Sunday, March 30, 2008
Araba and I rolled up to the the start/finish of what promised to be a rowdy road race (ooh, alliteration!). This was going to be Araba's first race and a quarter of the course wasn't even paved! I remember this being my first race last season and hating the mile of muck, so I was nervous enough for both of us rolling up to the line.
The conditions of the muddy patch weren't too bad since we were the first race of the day but the pot-holes certainly were punishing on the rear end! Araba sure was spunky but lost the pack while navigating the golf-ball sized gravel on the road. Down to about half the field, we took a moderately paced first lap to scope out the course. I came around to take a pull at the start/finish and headed into the mud-pit at full speed. Kept thinking 'pedal pedal pedal pedal pedal!' on the unpaved mile--looked back when we rounded the corner back onto the road and was surprised to find that there were only 6 other girls behind me! We rotated through the paceline and increased our break, taking turns pulling into the wind. I was a bit nervous heading into the pack sprint--I don't really have the guns to be a sprinter! I moved up towards the front of the group and jumped when I saw one of the strongest girls punch the sprint. I caught her wheel and hung on tight until we were nearly on the line and came around pedaling hard. I won the sprint by a nose. And then Araba and I got to scrape a pound of mud off our bikes--she finished slightly behind the pack and in good spirits (considering the morning's adventures).
Day two dawned gray and cold (this we know because we were on our trainers as the sun peeked over the horizon, getting ready for an 8am start...the poor boys had already warmed up and gotten to the line for a 7:30am race--ouch!). Both Araba and I were still feeling a bit crunchy from the hard race on Saturday--I keep trying to remember that everybody is hurting on day two! The crit course was around a 1.9 mile loop with two early climbs and then a long and blustery descent through the exposed back side of the course, ending with a slightly downhill straight shot to the start/finish (with a tailwind it promised to be a speedy sprint to the line!). Araba seemed much happier about having pavement under her wheels for the whole race and I was looking forward to testing my legs on the hills. Well, I couldn't contain my exuberance (or maybe it was the chilly conditions--gotta get warmed up!) and crushed it up the two climbs. This effort separated the field down to 5 and I was happy to sit in and keep my nose out of the wind for the tough descent on the way down. Then we became 4 when a rider crossed wheels and went down--really unlucky, but definitely something to remember when following a wheel (overlap means bad news if the rider in front of you slows or moves over). And then we were 3 when we shed another rider on the climbs--me, a strong Purdue and Marian rider cycled through a quick series of 30 second pulls, setting a crushing pace and opening up a big gap on the field--yay for finding some other riders to work with!
When we got to the last lap I wasn't sure whether I should kill myself up the hills to try to ride away in front of the break or settle in and save my legs for the sprint. I decided on a compromise, following Purdue up the first climb and then pulling around her to punch it hard up the second climb to the top. Looking back I saw Marian a short distance behind me and Purdue flagging on the hill. I thought that some help in the wind on the way down would be great, so I sat up and pulled in behind the Marian girl. Working together with short and quick pulls, we soon opened up a good lead on the third rider. My heart sank when I realized that I was in front as we rounded the turn to the start finish, and in a smart move the Marian rider was perched on my wheel, waiting to come around. I slowed up, anticipating her sprint but she backed off and came around fast...and I was overgeared to match her acceleration. A good learning experience--next time downshift and don't slow as much so that I've got some jump to match her speed.
Araba came across the line and promptly sat up (no hands!) like a pro, finishing a bit behind the main chase pack. She said that she learned a lot from working with another rider throughout the race, finishing strong and a novice no longer!
As always, thanks to my teammates who made this a highly enjoyable weekend! I will let them narrate the story of their glories, but suffice it to say (as a teaser) that they had quite excellent performances in both the road race and the crit. Yay!
Monday, March 24, 2008
I hear there were some pretty awesome snowdrifts on the boring lakefront path back in Chicago... luckily for us, we had clear, well-paved, beautiful roads to ride on with excellent topography. After living in Chicago for too long, I don't have the vocabulary to describe the extent of hills we saw in Pittsburgh, but Carly suggests the term "soul-crushing".
Carly and Apsen were the first to embark on the hilly adventure. As I was huddling in the car with the corgis, I did not see much of the race as it zoomed by the start/finish, but they both arrived back to the car with impressive results!! Carly broke away from the field in a group of 4 after the first set of "soul-crushing" hills. They rode a lap together and established their gap on the rest of the riders. On the second lap, the break split apart but Carly held on strong for a 3rd place finish ahead of all the midwest riders (apparently they are used to hills on the east coast). Unfortunately Carly's Garmin decided that the hills were too much and scampered off her handle bars after the first climb (it was too much elevation for the Garmin to handle... luckily it came back with the race car) Aspen's field dwindled away throughout the race, but remained a big group out in front. He had several attempts to break things up, including a solo effort up the steepest of the monster hills, but the group held tight together and wouldn't let a break get away. It ended up in a big field sprint... and despite not pedaling through the finish line, Aspen finished well in the top 10.
I headed out next with a shortened race (4 laps to 3) due to the threat of hazardous weather conditions coming our way. Similar to Carly's strategy, I stayed in front on the first hill and managed to stick with a break of 4... which turned into a break of 3 on the next hill... and then a break of 2 by the final hill. I worked with the girl from Columbia for a lap and a half and we stayed away from any chasers. Then on the last lap, I went hard up the hills trying to break away and was able to open a gap. At this point the follow van was right behind me so I couldn't see anything down the road and I had no idea where the Columbia girl was.... so I had to keep pedaling hard for fear that she was hiding right behind the van. In the end I managed to stay away for a win.
The next day, we headed to downtown Pittsburgh for the crit. The race went over two bridges which was pretty cool and also made for some more climbing - the little ups and downs over bridges really add up throughout a crit. I decided to join Aspen in the men's B race again. Neither of us got a great start in the race. Aspen was near the middle of the pack and I was pretty much stuck in the back (ideally we'd both be near the front). The pace was pretty furious. We would turn onto a bridge and the whole pack would sprint up to the top and then slow into the turn... then on to the next bridge for another sprint to the top. I was struggling just to hang on to the back of the pack. I thought the pace would ease at some point, but the continuous sprints up the bridges never seemed to fade. I managed to hang on and finish with the main pack (at the very back) and Aspen strategically moved himself up into a good finishing position to get another top 10 for the team!
I was pretty beat after the race, but the women's race was on the line... and I had signed up... so I decided to hop in. I managed to hang on to the front pack, but had no gas left in my tank. I didn't have much of a sprint at the end, but finished with the field somewhere in the top 10.
Carly started out strong in her race although the Garmin decided to boycott once again (perhaps it had enough hills for the weekend). A break went early in the race and Carly was in perfect position right behind the leader of the breakaway. Aspen and I awaited eagerly for the break to come around on the next lap, but as the racers came through, there was no Carly :( Unfortunately her hamstrings had enough climbing and one decided to curl up into a big knot (ouch!!). Cramping and a bit bummed, Carly pulled out of the race. She will eat more bananas before her next crit!
Aspen, having had a bit of a rest and a super long coooool down... then waaaaaarm up, also raced the USCF mens cat 4/5 race in the afternoon. He raced the first half of the crit with air slowly seeping out of his back tire. As Carly and I cheered him on, he yelled something that sounded like "neeed... a... wheel..." so we went running off to the car (ouch!) to fetch our wheels. We had the wheels ready to go, but it took Aspen a few laps to convince himself that his wheel was truly flat enough to warrant a free lap. Finally he veered off the course and changed his wheel and got back into the race. A couple of laps later, a PEEPS Prime was announced... meaning the first person through on the next lap would win PEEPS!!! (truly a worthy prize to sprint for). As Carly and I wondered if anyone would actually sprint for sugar covered marshmallow chicks, we saw Aspen barreling down the hill going all out towards the start/finish line. He didn't raise his arms in PEEP-winning victory, but we did see a small smile on his face as the announcer declared him the PEEP winner. The finish was only a few laps later... still full of adrenaline from his PEEP win, Aspen placed himself in a great position for the finish. However, the $75 cash prize did not have quite the same appeal as the PEEPS and Apsen was not able to come around the front guy for the win, but had a dominant second place finish on the field - quite a good day!
Overall, a great weekend for the UCVC, but we were sad that we had such a small crew to help consume all the PEEP winnings.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Photos are up at: http://www.flickr.com/gp/24311744@N03/200248
Paige and I headed down to Mizzou for the road race and crit. With a long drive and questionable weather (forecast for Saturday at race-time was 22˚F/"feels like 16˚F" with wind chill...yikes!) we were both a bit nervous about the race, especially after the large and competitive field that turned up for Women's B at the DePauw races. It promised to be a long and chilly weekend!
The Mizzou road course was held on residential country roads around a 11.5ish mile loop. The race flier said that there would be some climbs but even the elevation information that they gave us didn't prepare us for the hills on this course--there were some monster grades (for the midwest, of course!). Also, we found out that the race had been lengthened by a lap--we'd now be racing a course just over 33 miles, which promised to test our endurance (and destroy the hamstrings!). Needless to say, we were jittery as we warmed up (or was that the frigid temps?)
Lining up, we noticed that there were many fewer riders than last week. Apparently the
combination of spring break and inconvenient location (read, Missouri) meant many riders sat this one out. We had just under 20 in the field, compared to 45 the week before! Off the line the pace was painfully slow--nobody wanted to do much work and it seemed as though everybody was a bit daunted by the upcoming hills and the long course. As we approached some gentle rollers, Paige and I got up front to take a pull and pushed the pack a bit to see if they'd wake up. At this point I lost Paige--it turned out that she repeatedly threw her chain (any time she applied any torque on the hills it would come right off the front chainring--oh no!), so she pulled out due to mechanicals. Trooper that she is, she coasted/pushed her bike all the way back and still had energy to cheer me on for the rest of the road race. Thanks for the hearty encouragement!!!
As soon as we hit the hills it became clear that this course favored the climbers among us (and shrimp that I am, this felt like my calling). I was shoulder-to-shoulder with a girl from Lindsey Wilson College up the first big climbs and by the end of the first lap we had established a pretty good gap, shedding a third Purdue rider in the final meters of the climb towards the start/finish. Contemplating a long 2 laps to go, we decided to trade pulls and try to widen our break, punching it especially hard in the hills where we felt we could make big gains for time and recovering on the flats and downhills. It felt really good to work hard with another rider, and though we kept looking over our shoulder, the pack never came into sight. The LWC rider and I were fairly evenly matched on the grades but she had better legs for the hill sprint to the start/finish so I had to settle for 2nd place. Once again I felt like I had underperformed in the sprint finish but was sure happy to come away with my first podium finish of the year. It must be the crushing headwinds on the Lakepath that prepared me for the climbs--who says that we get no hill practice in Chicago?!
Day 2: the Lindenwood crit and a very very early morning (between early races/daylight savings/and a 4o min. drive from the hotel). As I nursed a bottle of Accelerade and watched the sun creep over the misty hills, I worried about the technical course, the fact that I hadn't had enough coffee yet, and the daunting climbs in a course advertised as "mostly flat with one minor hill every lap"--yeah right!! The whole course was one big climb and descent!
As Paige and I watched the Men's D race unfold we noticed that the field, though big, had gotten lined out pretty quickly, and much of the field had been shattered on the hills. The course had several tight turns, notably into a narrow bottleneck on the first big climb, around a corner to the big descent and at the bottom of the downhill section towards the start-finish. However, the hills made up for the slowing in corners, and it seemed as though selections in the field were made based on those with legs for the climbs (which boded well for me and Paige!). We were both tired and sore from the road race (my riding and Paige's heroic pushing/running), but hoped that the rest of the field was also feeling a bit beat by Saturday's effort.
Once again we rolled out slowly and took two laps around the course at an easy pace. Frustrated, I moved to the front and punched it on the hills and took an aggressive line on the descent, trying to gauge who really wanted to race today! A two lap effort strung the field out and I was happy to cede my position at the helm to the Lindsey Wilson College and Purdue riders that had been the strongest climbers on Saturday. After they took a pull the pack slowed down again to catch its breath and I figured that keeping the intensity high would work to my benefit since I still had a bit of gas left in the tank. Right as I was about to fade back into the pack I was delighted to see Paige charging up on my left and pushing hard at the effort that I had started--yay for having teammates in the race! With 5 laps to go, she set a blistering pace on the hills and I was happy to sit right on her wheel. Figuring that in all fairness UCVC didn't have to do all the work, we pulled in behind the Purdue rider with two laps to go. During the final climb of the last lap I decided to make my move and punched it hard (legs, don't fail me now!!!) and tore around the turn for the last descent. Down in my drops I prayed that my tinny little bike would be nimble enough to carry my momentum through the bottom turn and that my legs would respond when I asked for the power up the hill. Thank goodness both were the case, and I finished 1st with Paige close behind in 6th as we sprinted across the line. Way to go teamwork, and a solid finish for UofC women!
I feel like I learned so much this weekend about working with other riders--strategic cooperation, more than anything, makes or breaks an attack effort. It felt so great to have another teammate in the race--I can't wait for our next chance to race together, Paige!
And thanks also to a fabulous group that made the long trek down to Missouri! Men's D--you were fantastic support (and Bernard was a brilliant photographer!) through the whole race, and I really appreciate the great attitude that everybody had to racing. If it weren't fun, why would we do it, after all?
The rest of the race reports should be up soon.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I was nervous heading into the DePauw races this weekend. I was to be racing in the B category where I had gotten dropped in nearly every race last year. I was hopeful that I could make improvements. On Saturday, we had a 32 mile road race over rolling hills around Heritage Lake. The course proved to be fun and fast, but with large contingents from IU, Madison, and Purdue no breaks were able to get off of the front. As I was riding alone, I decided to sit near the front to watch the action and wait for the sprint. I was in around 12th in the final few miles when the attacks began to go. I remained patient, slowly moving up from wheel to wheel until the final half-mile. I moved into the top five and two IU riders out came by. I jumped in behind them, leaving myself in third wheel as we bolted for the finsih. When the first rider pulled off the front I jumped to try to go around, but was unable to finish the move and got nipped by another rider at the line to finish 3rd.
On Sunday, we raced a 1.25 mile criterium with strong cross winds on the long stretches. As they shortened the Women’s B race, I wasn’t able to finish my warm-up and got off to a slow start. After 3-4 long painful laps I was able to make it to the front with warm legs. Unfortunately, by the time I got there the winner was already off up the road, leaving the field to sprint for second. The race proved to be hard with lots of attacks going. I worked to pull back a few threatening breaks and the rest of the field remained together with a few laps remaining. With one lap to go Aaron from Northwestern flew off the front. It looked promising so I bridged up with three other riders to form a solid break. We were opening a gap until Aaron crossed wheels with Ball State rider who was taking the pull and went down. It was a bummer as he had patrolled the front of the field the entire race and created the decisive move. The crash cut our gap in half and left us with less power to stay away from the field. I took a hard pull trying to re-energize the break. Into the final straight I was second wheel and trying to be more patient so that I could come around in the final sprint. I broke for the line with about 100 m to go, passing the other member of the break, but two riders from the field beat me to the line. I finished 3rd in the field and 4th overall. Had I known the field was so close I should have jumped sooner...
Overall, it was an encouraging weekend of racing. It is great having lots of new supportive teammates. I learned a lot by being able to ride in the front and contest the sprints. Hopefully, my sprint will improve in the coming weeks! The season is shaping up to be lots of fun, hopefully we can get more new riders out to race in the coming weeks!
Thanks to all of those who cheered us on!!!!
Monday, March 3, 2008
The race organizers made the first lap neutral in order to run a basic skills clinic. This was a fantastic idea on paper, but was well...a bit less polished in execution. In any case, we went over some paceline drills and etiquette, as well as the line rule--a lesson that would unfortunately later cost the entire Men's A field its collegiate points. It was nice to ride the course and get a chance to scope out some of the twitchier riders (one of who managed to cross wheels and crash during the practice lap... sigh) beforehand.
We returned to the start, and with only two real laps, things started very fast and stayed fast. The UCVC men had pretty bad positioning at the start (something we rectified in the crit), so for at least the first four or five miles we fought hard to navigate the field and improve our positioning. The lead pack shelled riders pretty quickly, but Bernard, Jesse, and I held on, and worked our way forward. We were a bit too spread out to work together effectively, and the pack was a bit of a cluster, so we were individually focused on (a) not crashing and (b) getting to the front. The course was rolling hills and really fun. Some of the field seemed a bit tentative on the downhills, and perhaps caught in the wrong gear on the uphill section, so the pack tended to bunch in the valleys. Getting forward would make this less of a problem. I caught up with Bernard, and then worked my way forward to Jesse, who was in the front ten riders.
As we rounded the first lap, Jesse and I were in the top 10 or 15 riders and we could hear the cheers from the rest of UCVC team. Thanks guys!! There were some attacks off the front early in the final lap, but the pack bridged each time. Jesse and I had pretty good position, and we talked strategy for the final push. My legs felt pretty good, and I thought I might be able set Jesse up for a final sprint. Jesse wasn't sure. We made a push to gain a better position, but by this point Jesse, having earlier been trading pulls off the front was pretty run down. About midway through the second lap, someone attacked up the left side, and the pack split as we caught him. With only one hill left, I saw an opportunity to get to the front and I attacked up the side. This was a stupid decision. There was a solo rider out front. I caught his wheel and he sat up, letting the pack catch us. We traded pulls, and wore ourselves out. When the final attacks started, I had nothing. I would have probably finished further back, but a De Paul rider crossed wheels next to me, and took out a few guys from the chase group. I got lucky and escaped, and then I did what I could to muster a final sprint to the finish. Jesse, having navigated around the crash, finished shortly thereafter, with Bernard not too far behind.
Chris, who had been dropped initially, was still trucking. Bernard, Jesse, and I found him about a mile from the finish, and cheered him on to an awesome final sprint that put the three of us to shame.
Everybody enjoys racing the DePauw University Heritage Lake Road Race. It gets cold in the afternoon, there are some windy bits, and the field carries a lot of momentum so we can keep our chain on the big dog for the whole race. As like the big dog. At the pre-race call-up, Boris the chief referee told us that the B men had bored them, and that we had to make up for the fact that they lollygagged around the course at 20 mph. We took it to heart and gave them all of the elements that I love to watch in a European pro race: fierce, early attacks, a strong and long breakaway, a furious, organized chase, and a controversial finish.
Our race was hardest during the first 2.5 laps. It fit the general trend, which is to say that teams keep launching their riders off the front until some sort of group of 10-12 riders forms. This group stays away long enough for everyone else to get tired in the chase. Once the peloton comes back together, a smaller collection of riders goes free and the field regroups and figures out what to do. Sometimes the smaller group gets caught; sometimes it succeeds.
I stayed as close to the front in the first 2 laps as I could, and never strayed out of the first 15 riders. The attacks came like cluster bombs for the first bit, and you had to make good choices in the windy sections. I marked the moves that I thought were dangerous, and let other people pull me across the gaps. Without any team mates, my only real concern was to not get caught out on any major splits. True to form, the group of 10 went away and looked strong. It was the first panic moment of the race and thought that I might as well try and get across. But once the race official pulled up next to me and told my crossing mate that he was disqualified, I sat up and reintegrated into a rapidly chasing field (what was I thinking anyway?). We caught the group, but then TSK disappeared up the road with 2 others before anyone knew it.
What is even more "PRO" is that the officials decided to cancel the results for the entire field because of blatant violations of the center line rule. The list (at the time that Boris stopped counting) stood as follows:
DePauw (three times)
Northwestern (two times)
A rider with a purple jersey and a drawing looking like a white star at the back (once)
UWW (three times)
two riders with different light blue jerseys (once each)
That is a lot of rule breaking. Note who is missing: Me, Madison,
I heard and saw our new racers yelling at me each time we came through the start/finish. They could not pick me out and were just yelling at our collective mass when we went by, but I noticed and want to say thanks.
Some photos from the DePauw races are up--Bernard has a bunch more on his camera
Those from my camera are at:
We had a large team at the DePauw road race and criterium this weekend. Five new racers came out to test their legs on the hilly road course on Saturday and flat/windy crit course on Sunday--congratulations to Ben, Bernard, Chris, Jesse and Paige for a great performance at your your first races! Novices no longer!
The DePauw road race was held around an 8 mile loop circling Heritage Lake. The back side of the loop had a series of rolling hills that meant several short, hard climbs and steep descents. The hills, combined with a strictly-enforced yellow-line rule (can't cross over into oncoming car traffic), made it an interesting course for a road race.
Me (Carly) and Paige rode Women's B in a fast and deep field of 45 riders (huge compared to most women's races last year!). There were 10 Indiana University riders that were all training for the "Little 500" (for more on this race--see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_500 or the film "Breaking Away") and were incredibly strong cyclists, so it promised to be a hard and fast race. The IU girls drove the pace hard in the first miles of the race and managed to pull away from the field with a pack of about 15-20 cyclists. I found myself in a comfortable position towards the front of the lead group and managed to hang on as the attacks came in the hills. My UCVC kit looks enough like the IU kits, however, that I think I screwed up their rotation--they were very well organized and set a blistering pace by rotating through the 8 or so riders that were in command of the lead group...but every once in a while they would glance back and yell "Pull through IU!!!" at me, thinking that I was one of their teammates. Yay for the new red kits! Despite riding well for the 25 mile road race, however, I made a stupid decision in the last quarter mile that cost me a top-10 finish. Some of the riders out front got twitchy as we approached the finishing stretch and punched the sprint early. Worried that they would break away, I hoped onto the small group and headed for the finish. Sadly, the main peloton quickly picked up speed and blew around us to the sprint finish. Ah well--you live, you learn.
Paige rode an excellent race--yay first road race! She started towards the back of the field off the line and was in a bad position to move with the breakaway pack when it picked up speed. With the yellow-line rule and large field, it it really hard to weave up towards the front, especially with the IU girls driving the pace hard. She regrouped and picked up some other riders to work with as she chased down the main group, slowly moving up the field as riders dropped off in the hills (and couldn't hold her wheel!). She came solo for solid finish in the middle of a very competitive field.
Devon's Women's A field was much smaller than our B field. The other girls were clearly terrified of her, so nobody wanted to attack or push the pace for the first part of the race (Devon's reputation obviously precedes her). Devon decided to push the other riders a bit to test the group, making them work in the hill section. Shattering the field, she finished with a heroic 30min solo effort off the front that opened nearly a 3min gap ahead of the rest of the field. Brilliant effort!
On the second day, the Criterium was held around a long 1.2 (?) mile loop, with several curves and one hard turn. The most challenging part was an exposed section along the back of the course that left riders to face a crushing headwind. We were initially worried about riding a crit with such a large pack, only to find that every field (no matter how big) was almost immediately splintered in the windy section.
Paige and I rode Women's B in a large field dominated by IU girls once again. Like on Saturday, the IU team set a blistering pace in the first few laps. I managed to position myself well in the first group off the front but picked an unlucky wheel in the paceline as the IU girl in front of me faded in the windy section and allowed the breakaway group to gap us. We re-integrated into the chase group and rode several laps until the IU rotation along the backside forced me into a pothole and I nailed my front wheel (pinch flat--oh no!). Paige passed me moments later right on the heels of the chase group and told Devon to pull a wheel from the pit. The Men's D team was an excellent pit crew and got me back up and rolling in no time, although the chase group had already gone by. I picked up two more girls to work with and thought that we could settle in for the rest of the race. Unfortunately, two laps later the girl in front of me clipped her wheel on the front rider and went down right in front of me, pulling me down to. It was a soft landing since I mostly fell on top of her (she probably has some pretty ugly wheel marks on her butt), but with no more free laps and a series of misfortunes, I thought I would call it a day and cheer Paige on. Working hard in the windy sections, Paige once again pulled herself up through the pack, and ended the day with a top 20 finish. Great job!
Devon's Women's A race was pretty much a repeat of the day before. At one point the pack was going so slowly (because nobody wanted to attack) that a cross-wind nearly caused the whole peloton to go down. When the pace picked up for a prime lap, Devon broke off the front with two IU girls and a Wisconsin rider and once again shattered the field. After a lap, the IU team faded, leaving Devon and the Wisconsin rider to work together for the remainder of the race. With three laps to go, Devon pulled ahead of the WI girl and once again came in for a breakaway solo finish.
Sorry for the long-winded recap of the races. It would be great to get race experiences up on the blog (I feel like we have a lot to learn from one another)--and it would be especially good to hear from new riders!
Get excited for Mizzou!!!!