Monday, April 19, 2010

Prairie-Roubaix - killer course, 150 racers, one mistake, and I'm gonna fire my mechanic!

Well, what a way to get my feet wet with the first mass-start road race, and a spring classic at that, the Prairie-Roubaix!

Prologue: Trained pretty hard this week, putting in around 250 km and a 10k run between Tuesday and Friday, despite some unfortunate setbacks, such as folding my (steel) seat post on my mountain bike, and cludging up my front derailleur on my road bike to the point where the chain was popping off, or grinding against the derailleur.
Made some minor adjustments Saturday night but came to the conclusion that I did not want to make any drastic changes right before race day. Also cleaned off my bike, but not the drive train. (Thanks to Mike and Scott for pointing that out and laughing right before the start :-p)
Well, Mike and I got their at the perfect time, as there were only about 40 or so other cyclists, and no line to register. We got our yellow ribbons (indicating category B race), and went for some light spinning to warm up.
Within the next half hour, the masses appeared, and the registration line was constantly 20 deep, and the races were delayed by about half an hour. Temperature was about 5 degrees, cloudy, and a hint of rain drops.

The Race: Cat A left first, on their way to 5 laps of the ~15km course. Our race of 4 laps started 5 minutes later, with about 50 riders snuggled in close to each other in an attempt to fit inside a single lane of road.
Mike and I managed to get within the top third of the group in the start, which I though was ideal, as we could watch the front but not need to pull right away. The race began with a significant ascent, at a quick pace. The pack stayed together quite well during this climb, but apparently it did not evenly affect everyone! Following that climb was a quick twisty descent, followed by a sharp right turn onto a busy road, where the pack slimmed down to about 2 abreast. I saw Mike make a move on the left edge of the road to get closer to the front, but I was pretty hemmed in, and honestly after that quick early climb I was content sitting in for a bit. Then the road consisted of several rolling hills, which further decimated the legs, and the pack. I found a speed theory guy that was about 6.5 feet tall and broad, who was hammering the rollers, and figured I could very nicely sit in his vacuum for a smooth ride to the finish. (see oasis)
Well, the problem was that eventually the rollers got the better of big-guy, and he let a gap in between him and the pack of 20-ish riders at the front. I sped around him and tried my best to catch that group, which at that point had begun a crazy fast descent and was gaining distance on me. Another hill after that, followed by a sharp right onto chip rock and the introduction of the crazy headwind! I was soloing in a headwind trying to bridge this gap, but all I ended up doing was depleting whatever reserve I had. I was soon caught by another Speed Theory racer, Allan.
Thankfully I was wearing a team jersey Scott had leant me, so Allan pulled me along through much of the next 5 kms into that wind. At this point I didn't think I could even finish the race, knowing that I still had a 3km gravel section to content with, and then to repeat that whole thing 3 more times!
But Allan encouraged me to hang in there with him. "They'll start to drop off... we can catch them if we ride together", he said. Through the gravel we tore it up, up a hill, then down. Careful to stay away from the loose(r) rocks in the middle, then avoid the huge potholes near the end on both sides of the road.
About 1.5 laps in I was feeling a little better, or Allan was feeling worse, as I began to pull increasingly more. We did end up catching several other individual riders and some small packs along the way, as we were working quite well together.
By the 3rd lap, Allan was starting to really struggle on the climbs, and I slowed a few times to wait for him to catch up, and that final lap I pulled about as exclusively as he had done on the first lap.
At this point there was nobody in sight behind us, and one guy about a minute ahead of us.
Going into the last hill before the gravel, I told Allen I was going to try to catch that guy, and took off. I really put in all I could up that hill and the gravel section, but this was not the section of the course where I was going to make up that much ground.
Through the finish line I saw nobody near me, but was very happy to be done!

Epilogue: Allan came in after me, so I'm glad me dropping him did not cause him to lose a position, and we chatted for a bit after the race.
Final time was something like 1:57 minutes, averaging ~30 kmph. Seems pretty slow, but I guess considering the terrain was not too bad.
I have no idea what position I came in, nor what the winner's time was.
Video & Pictures will be coming up shortly and I will see if I can find one of myself and post it here.
Overall, this was a very good experience for me. I learned things that will help me be better prepared for next time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Year to date

A summarization of the events leading up to my decision to blog my vie-sportif:

August 2009: I acquire my first road bike (2010 Trek 2.1 C) after 5 years of cyclo-commuting on an old Schwinn mountain bike, all the while dreaming of taking part in a road race or triathlon.

September 2009: 4 weeks before race date I discover this Blitz duathlon. It's a short distance, 4k trail run, 20k bike ride, and 4k trail run, so I think, perfect way to start racing. I convinced friends Mike and Simon to join too, and Mike invites a couple of his friends too. My goal for the race was to break top 20, and my long shot goal was top 10.
Bev and the kids came to cheer me on, and it helped! I managed to stay around 15th place out of the first run, which included a massive 1.5km scramble up a mountain. I had practiced my transitions and managed to get on my bike quicker than 2 other people who were there before me.
Within a couple kms, I passed a few more riders. One guy from bicisport passed me going up a big hill as my legs were drained from the hill run, but I managed to regain my strength for the 2nd half of the ride. By the time I got to transition 2, there was nobody near me, in front or behind. I coasted through the 2nd run, never once seeing any of the competition through the thick trees, but that didn't stop me from thinking I was hearing twigs snapping...
Overall, I finished 9th out of 100, so needless to say I was pretty ecstatic about my race. Great job by Mike to come in 4th.

Winter 2009: I decide I'm going to start bike racing next year, so as off season training I will continue to commute to work on either my Trek or my Schwinn, depending on weather.
Also got a membership at Hard's Way gym to keep up my strength/resistance training
I meet Scott at iStock, who tips me over the edge in my decision to join SpeedTheory racing club.
I winterize myself and my schwinn and manage to miss only a handful of days of riding, despite the -30C chills. I suffer several spills on the ice, over snow banks, as well as some mechanical failures, and finally I lay the schwinn to rest (RIP). Minh is kind enough to donate his old beater MTB, an old steel Raleigh Ambush. Salvaging parts from the late Schwinn, I create Frankenbike.

Jan - Feb 2010: Weather picks up and I decide to start running outside again. My mother sends me the book, Born to Run, (by Chris McDougal), and I become inspired to try the Vibram FiveFingers shoes, which are basically a cross between toe socks and kayaking slippers.
My initial review is very positive, and within a month I cut my km split from around 5 /12 minutes to 4 1/2 minutes, faster than my peak speed training for that Duathlon. I get so zealous that I finally decide to run home from work (~20k).

March 2010: Early March is nice, and along with Mike and Scott, we start the year off with a ride up the Road to Nepal!

Head to Houston mid-month to visit the family. So nice to do some warm weather rides, including one with my Eric's riding club. (Nice to get a shout out from Sarge! And yes, JJ was an animal out there).
Drive out to Austin for a relay Duathlon on the 26th, along with Eric, Astrid, and her boyfriend Leith.

This is olympic size, so a 5k run, 40k ride, 5k run. Astrid and I were a team, with me biking (Eric picked up an old steel Fuji Team road bike for me) and her running, and Leith (running) and Eric (cycling) were a team. It was a very fun race, and after 2 hours of racing it came down to a sprint finish, with Astrid and I winning by a mere 14 seconds!
Since we were the only 2 relay duathlon teams at that distance, we OWNED THE PODIUM!