Monday, March 21, 2016

Tour de Husker - I'm Learning!

Photo credit: Michael Dixon

I'm happy to report that my tactical game is improving.

The season opener for road racing here in Nebraska was this last weekend with the Tour de Husker put on by the UNL cycling club. As per the last few years, it was another cold and windy day. My Garmin showed temperatures starting at 27 degrees and ending up right at 32 degrees by the finish and there was a pretty good northwest wind making things feel even colder.

Brrr! Todd and I were cold! Standing around waiting to start in the cold is probably the worst part of a cold day's racing.
Photo credit: Rachel Loewens
Going into the race I knew there were a couple guys I needed to keep an eye on. Rich Anderson and Tyler Reynolds. I've ridden with Rich on many occasions and know he's strong. Tyler is a local junior rider racing with the new Harvest Racing development squad. He had a couple podium finishes the weekend before so I knew he would not be someone to underestimate just because he's young.

Of the 11 guys racing in the cat 4 race, there were only two teams with more than one rider in the race. Team Kaos and my team, Omaha Velo. We had two of us on Omaha Velo, and Kaos had three riders, including Rich. My team mate, Todd, had warned me that Rich would want to form a break and a break is something I was very interested in as well. However, with only two of us in the race, I decided to only follow moves rather than try and initiate them. In the past, I've had a hard time staying out of the wind. I'd constantly find myself moved into the wind and being confused on how I got there. This year, I was much more assertive in my positioning. This worked out well, and I was able to do very little of the work.

A couple of times, Rich would be on the front and start pushing the pace, but it was kind of hard to tell if he was trying to get away or if he was just trying to make the race harder cause he wasn't making hard attacks so much as he was just ramping up his pace from the front. Each time he did that, one of us closed the gap pretty quickly. Tyler put in an attack or two, but was unsuccessful in getting a separation. Finally,as we rounded the southwest corner of the loop Rich upped the pace and only three of us followed immediately. It was Tyler Reynolds, Karsten Koehler, and me with Rich. Rich's team mates, Michael Dixon and Mark Sullivan, and my team mate, Todd, all sat up allowing a gap to form. I hear Mike Miles, racing solo for Flatwater, attempted to close the gap for a while, but with no help from anyone else, his attempt to do so was doomed.

Side note: Though I realize the majority of the rest of the group was made up of my team mate and Rich's team mates as well as Tyler's dad, there should have still been two others who should have had incentive to help Mike shut the break down and yet Mike was alone in the effort. I wonder why those two didn't help? I mean, I'm glad they didn't but still...

Rich, Karsten, Tyler, and me echeloning our way over the dam.
Photo credit: Michael Dixon
As soon as the four of us saw we had a gap, we started working together to stretch the gap out. I was impressed with Tyler during the first several minutes of the break. Not so much his strength, though his ability as a 15 year old was quite good, but the way he was playing the game with us. During the first bit of the break he just sat on and was pretty vocal saying that he needed a break and that he didn't make much power so he didn't think he could really help contribute. After a few minutes of this, I told him he'd need to start working soon. He said he would but made a show again about not having the power to really help. I mentioned that I had seen his results from the previous weekend ( he was on the podium in a crit and a road race, both cat 3/4 races) so I knew he had some speed. He made some comment about why that was different that I didn't quite hear, but he started working. I'm pretty sure he was trying to play off his young age to work less than the rest of us and I love it! Seeing as how he won the crit the next day, I don't feel bad making him work in the road race.

The next two laps were pretty uneventful. We set a steady pace and the gap went out to about 3 minutes by the start of the last lap. I was paying close attention to the other three trying to get a sense of how hard they were working compared to me. Karsten seemed to be having the hardest time on the climbs and was breathing hard and uttering words that may prompted Darrell Webb to DQ him had he heard him at the top of the rises in the course. Tyler seemed to be breathing hard as well but didn't appear to be in as much difficulty. Rich always seemed to be working hard on the uphills but from riding with him in the past I knew that is kind of his riding style and he didn't ever seem to act tired so I knew he would be my biggest competition.

My lack of actually racing against Rich meant I had to guess on whether or not I could out-sprint him. I was figuring that he would be a better sprinter than me. Before the race I had planned on making an attack in the final mile or so, but during our last lap, my legs were telling me that a sustained effort hard enough to shake Rich would be really difficult so I canned that idea. As we hit the final stretch going back into the park we all slowed way down and started playing the cat and mouse games. Who was going to make the first move? Was someone going to make a long distance run at it or was it going to come down to the sprint. For the five minutes it took us to ride down that stretch, I averaged a whopping 120 watts. We were crawling. I had positioned myself in the back of the four of us and stuck there waiting for a move. There's a slight hill before the turn into the final stretch and I was planning on making a move there to try and get a strong gap and go for it but as we hit that hill, Karsten made a move at nearly the same moment so I got on his wheel up to the turn.

Up until this point, I think I played this race perfectly. I still had enough in the tank for a good (for me) sprint and I knew I had a really good shot at winning this thing. But then I got antsy and completely forgot how far away the finish line is from that turn. As I passed Karsten in the corner I went all in for my sprint... 500 meters from the line. That's a long way to try and sprint! As I rounded the curve before the finish line I looked behind me and I saw Rich and Karsten coming up quickly on me and thought for sure I was going to end up third. Rich passed me with maybe 50 meters to go but Karsten couldn't hold his sprint and I was able to hold on to second place.

Holding on for second place.
Photo credit: Michael Dixon

So, in all I was really pleased with my race. I feel like I didn't expend unnecessary energy and I made it into the winning move without much issue. I also didn't make a doomed attack from 5 miles out like last year. I did make one mistake that cost me the win, I believe. It was a good reminder that one should always scope out the finishing stretch and figure out where you would start your sprint. Next year I know that if it comes down to a sprint, I will wait until the final curve before launching the sprint. Always learning!

Photo credit: Michael Dixon

That pretty much wraps up my road racing for the next 5 months or so. I'm planning on doing the Psycowpath series again this year, racing marathon. I'll be on my 'cross bike yet again since the funds didn't come through for a mountain bike this year like I had hoped. I am NOT looking forward to Lewis & Clark on the Crux again, but it'll be good character development, right? Ha!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CIRREM 2016 Race Report

Photo credit: Steve Fuller
The 2016 racing kicked off with CIRREM on the last Saturday of February, as usual, this year. This race is super tough, has a really cool vibe, and is usually help in some of the worst weather of the year. We lucked out this year with unusually warm temperatures making the race comfortable from a weather stand point. We had a decent wind out of the southwest, but anyone who’s ridden in a Midwest springtime has ridden in worse winds, plus the southwest wind meant we had the wind to our backs for most of the last half of the course.

I’d call my race mostly a success, in that I accomplished the goal I was shooting for. However, as ever, I have some things I wish I had done differently in hindsight.
The main goal I had set for myself ahead of the race was to finish in under 4 hours. The last time I did this race, I finished in 10 minutes past 5 hours, but the conditions were awful that day with super soft, wet gravel. This year I finished in a tad over 3 hours and 55 minutes. Bam. Done. Mission accomplished, right? Right… mostly.

This was my first race using a power meter. Power meters are great for training. They’re great for pacing too. But anyone who knows me, know how good I am at over-thinking things. Coming into the race I had decided that I would do my best to stick with the leaders or any group I fell in with. But I also decided that I would not go over a certain wattage in order to stick with that group. My reasoning being that I didn’t want to burn my matches too early in the race. On paper, I think that was a decent idea and would have worked great had this been an individual time trial.

But a TT this was not and the wind meant sticking with a group was extremely beneficial. What I found was that the group I ended up riding in would hit each climb harder than I wanted to climb requiring me to go over the wattage “redline” I had set in my head. So, I would back off my power for the climb. As I crested each hill, I’d keep pedaling and catch back on to the group as they coasted down the backside of each climb. Eventually, as the climbs got a little longer I wasn’t able to catch back on without going over my “redline” so I ended up losing that group. I rode the rest of the race pretty much alone.

In hindsight, I think I should have done what I could to stick with the group as long as possible. Having a group to ride with would have been quite beneficial. For drafting of course, but mostly for motivation. There’s a point about 75% of the way through, where my power and heart rate charts show I was letting off the gas. Yes, my back was starting to hurt, but I also was just lacking the motivation required to push though the annoyance of a hurting back and keep my speed up. Once I found someone to ride with again, my power and heart rate came back up to a more “spirited” level.

Allll byyyy myyyself... Photo credit: Steve Fuller

Experiences like these are always good reminders of how I would love to be able to race more often. I feel like I learn a valuable lesson each time I race, but have to wait so long to apply that lesson. If I could race more often I know I would develop better race strategies faster. I’m sure I could find more races to do, but it would require sacrifices in other areas in my family’s life that we’re just not willing to make so I’ll just have to be content with a “slow and steady” approach to gaining race experience. 

Next up in my racing schedule is Tour de Husker. It's likely to be my only race on the road this year! I'm feeling strong. Stronger than I did last year, I thought I performed pretty decently last year so I'm excited to see how this year will go. Plus, it looks like the weather may actually be warm this year. A warm CIRREM and a warm TdH in the same year? I'm not sure what to make of that, but I'll take it.