Monday, June 18, 2007

13 Hours on a Barstool: AT&T Crit Report

On Saturday 6/16 instead of any form of exercise all I did was sit on a bar stool, and watch bike racing. The next morning my calves felt like they were on the verge of cramping. It was strange having that sensation since the closest I came to my bike in the preceding 3 days was passing it in the garage.

Here's how the day unfolded.

Raining Again

The original plan was for Michael to come to my house at 0730 AM, and we were going to ride down to the 2nd St District and watch Daniel race with the Cat 5's, and then hang around until 0930 and watch Gerry ride with the Masters 45+, 55+, and 65+. Gerry was the only 65+ racer, so it would be basically a 50 minute victory lap.

Alas, all of this was not to be on account of the sound of thunder that awakened me from my pre-AT&T crit slumber at 0430. When I awoke for real, at 0630 it was coming down steadily and the roads were very wet. Michael showed at my place at 0715, and he and I drove downtown for coffee and bike racing. I let him borrow a pair of my citizen shorts, and I put on my Velocity jersey, and wore a pair of citizen shorts as well. Even though I wasn't going to be riding, I thought it was important to show some "club love" for the home team.

We arrived at the Start/Finish line at 0730, and got some coffee and breakfast tacos. We pulled up some bar stools and got ready to spectate. We found out then the that the two Cat 5 races has been combined for "safety reasons" on account of the rain. As a result instead of 20 racing in each race, there were now 40 Cat 5's racing.

Enter the Guppy Hunter

Frank showed up at 0800. He had been threatening to ride from So. Dallas to the race, but the rain put him in the Dodge truck. He found a bar stool, and we all got ready to watch some Velocity smack down. In reality, Michael and I went to the turn #1 to watch what we thought would be the inevitable crash of the Cat 5 race. Daniel was in the peleton respledent in his Velocity kit. Here's a photo of him negotiating turn #1 at some point in the race:

Daniel looked good, and reported later that on account of the wet road conditions the peleton never really got its rhythm together. Daniel looked good as he finished. He didn't crash, and he lived to race another day.

Where's Gerry?

At 0900 there was no sign of Gerry King our Velocity 65+ representative. I got on the phone, and reached him at Casa de King wherein he informed me "I've broken too many bones to risk racing on wet streets." Fair enough. I asked him if he was planning to come on down to spectate, and he demurred. Since I really didn't have a whole lot else to do, I got some more coffee from Jo's and settled in to my bar stool for some Master's racing action. Here's photo of Michael and Frank enjoying the downtown spectacle:

Working the magic of my cell phone, I reached John Howell at Casa de Howell, and harrassed him and his lovely wife to come down and join the rest of us non-racers. Luckily they obliged. The Master's race was quite exciting. Greg Hall from Violet Crown and 3 other Master's racers got into a break and stayed away. Greg's team did a great job neutralizing any attempt to bring the break back. Meanwhile John and Maureen ordered breakfast. Watching and cheering all that racing made me really hungry, so I helped myself as Frank "the Guppy Hunter" Irwin offered a distraction. Who is that man in the shades? Crusty, is that you?

During the race Phil Sladek had the tell-tale sign of a crash, torn shorts. Unfortunately, that would not be the only pair of torn shorts we'd see. There was a crash in every single race. Quite a few were in turn #1.

Sun-up to Sun Down

I wish I could say the rest of the day was more interesting. What the day consisted of was Frank, Michael, and I sitting on bar stools, ogling women, eating, and taking pictures.

It was a great day.

Probably the most exciting race was the Women's Cat 3/4 race, naturally.

At the finish, a rider from Violet Crown offered up an intense sprint for the line with Violet Crown taking the victory and Lori Barnet from Velossimo taking a close 2nd.

Throughout the day as I coughed down homemade potato chips and coffee, I never had a regret about not racing. This was especially true when I watched the Cat 4 race, and a rider from Wooly Mammoth limped across the line.

Michael had said that the Wooly rider had run into a barrier on one of the straights.

The other dramatic crash was in Turn #4 right before the finishing straight in the Cat 3 race. There was a literal pile-up of bikes and bodies sliding into the hay bales.

Pro Time

The pro race started at 7 15. Toyota United, AEG Toshiba, Health Net A& F Development Squad, and some other pro teams were represented along with usual pro suspects: Team Hotel San Jose, Team AT&T, and Bike Barn. The race had about 100 riders, and they literally tore up the course. Their bike handling was superb, and they made it all look really easy. Here's a photo of Frank Pip from Health Net on one of the circuits. He eventually got 2nd:

Another notable rider was Kristian House who rides for the Navigators. He apparently spent his formative cycling years in Austin, and then went to England and became a pro. He was quite impressive as well. I heard somewhere that the pros averaged about 27 mph around the .5 mile circuit. Very impressive.

There was a 3 man break during the latter half of the race containing a rider whose name escapes me, Sean Sullivan from Toyota United, and local yokel Phil Wikoff. With one lap to go, Sean had a 7 second gap on the field, but the escapees were caught in the final turn when Cuban Frank Treviaso took the sprint. It was a really awesome race, and if you missed it be sure to get out there next year.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Season Finale

The cycling season has another four months remaining, so it's just Spring that ends on Thursday and it will be the first Thursday in a while that I won't be racing. Rehearsals for A Skull in Connemara begin tomorrow.

My AT&T Crit performance was a little disappointing, but I am not discouraged. There were originally two Cat 5 races scheduled. The 30-minute race scheduled for 7:30 am was combined with my race at 8:15 am. The rain had stopped, but the course remained wet. The saving grace was that the more water that ended up on me meant less on the road. From the start it was a half block to (left) turn #1 and we all approached the turn gingerly and, to my surprise, no one fell. After the turn, we sprinted up the slight incline two blocks, then slowed for (left) turn #2. At least one person took it too wide and managed to stop before the curb. Keeping in mind, with Cat 5s it could be somebody's first race, so I'm particular leery of riders I don't know or who aren't clearly in control. Turn # 3 is the easiest, allowing for a wide approach and a wide exit. The main pack doesn't seem to understand this, takes it narrow, slows down, then sprints back out. Right before turn #4, two steel plates cover the ideal turn line, so we avoid that, but then it's impossible to avoid the two manhole covers in the approach and another manhole cover 12 inches from the inside of the corner. You either take the closest line, or if that's obstructed by other riders, you have to take it wide, but the turn is from a four-line road into a two lane road and curbs abound. Then it's a sprint again.

So the race consisted of the series Sprint, Slow, Turn, Sprint, Slow, Turn, Sprint, Slow, Turn &c &c. I'm strong enough now to stay within the draft of a pack ( i.e. "suck wheel"), but I can't keep up with the leaders, so after about 15 minutes of this, I fall out. At least two people have taken spills (one got right back in) and the refs are pulling people getting lapped. I wasn't pulled, but probably only because they knew me and perhaps they knew that I am very experienced in getting lapped and equally experienced at staying out of the way. So I finished, I think about two laps behind the lead pack and 1-1/2 laps behind the second pack. Later that day I was asked if it was fun. It was fun, but more in a "satisfying" way than an "enjoying the experience" way. Happily for subsequent racers, the course remained dry the rest of the day.

What was fun in an "enjoying the experience" way was watching races while volunteering as a corner marshal. Most fun was when I was at turn #1 during the pro race last night. Fans were crowded around and I had to keep people from crossing on the far side of a blind corner. When the racers came by, it wasn't a puff of wind, it was a breeze that lasted several seconds after they passed. They were flying! I could hear the prime announcement and watch them pick up the pace. I had my stopwatch with me and I could track the speed of each lap and the gap between the break away and the main pack. When the pack wasn't passing, I was letting people cross and pouncing on anyone who attempted right before the pack arrived. It was all very thrilling to watch.

I showed up this morning at The Driveway to volunteer and the day was a washout. The pro race had less than 20, and I think half of them were still hungover from a night of partying. The combination of following the Downtown Crit, Father's Day and a risky weather forecast contributed to the problem and my race was canceled. David James showed up, so we took the opportunity to just ride the course. I probably wasn't ready to race, anyway, having spent the entire previous day either racing or on my feet, so I was happier just to be able to go on a ride with a teammate.

Last week I stripped my carbon/steel frame and "added lightness" to it with a brand-new group I bought on eBay, and transfered the old group to another steel frame of identical geometry (another eBay purchase). So my racing bike was sweeter than ever for these races. I'll be sporting the new cherry-red Lemond for training rides and living-room-trainer rides. I plan on spending the rest of this evening completing its assembly. I'll have four bikes (the others are a fixie and a touring/commuting bike), so I'll be shipping my son's bike to him in Upstate NY to free up some room.

I'll see what training I can get in. Saturdays from 10am - 2 pm I'll be in rehearsals, so my big weekly ride will likely be Sunday mornings. I plan on a "bumper crop" racing season in September/October.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Thursday Night Crits

They're like clockwork, every week, but each week's crit has its own unique characteristics and flavor. Last night three Velocity teammates raced in the 35+ 4/5 race along with two other categories that totaled over 50 riders. Robert Pillmore helped officiate all the races.

Being such a short race of only 25 mins, I'm told it has a faster pace than the earlier 3/4 race that lasts 45 minutes. After signing up for my race I saw David James replacing his front wheel. He showed me that its hub had broken earlier during the 3/4 race (which was still ongoing). It was an Ultegra hub and without cross lacing, and it's not designed or warranted for that. (I think they've relaxed that on some newer hubs).

He flatted during last week's race, so was particularly frustrated. But he was ready in plenty of time for our race. I mentioned a few posts back about 13-y/o (14?) Avery Visser and last night at the start I joked that I would be staying on her wheel. I knew from previous races that she'd stay with the main pack throughout.

In fact, I had it as my goal to stay with the main pack myself, so I was really only half joking. A Cat 3 buddy from work, Bob McGhee, offered some tips and unwittingly asked me to make it my goal stay with the pack last night. The back-and-forth turns tend to stretch out the pack, but it seemed like a faster start last night, and my power meter reported that we were fastest in the second 0.8-mile lap, averaging 26 mph. It was never "easy" but I never felt like I was going to completely collapse. I wasn't looking back and was trying to allow no more than about 10 riders in front of me, but it felt a lot more stretched out that usual, it started to bunch up and slow down around the 4th lap, but a couple of laps later at the last turn before the straightaway a woman went down, she sliding across the asphalt left, her bike sliding right and me somehow slipping in between.

I later learned it was Avery, ahead of me, of course, possibly going down from complications of a lapped rider. There's a left-right switch right before then and it's a particularly problematic spot for passing a lapped rider. I understand that Avery was not seriously injured, but did suffer some road rash and bruises. I had nightmares after seeing my own son go down when he was 15 and he barely had a scrape, so I'm particularly thinking about Avery and her folks today. I imagine she's experiencing a lot of delayed-onset pain.

The 5-lap card comes out and I'm still strong -- I'm actually going to make it!

At two laps to go, I fall back from the lead group of about a dozen riders when they ramp up for the finish, but fortunately both teammates are still in it. I finished about 75 yards behind them and while not exactly with the lead pack, it was a stretched out race, there are 35 or so behind me, so I'm feeling pretty good about my best finish ever and my fastest 25 minutes on flat ground. Being lapped is a distant memory.

Right now I'm still debating getting up early for the June 16th downtown crit and racing in one of the 30-minute Cat 5 races, else sleeping in and racing the 50-minute 4/5 race in the early afternoon. I'm leaning towards the shorter race that I'm more accustomed to. It just occurred to me that I could try both! :-)