well and despite missing the final cut near the end of the race, I still finished up with my head held high, something I'd not seen in the past couple of races.

Next up was the first MTB race of the season. To say that I was ill prepared would be an understatement. I'd ridden my MTB exactly twice this year at that point, both times on recovery rides. The trails simply had not been dry enough. I was also still really beat from the Rasputitsa effort coupled with a hard week of training. Stupid mistakes but ones that get me every year. The start was a zoo of people crashing the front row and sensing it was unsafe, I chose to back up a row. This led to a horrible start that I hit too hard trying to make up space, leaving me gassed. Worse, I was behind people who, when we hit the single-track were unable to keep pace with the leaders.

Eventually I battled around them and began chasing the two still up the trail, who it took me half a lap to catch but left me exhausted. Second place was as far as I would get that day. Not even being a slight factor at the head of the race, I spent the day riding by myself, behind the leader, unable to progress any further. That left lots of time to reflect. MTB racing doesn't often leave me disappointed in myself but this race was an exception and in fact, set a new benchmark. On the up side, Cathy had a stellar race, one of her best in a long time, so that was a good take away at least.

All along I was still riding and training during the week. I typically train, or at least gauge my training, based on two criteria. Power output and my overall, general feeling. Neither had been particularly stellar. I'd not had that day of training where I felt invincible, the legs were just there and running full tilt. I'd had a couple of days that netted very good power output but I had to really struggle through them; they didn't feel natural or good. This had been contributing to my overall sense of melancholy in terms of riding and racing.

The next weekend we chose to do another MTB race. This was a new venue that we had high hopes for. Unfortunately, the weather was brutal that week and we got inches of rain. The course was a bit of a mess. On the up side, good friend and staple competition Frankie McCormack and John Foley were there as was new 40+ race addition and CX powerhouse Todd Bowden to name a few. This was the type of competition that I was used to and in the past has helped push me to some of my best performances. Off the line it was clear that this would be a tough race, with a big and steady surge. I struggled and started to question myself but then the four of us came back together on the paved climb after the run up and guardrail hop. Then John lit it up and Frankie followed and I was gapped. Todd was gassed from crushing the start all the way to that point so he fell behind me. On the super agro shale laden descent I lost some more space, still not fully confident or competent on the MTB.

When we hit the access road at the bottom I had some work to do in order to close the gap. The conditions were very wet with much standing water but there were long stretched of fast power section access road to try and take time back. For some reason I wasn't climbing that well but laying down the steady power on the access roads was fine and I was able to make up good time there. Soon I saw John on the side of the trail with a flat and no way to repair it, which meant only Frankie was up ahead. Frankie isn't the type of guy you want to try and chase down in a power section but I was gaining. It took me much of the lap but I finally reattached, briefly, then dropped off on the next climb. Struggling with the +400 watt efforts but OK doing just below that steadily. Could that be a result of all of the time I spent on the fat bike this winter laying down steady, slightly uncomfortable power? I wonder. Time for some more interval training I guess.

The next couple laps played almost exactly the same way with Frankie opening the whoop-ass on the climbs and me nailing it back on the flats. On the final lap we were a bit closer and I managed to get over the big climb and descent back to the access road with Frankie. Not having to close a gap at that point I was able to put some room in on the first section of road, but in the rolling single-track, which had gotten brutally bad with the mud, Frankie closed it right back up. My only hope was to hit the next power sucking marshy access road section as hard as I could to get some room. At this point Frankie's son Brendan was just ahead. He'd been fighting very successfully to stay ahead of us the past lap but I finally was closing the gap. I latched on then went around to his dismay, telling him "let's go" and thus we did. He never lost my wheel though I didn't slow at all. In fact we probably picked it up a bit as I was running scared from Frankie. On the final climb I was gassed and told him to go ahead if he was able. Brendan held until we hit the final pavement section then he made his pass. We flew down toward the finish, barely making the final corner and he sprinted in ahead of me. I couldn't have been happier for him. That man can suffer like nobody I know and dig to depths that few can, a very admirable trait. One I'm sure that comes naturally, from his dad.

So that is where we are. No racing last weekend but I did manage to crash on wet pavement while cornering on a training ride last weekend, destroying a bike. Fortunately, wet pavement is much more forgiving than dry in terms of skin loss and the personal damage was minimal. This week was another respectable training/ride week. Nothing incredible but good work for the long run. I'm planning to race the MTB this weekend, which given the rain coming, will likely be swampy. No real expectations, at least that is what I am telling myself.

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