Sunday, April 3, 2011

Account of Morgantown Road Race

This will be another page from my personal blog. I and two teammates race the Morgantown Road Race as a season opener. It was a tough one. The link to my blog post can be found here. I believe I will be updating it as I see fit. Here it is today:

Where's The Podium? #1: Morgantown Road Race - 4th

Let's start from the top. An afternoon race start time is key. JR Petsko'sABRA racing series is full of them and that alone is enough to make me want to keep coming back. It was with that in mind that I took the horrific weather with some reserved animosity. We could have been racing in the terrible snow, sleet, rain, and wind with not a prayer for sun early in the morning. Yet, all of that mixed in with a grueling "pain-cave" race made the Morgantown Road Race a race of great proportions with everyone involved. Myself, David Watkins and John Blank (after a clutch no-show opened up a spot for John) all raced in the Cat 4/5 race.
Looking at some other racers getting ready, the rain began to fall.. then a snow mix.
Slushy seat and bike
There I am warming up and this will lead nicely to me talking about the race and my tactics therein. I chose to pack no leg-warmers. I wasn't even going to consider it (channeling my inner Belgian). I wore my Elite Ozone warming gel and that was all that I needed. I will contend that I was the only one not wearing leg or knee warmers in all of the races and I am proud of that. That was part of my mental preparation... there was nothing that would stand in the way of me doing this race in the best way I could manage. It was going to be tough, leg-warmers or not and I have nothing to hide. Also note the Power Bar energy gel tucked on the quad. I had another slipped on the other side and that's where they stayed until use in the race.  I also decided against wearing my wind/water-proof jacket. I knew I would get cold, but I also knew my legs were the important component here. When we finally did get rolling after a 30 min delay for weather improvement, everyone was unsure of how things would unfold.

Rolling out, things were good and bad. Tough cold, wind, rain added to terrible road conditions with potholes that knocked many people's water bottles out (I almost lost one of mine) was the bad.  There was a lot of talking during the first 8 miles or so before a break happened with I'm guessing three or four riders and another trailing to bridge a gap to them. I will say that I would have probably tried to get with that break had I been able to move to the front, but I was sure glad to find out that staying in the peloton was just what I needed. I made it a goal of mine to go with any and every break that happened no matter what - afraid that the race would slip from me without my control. The peloton caught that break I believe on the first climb, but again I was not near the front so I am unsure of when that happened. Nonetheless, they were caught and another break was to go I believe on the 2nd climb (no one could control that one but those three).

Note about that 2nd breakaway: It stuck. They were all from the same team (TOMS... like Toms Shoes) and they admitted that they were just using the race to get points so that they could cat-up. I mean, I can accept that, but it kinda stinks to be racing below your level just for points. Apparently they actually started the race late, bridged up to the peloton, passed us all and took the 1-2-3. I fail to see how that is impressive when they could have raced in the Cat 3/4 race and challenged themselves with better competition. Enough said.... maybe.

With the breakaway gone the rest of the race was to be decided on the climbs and the rolling hills to the finish. I ended up finding myself with a nice group after the first climb. I believe David was at least there and it was at that point that I took my first energy gel and I suggested David do the same. The timing of my intake worked well for me. His proved to be a little more difficult as I believe we hit the second climb of the day struggling to open the thing and he was admittedly not ready for the horrid taste of banana-strawberry (it was all that was left when we shopped) bitterness. That second climb was a test indeed. A select group got away at that one and I was in the red to keep with them.

A lot was going through my mind at that point. Firstly, I thought that I just needed to limit my losses and tick away as hard as I could. Secondly, I needed to not give up. This race was not going to slip by me. Thirdly, I thought to make a joke with the others suffering by saying "I shouldn't have had all that candy at Halloween!" but I also  [fourthly] thought I might save that one. Fifthly, the thought of doubt came in the form of me wondering how I was going to handle the next climbs and bridging back the gap that was occurring and how much weight I wish I could have really lost during training. 

A gap certainly did occur and I had to bridge on the decent to keep with them. They were cooking and I was frying. Eventually I did come up on their wheels and recovered enough to give a few pulls to make sure we were not going to have too many others join us. It was clear that our work should not be done in groups of two or three, so eventually we formed a nice "chasing group," as they'd say, and worked together. Hitting the third climb was a brutal thing. We were all on the rivet and I would contend I was the worst. My pain-face was evident and my face sucking wind. I remember blurred vision just looking down at my front wheel I suppose to make sure it was still moving forward. Although I believe the pace was quicker on the second climb, energy stores were being tested on this third one and my legs were screaming. Yet, so were everyone else's (one must never forget). I fell off the wheels of my group again and knew that even after the summit, I would still have to work myself hard to catch them again.

The descents were sketchy. Wet pavement is one thing, but I am not used to such switchbacks. I don't know if they just look fast doing them in the pros, but I did my best to hold a line without skidding off-road. However, I didn't really have a problem with them and don't you think the only switchbacks were on the descents. Uphill switchbacks reminded me that these were the kind of climbs I have dreamed about killing. Though I surely hoped they wouldn't kill me.

I suffered to bridge the gap to my group of five and I wondered if I was burning too much of what I had left for the finish. Upon that thought my tactics came to mind. Instead of taking more pulls like I had done after the second climb, I decided I had better not just latch onto a wheel directly. Rather, I knew I needed to protect myself, my efforts, and my legs for when I needed them most. I trailed off the back a bit and did no more work than to remain as inconspicuous as possible (out of sight - out of mind) Now I do understand this kind of thinking and tactics. I was benefitting from the work of others and am no better than the Toms teammates taking advantage of a situation. Albeit, they chose to race an "easier" race for points. My move was a race time decision and it paid off. I got no complaints from the guys trading pulls and I tried to stay off the back just enough so as to hope they would think I was suffering more than I was and maybe even still trying to catch their group. I don't think I fooled anyone though.

Tactics are something I am very much focussed on this year. I want to race like I know what I am doing. I chose to take the race into my own hands and play it how I needed to. I did not take any wind for the last 10+ miles and I am okay with that. Some may call it cheap, I call it race tactics. It was within this time that I made sure I took my second energy gel, made sure that I was drinking a lot of my V8 Fusion/water mix in my bottles, and recover. I played my cards right and I am happy with how it turned out.

The last 2-3 miles I knew from the drive in. It was a relief to know where I was and what to look for through the finishing miles - crossing the state line from Pennsylvania into West Virginia. Those last two miles were testing for everyone in my group. The two guys who put the most effort in pushing the pace before this point got dropped by three of our group's members on the third to last roller within the final mile. I was still playing my patience card and kept their wheel as they slowly faded to a surge from those aforementioned three. I knew how close we were to the finish and I knew I needed to attack my waning lead-out and find more suitable wheels to follow before the road opened up at the "200m to go" mark where the yellow-line-rule was to be nulled for any sprint finish. I caught my three targets on the second to last roller and for some reason a straggler from the Cat 3/4 was following their wheels to. Upon bridging and recognizing (by not recognizing this rider from our breakaway) this atrocity I readily snapped at the rider to back off their wheels and I found my position at I believe third wheel. Once we rolled up on the last little roller to the slight uphill finish, I knew where to look for that "200m to go" sign and I quickly swept to the left side of the road. I was surprised that no one in front of me had tried this move and I was happy to have it all to myself. I don't know what happened after I swung over and I took the sprint with strength and full confidence I had just taken 4th.
I had high spirits before and after the race. I felt confident in myself, my training, preparation, and mental state. I was excited to just be racing and I wanted the race to be a learning experience above all. Beyond that, I wanted to work not only my legs for a result, but also my tactics and mental game. They say that it is not always the strongest that wins a race, but sometimes the smartest. I believe I played this one right and I got the "win" I wanted. I am not a "climber," but I made it work out. I knew that my pull after the third climb was not necessary unless someone in my group were to yell at me for not doing any work. We were not going to be caught by anyone behind and I knew I needed to do my best to recover. I do wish it could have been for the top spot on the podium, but I am happy with my result. My bike needs a shower.

Looking ahead to other races, I believe I just need to try to remain consistent. Continue and believe in my training, remain patient, and go with my gut during a race. There is no need to go into the red for a pull when I have a greater concern - the finish line.
Great race and I look forward to the next ABRA event.
David finished 25th in his first ever bicycle race and I am not sure where John Blank finished yet. As a team I believe we are happy about the race and I am most certainly looking forward to the next weekend. I will be on the hunt for any photo(s) of the sprint finish (however selfish that may sound... I'm proud of my efforts). I will update as I see fit. Thanks for reading!

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