Sunday, March 30, 2008

Retreat Stage III

Hello, and welcome to today's coverage of Stage III of the Velocity Stage Race,er, Retreat. Yesterday saw a resurgence of Daniel "Thursday Night Crit" Norton, but the day went The Prez, Robert Dole. While earlier in the day, Daniel and Tom succumbed to the temptation of downhill and downwind, including sucerssfully chasing down The Prez who had gone off on a 40 mph flyer, a second attack by the Prez put them properly in their place. At the end of the day, Tom, Michael, and Frank proved themselves to be the only sane ones in the bunch while Robert and Daniel fought it out over a stupid mailbox.

The neutral start of Stage III was delayed an hour by inclement weather, so the rollout left the parking lot at 9:00am. All riders received a 1 hour 30 minute penalty while receiving assistance from the team cars, and their lack of effort resulted in their arriving at the race start somewhat stiff and lethargic. Regardless, the plan for a civilized warmup was quickly tossed into the waste bin and the riders were heading uphill immediately.
The two old geezers really stunk it up, as Frank and Robert rode effortlessly away up the 11% grade heading west out of Vanderpool on the first leg of today's stage. Tom was able to close the gap some on the occasional downhill, but Frank and Robert were definitely the strong climbers on this day.

A mishap with the follow car brought all the riders together for a quick "en mass" push, and Tom took advantage of the confusion that followed to jump on his bike and head uphill. He was quickly caught by Frank, who took the lead to the top. After a few rollers, the descent began in earnest (just west of Mt Idy) no, wait, that's a different joke, and Tom took the lead. About halfway down, the road turned to packed caliche, but Tom found a pace that allowed his Titanium Terror to float over the bulldozer tracks, and was first to reach Leaky. It was his last first of the day until the pie eating contest in Utopia. Just hold your horses; I'll get to that.

Frank was second off the mountain, followed by Robert and Michael. Robert summed the experience up with a few well chosen words, something to the effect of, "that sucked." He was ready to get the buzz out of his hands and the tension out of his neck, and took off onthe second leg of today's stage, heading south into a moderate breeze and slight mist. Frank, Tom and Michael followed in a comfortable paceline, with Daniel doing double duty as navigator and team photographer. The road paralled the river and as such, was mostly downhill, fairly dry and best of all, paved, and soon the peloton arrived at leg three, the turn towards Utopia.

Robert was waiting at the turn, and he and Frank headed east, quickly outdistancing Tom and Michael. The road was now running acrosos the grain of the creeks, so there were numerous rollers, but with pretty scenery and pleasant company, this leg passed very pleasantly for Tom and Michael, while the young hammerhead @!!%??'s er, Frank and Robert, pulled away. The mist turned to rain from time to time, but it wasn't too cold, and mostly served to keep the riders cool.

Frank and Robert made the turn at Utopia and put the hammer down, effectively denying the now fast-closing peleton any chance at the top two podium spots. Their run to the finish was one that will be spoken of in hushed tones for years/weeks/days/hours/for a little while anyway, and was the perfect way to display their strong legs, sweaty muscled torsos, dripping young (does it seem hot in here to you?) anyway , a wonderful last fast dash, even if the road at that speed was, according to Frank's carefully though out appraisal, "crappy"

In Utopia the peleton (Tom and Michel) took advantage of the opportunity to address their need for a "natural break" and a water bottle re-fill, and Michael immediately spotted the best place in town to accomplish both: the local cafe aka the local color cafe, which happened to be the site of the first annual Velocity Inc Pie Eating Contest. Upon entering the cafe, the riders quickly engaged the locals in witty repartee. Local: "Isn't it pretty wet to be riding bicycles?" Riders (in unison) "Yes".

The contest began with Michael making an ill-advised selection of pecan pie, which though very tasty, put him immedately at a disadvantage, contest- wise. Tom wisely chose chocolate meringue, which he was able to suck down in the incredible time of .0005 seconds, and won the contest handily. His prize was the opportunity to observe more members of the local color contingent, consisting mainly of 3 loud and yet very well fed young ladies, one of whom sported what was perhaps a second-tier though still noteworthy plumber's butt, while Michael sullenly trudged his defeated way through pecan pie and hot coffee. When asked for a comment regarding his victory, Tom replied, "next year I'll be the one to get the pecan pie and the seat facing the window"

The contest over, the victory won and lost, Michael and Tom headed north on leg 4 of today's stage. A tailwind and their concern over delaying the post-stage activities of the first and second-place finishers put wings under their wheels, and they finished the last leg at an average speed of 32 mph. Whaddaya mean bull****??? Were you there? Were you clocking them? Then SHUT UP!

The option of driving out to pick up the now-flying non-winners had been offered to the early finishers, but they chose instead to sit on the porch at the store and stuff barbecue sandwiches with extra sauce down their gluttonous maws while savoring their impressive victory. So after Tom and Michael approached the finish line and were finally able to bring their speed down to something more manageable, they turned into the parking lot, dismounted, and were rewarded with their own barbecue sandwiches. After a short rest on the porch, the team loaded the team cars and drove back to the start of today's stage. All that was left was to pack up and head home. .

So that's it. Another stage wrapped up, and the end of this year's Velocity Inc. Stage Retreat. I would like to thank Mike at U-BarU for his hospitality, his cooking at all hours of the day and night, his post-ride soup and lasagna, and his enthusiasm. I would like to thank Michael West for getting the whole endeavor off the ground. Thanks to Daniel Norton for driving, photographing, and in concert with Robert Dole, his computer wizardry. Thanks to Robert for his experiments involving pancakes and maple syrup and is his insightful reports to the group regarding the results, and thanks to Tom for his judicious and timely employment of the toilet plunger (no connection between the last two items is intended, and if you believe that you're really not paying attention any more, are you.) And thanks to Frank for laughing at Tom's stupid jokes and making some of his own and being a really strong rider and retreat steadifier, and for helping those Chinese women get their money out of the country by sending each of them $5,000.00 and his bank account number.

We'll see you all next year.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Velocity Retreat Stage II: Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

It was a spirited ride on rolling terrain with an alternating brisk head and tail wind. Today was notable for the additon of a new rider to the Velocity peleton, Daniel Norton. There wasn't much change in GC though at one point Michael taunted us with the leaders' wind breaker (la veste verte) wadded up in his back pocket. He led a mighty chase to the finale on Thrill Hill where
Frank collected yet more KOM points.

Daniel pretended to the Sprint competition when he lead a solo sprint to the FM sign in the first 6 miles of the ride; however, Daniel succumbed to my sprinting prowess in the Mailbox Sprint near the finale. This sprint was notable as Daniel was pulling the peleton before the sprint gauntlet was thrown.

Today's Results:

Race leader, Vest Vert holder: Michael West

King of the Mountains: Frank Irwin

Sprinter Points: Robert Dole

Best Young Rider-on his Gold TT bike: Tom Hall

Most Aggressive Rider: Daniel Norton

Tomorrow holds the promise of drama and a potential shake up in the various contests as the Velocity peloton heads to the Massif Central of Texas and rides the Queen Stage out of Vanderpool.

(More photos)

Velocity Retreat Stage I: Kerrvile, Ingram, Hunt

Weather: overcast, cool, misty in the morning.

Front came through at lunchtime, increasing the wind and decreasing the mist and temperature.

Distance: 83.42 miles

Climbing: 4031 feet

Avg speed: Who really cares?

Leader's Windbreaker (Vest Vert): Michael

Green Jersey (sprinting): Robert

Polka Dot Jersey (climbing): Frank

White Jersey (best young rider): Tom

(More photos)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fayetteville Stage Race

I woke up at 4am on Saturday to drive to Fayetteville (TX) for the Fayetteville Stage Race. For the Masters 35+ Cat 4/5 group I was in, this consisted of a 46-mile road race Saturday morning, a 6.6-mile time trial Saturday afternoon, and a 49-mile road race Sunday morning. I arrived at the race venue much earlier than I had expected, so I grabbed about 20 minutes of snooze.

I pinned on my numbers, warmed up on my rollers, and headed over to the starting line, where I found Richie. We discussed whether or not the Tegaderm wound dressings in our goody bags were an omen.

Stage 1

This morning's race was 2 laps of a 22-mile circuit. There was only one hill of any significance; its grade maxed out at 10%, but it wasn't very long. The first lap was pretty uneventful. There were about 70 in our group, and the roads along the rear of the course were pretty narrow, so I tried to stay near the front of the pack. At one point on this narrow section, I was struggling to stay to the right of the centerline of the road, to avoid getting penalized. The winds were coming from the right, so people were trying to stay to the left of each other, to hide from the wind. The guy on my right was just about on the centerline (which meant I was just about over the centerline), and there was no one to his right. I also noticed that the right side of the road was pretty clear, so I slowed a bit, moved over to the right side of the road, and was able to gain several positions before nestling back into the safety of the pack.

Going up the hill at the beginning of the second lap, Richie is to my left. I notice that he and I are the only riders still seated, everyone else is out of the saddle. I tell him that Robert would be proud of us. Just at that point, the guy in front of me slows suddenly, and I have to pretty much go off the right side of the road to get around him. I had to get out of the saddle to manage this maneuver (sorry, Robert), but don't have a problem. The pace picks up right after the top of the hill, as a group attempts to break away. I'm able to stay with them, as is the rest of the pack.

Or so I think. It's really hard to see what's going on behind, so if 20 guys get shelled off by this acceleration, I don't know it. The important thing is that I am not one of them. :-)

Things soon settle down, and Richie is again to my left. Just for fun, I tell him, in a voice loud enough for others to hear, "Hey! I haven't crashed,yet! This may be a record for me!" I'm hoping that this will convince the other riders to give me some room. Heh.

Then I consider that may have jinxed myself...

Not too long after this thought, the two guys I'm riding between veer in toward each other, pinching me off. I make contact with one of them, but we all stay upright. Not too long after that, I get tangled up with a rider on my right, and we lean into each other for a while before we are able to separate. Again, no damage.

We get into a headwind section, about 15 miles from the end, and two Team TBi guys are on the front of the pack, and I'm in third position. They keep looking back, for someone to get in front on front of them, but I had better things to do at the time, like enjoy their draft. We were going less than 14 mph at the time. A third TBi guy comes to the front, and the three of them are pulling us along for a bit. Then the third TBi guy heads up the road, gapping us by about 20 yards. The original two TBi guys stay on the front, still going slow.

Although it seems early for someone to be trying a move like this, I think that maybe the two TBi guys are blocking for their teammate, so that he can attempt a breakaway. I wonder if they'll also be block for the two of us, so I take off and bridge up to their buddy, before he gets too far away. When I catch him, I look over my shoulder and see that his buddies suck at blocking. :-D I had just pulled the entire peloton up to him. Oh, well...

I did get stuck pulling the pack for a short while after that, but I certainly wasn't working hard.

About 4 miles from the finish, we hit another hill, which I didn't remember from the first lap. This isn't as big as the earlier hill, but my legs may beg to differ that point, as they decided that they had had enough. I quickly got spit out the back of the pack, and I also had to dodge a guy whose chain had come off. After cresting the hill, I did all I could to catch the disappearing pack, but we were still heading into the wind, and my heartrate is in the red. After a couple of times of almost running off the road, I decide to just let them go, figuring that at least I'll beat the chain-dropping guy.

Or maybe not, as the chain-dropping guy soon catches me, suggesting that we work together so that the other guy behind us doesn't catch up. I tell him that we're only about a half mile from the finish, and he heads on. I then see that the other guy is gaining on me, and decide to not let him, so I go as hard as I can to the finish, my legs cramping about a hundred yards from the line.
I'm able to hold him off, finishing in 46th place, about 2 minutes behind the pack.

I have lunch with Richie and his wife Emily, then hang out with Tom (who was racing in a different category) while we wait for...

Stage 2

I was going to warm up on my rollers, as I did in the morning, but the rear roller seems to have warped as it sat in the bed of my truck, so I readied the time trial bike and hit the road. I'm still pretty tired from the morning's race, and I can't get my heartrate up into the 173-175 range, where I'll want it in the time trial. After about 20 minutes, I head to the start line.

The guy who's supposed to start 30 seconds in front of me doesn't show up, so I don't have anyone to chase. I'll just have to try to stay ahead of the guy who starts 30 seconds (and 60 seconds, and 90 seconds...) behind me. Last year, I was passed by the time I got to the turn at 2.5 miles, and later by one or two other riders. My goal for this time trial is to not let Richie beat me like he did last year (by almost 2 minutes!), since he's on his road bike, and I'm on my "lo-tech" time trial bike.

My time comes up, and I start. My heartrate goes right up to 175 and stays there:

I get to the first turn, and I haven't been passed yet! I look behind me and don't even see anyone gaining, so I'm feeling pretty good. I'm probably geared a bit too high for the hills, but I manage to get up them okay. I get to the 4.5-mile turn, still having not been passed. Only two more miles to go, and the end won't come fast enough. Under a half mile to go, and I look behind, and see someone approaching! He does pass me, but doesn't get to the line too far ahead of me, so he only beat me by 32 seconds. My average speed for this time trial is 21.1mph, which was also my average for the morning's road race.

Richie completed the course 12 seconds faster than I did.


Stage 3

Sunday's 49-mile road race isn't until 11:20am, so I can sleep in until 7am. I wake up, still tired, and re-check the schedule, halfway hoping that I misread the schedule and it's an 8:30am start, and I can then go back to bed, but no such luck.

I get to Fayetteville at about 10:30am, unload the bike, and go out on the road to warm up. I get to the starting line, and the group is much smaller than yesterday (about 20 fewer). The wind is blowing hard, and I'm not looking forward to it.

The race starts, and it's not too bad at the beginning. I've decided to stay farther in the back of the pack today, to better stay out of the wind. This works for awhile, and I have a chance to chat with the guy who started behind me (and passed me) in yesterday's time trial. Nice guy.

We get to the hill at 5 miles. Last year, after cresting this hill, I had difficulty in getting my chain back onto the big ring, and could not keep the pace as the pack accelerated, and watched them go off into the wind. I was in no mood to chase them in the wind for 45 miles, so I just turned around and went home.

Today, however, the front derailleur works fine, and I'm able to stay with the pack after the hill. It's still hard work, though, going into the wind, and we eventually get strung out, making it more difficult to find solace from the wind. Finally, after about 8 miles, I can no longer hold on, and I drift back from the front half of the pack. Eventually, the rest of the pack comes around me to catch back up.

Well, I lasted a little bit longer this year, but now my plan is to ride to the feed zone, to see if Richie needs my bottle when he comes around on his second lap. The pack is much smaller as they come by on their second lap, and Richie is still there, looking pretty good. He waves off the bottle. I head to the finish line to watch the end of the race.

As the pack nears the finish line, a couple of riders on the left side go down as the sprint begins. The winner has a couple of seconds on the pack. I can't see Richie. Wait! There he is! Can he do it? Oh, he just misses out on getting 3rd place, but 4th is still quite impressive, and it goes well with his 8th-place finish from Saturday's road race.

It wasn't a great weekend for me, results-wise, but I improved over last year, in every event, so I was happy with that.

Next up: Fort Davis Stage race.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

La Primavera: Well, I didn't miss a turn

At last year's edition of this race, I got spit out the back of the pack on the long, steady climb at the beginning of the first lap. I then proceeded to miss a right hand turn, helped only by the yells of riders behind me, but not the corner marshal. On the second lap, I was determined to not miss the turn again, so I turned when I saw the corner marshal sitting in their chair. When I got to the end of that road, I saw the start/finish line to my left, and the rest of the course to my right. I had turned too early and cut off half of the course. Disgusted, I finished the lap and quit the race.

My goal this year was to not get lost on the 4.4 mile course. Tom, my teammate who had the misfortune of following me through last year's mishaps, suggested that it may be a good plan to stay with the pack, so that I don't get lost. This sounded like a good strategy. For some reason, Tom decided to not participate in the race this year.

My sister Patti was in town for her granddaughter's birthday, so I picked her up on my way to the race. We got there in plenty of time for me to register and warm up. Since there were no racers yet on the course, I chose to ride the course instead of my rollers. This was the first time I had ridden these roads since last year's ill-fated race, and I wanted to make sure I knew where to turn. I finished my 30-minute warmup and had 5 minutes left until the start of my Cat 5A race.

My goal for the race is quickly achieved as I arrive at the top of the initial climb near the front of the pack. In fact, it seems that most of the 40-odd rider pack also achieves this goal. We spread out a bit as we headed down the 40+mph hill, which was a good thing, because I saw the bike of one rider ahead and to my right go into a furious high-speed wobble. Not only was the front wheel vibrating left to right like crazy, but the back wheel was also in serious distress. Somehow, he managed to pull it out and not crash, though I don't remember seeing him again.

Here's the finish of the first lap, courtesy of Patti (who also supplied the photo at the top of this entry):

The second lap goes pretty well. The pace seems to pick up a bit near the top of the long opening climb, but I'm able to hold on, still near the front of the pack. I do have one brief scary moment when the guy in front of me throws his bike backward as he gets out of the saddle. I'm able to avoid hitting him, and I now have a second rider to be wary of. I hear someone mention that the pack is starting to break up behind us. Things are looking pretty good, but it's still early.

Lap three sees the pack blown apart on the initial climb. I can no longer hang on, but I'm not alone and I manage to get into a small grupetto. As we're going down the hill before the lap's finishing climb, we can see deer crossing the road, from left to right, on the climb. There are women on the right side of the road, waving at the deer and yelling at us to slow down. I can see that there are more deer coming from the left as we begin the climb, but feel confident that I can navigate through them. However, the rest of the grupetto starts to slow, so I choose to do the same, and touch my brakes. I suddenly feel someone run into my rear wheel, and then hear him pay the price for doing so, as he goes down.


Lap four is uneventful, as I pretty much ride it by myself. I do hear Richie call out to me and spot him as he drives in for his later race. After I finish the fourth lap, and ride through the parking area to begin the fifth and final lap, I look for Richie to see if he'd like to finish the race for me, but to no avail. As I shift down from my big ring for the last helping of long climb casserole, the chain comes off, and I can't get it back on using the derailleur, so I decide that this would be a good time for a short break. The Masters 35+ peloton passes as I'm putting my chain back on, and the two kids acting as corner marshal there refuse my offer to finish the race for me, so I soldier on.

I soon hear someone behind me, and as he comes beside me, I see that it's another Cat 5 rider. "Oh, I didn't realize there was anyone left behind me," I say.

"Yeah, there are a few back there. Some who had flats and stuff," he replied.

"And the guy who ran into my back wheel on lap 3 and crashed," I added.

He asked me if the rider was wearing the same Power Pedal jersey that he was wearing, and I reminded him that the rider was behind me, so I didn't see him.

We continued on for the rest of the lap, and as we got near the end, I was on his wheel, and he kept looking back at me. "Don't worry," I said, "I'm not going to try to outsprint you for 25th place." "Aw, it's all fun," he replied. Staying true to my word, however, I let him finish ahead of me.

Ok, I couldn't keep up with him on the finishing climb, but shhhhhhh!

I did, however, end up in 25th place. :-)

As I was waiting for the results to be posted, Vic, the Power Pedal rider, found me and told me that it was his teammate that crashed behind me, but that he was ok. I later found him and told him that I was sorry that he went down, and he had no hard feelings. Those Power Pedal guys seem like a class act, and I look forward to riding with them at Fayetteville in two weeks.