Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hincapie Spring Training Series - La Bastide

Saturday's training called for a hard 3:00 training block  The weather was to be cold, rainy and miserable.  I didn't relish the thought of logging 3 hours on the trainer, so it seemed only logical to do the Hincapie Spring Training Series at La Bastide - North of Greenville, SC.  For the 40+ class it would be six laps of 8+ miles with a big climb at the start/finish (and every lap).  If I'm going to be cold and miserable, I may as well be racing...

It rained for the entire drive to La Bastide - a winery/Motel deal of some sort.  Very hilly.  After some creative parking I began to prep for the 11:00am race start.  It had stopped raining, although the skies were certainly not clearing, it was warming a little bit.  I opted for a few less layers than Southern Cross last weekend.

At race start they notified us that the race had been shortened to 5 laps and that the Masters 40+ and Masters 50+ would be combined, and that we were racing for one payout instead of paying both classes.  So this is road racing.  Not that it had any significant impact on my race.

The race started with a neutral roll out on roads that would stay wet under the chilly conditions, but it never rained for the duration of the race.  At an intersection at the bottom of a fast descent, the racing began in earnest.  Two-thirds of the triangle-shaped course was flat or rolling.  The remainder was a substantial climb or rapid descent.

The first lap was pretty hard as breaks and chases were being worked out at the front of the field.  I had one good friend, but no teammates in the race.  I know I can't get off the front so I decide to let the tactics play out, carefully watching to be sure the pack doesn't split in front of me.

The first time up the hill is hard.  I'm a climber, but I'm used to climbing at my own pace for the off road events and I excel at the really long climbs.  This was neither.  Fortunately the pack was large enough on this first ascent that the immediately following descent was long enough to stay in contact with the strung out group and the now, somewhat smaller, group rolled around to the climb again.

Apparently we didn't hit the hill hard enough first time.  We hammered it pretty hard for lap two.  I was in good position though, and knew I could recover most of the rest of the lap.  I was able to stay in contact once again.  While I was recovering near the rear of the pack, two riders rode off the front.  I had no answer for them.

The third time up the hill was painful.  I struggled mightily, as did many others.  When the first few riders crested the hill, they kept hammering.  I did all I could to limit my losses.  I was going to have to chase them back down.  Fortunately a few others caught me and we managed to paceline and catch back on.  It was all I could do just to catch the group, but in the shelter of the other riders I was able to start recovering again.  In the mayhem a few other riders had gone off the front.  I'm not sure if our little group of about 15 is the peloton, or the chase group.  Either way, my optimistic but resolute plan was to hang onto this group until the bitter end.

I wasn't sure what was going to happen the fourth time up the hill with this smaller group.  I hit the climb in the front of the pack with the plans of climbing it at my pace and see what everyone else did.  Although there was some concern on my part as several blew by at the base of the hill, my plan worked well as my steady pace saw me able to catch them all back in the steeper final part of the climb.

The last lap was pure energy conservation pace as nobody wanted to drive the front.  The final results would be decided this last time up the hill.  My legs felt OK, but lacked the snappiness I was going to need to stand and mash the pedals for the final 200 meters.  My only hope was that the others were in worse shape than me.  As it turns out, some were.  Some weren't. 

At the base of the climb I was encouraged when nobody took off immediately.  I knew they were feeling the effects of the earlier climbs as well.  My goal: stay on my buddy, Chris Sugar's' wheel.  He's a strong rider and a good finisher.  We pass a few other riders as they begin to drop off.  The final 200 meter "sprint" is the steepest part of the finishing climb.  Chris stands and pumps the pedals, I try, but to no avail.  Sitting and spinning is all I have left.  I do manage to hang on to be scored right behind him, so a good effort for sure.

Two of the riders ahead of me were in the 50+ class, so my top 10 finish is scored 8th in 40+.  It was a hard day.  But that's why I was there.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Southern Cross. Bonus Miles

   This was was my 2nd Southern Cross race.  The first one I did on a 29'er hardtail with some fast rolling Vee Rubber V12 tires.  I managed to pull off a 6th place finish in the 40+ class.  This year I raced a cyclocross bike and was really looking forward to a good result. 

The Good:
   Off season training was going well.  My power numbers looked good for the early season, and I managed to drop all the off-season weight to get to my new, slightly lower than last year, racing weight.  The bike was dialed in with AC Hurricane wheels and some fast rolling CX tires and I was ready to race.

The Bad:
   The weather.  Chance of rain/snow showers.  Starting temp was 34 degrees.  The forecast-ed high temp was 39 degrees.   And, just for fun, throw in a good dose of chilling wind.  I ended up wearing: 2 base layers, short sleeve jersey, long sleeve jersey, Gore Wind Stopper jacket, wind breaker, compression socks, Iron Cross socks, leg warmers, skull cap, sunglasses, North Wave high top winter shoes, Gore winter gloves.

The Ugly:
   The race rolled off at 10:01am.  It was quite cold, but the sun was out, and it looked like we'd miss the rain/snow.  I got a reasonably good starting position.  The pace started a bit fast for me.  There are people fighting me for positions that I probably won't see again after the first big climb. The first run-up is perhaps rideable with MTB gearing and a grippy rear tire, which means I was "running" it.  Apparently run-ups are not my strong suit as I lost quite a few positions.
   Soon we leave the punchy climbs of the Winery and we are on to the gravel roads that make up 90% of the race. 95% for me - but more on that later.  I'm still getting passed every now and then and I make a point to try to remember the jerseys to see if I catch them again. A few miles in and the grade increases.  This is the first of 2 major climbs in the race, and it is the steepest.  I push the pace, but stay within my limits.  I'm passing more people than are passing me now.  There are still a lot of racers pushing hard.  I'm starting to feel over-dressed on this sunny, wind protected climb.
   At the top of the climb, mile 12.5, is the first aid station.  I blow by, as do most others around me.  At the top of this climb, the road is frosted, but lightly melted, too - making it squishy and slowing the pace.  A rider next to me turns and says, "It's 26 degrees."  I'm feeling better about my many clothing layers. 
   When we get to the first descent I really let it roll.  Staying off the brakes, working the corners, pedaling whenever I'm not spun out.  It's a tactic that reels in several riders who are more cautious descenders.  By the time we get to the paved road I've left all of the racers that were near me.  It's me and a racer on a MTB I catch to head down the open road to the next big climb.  I end up doing most of the work.
   Just before we reach the fire road, a pack of 5 or 6 riders, including the lead female racer, catch us - pointing out the importance of having a pace line for the fast sections.  But, again the grade increases.  This 2nd climb is long, but not as steep.  It's like it was designed for me.  I attack, and quickly open a large gap.  By the time I get to aid station #2 at mile 37.5 I've passed pretty much all of the folks that passed me early on.  I'm feeling pretty good.  I refill a water bottle and continue on.  This descent is broken up by a couple of short, steep climbs.  They hurt, but I make up time descending.
   And then the ugliest part.  I know that I'm on the last part of the descent and I am mentally prepared to time trial the 4 or 5 miles back to the winery.  I blow though an intersection.  It seemed odd there was no marshal or arrows.  Following race promoter's Eddie's instructions to "When in doubt, go straight" I continue descending.  But when I get to the "T" at the bottom of the descent, there is no marking, but it seems to guide me right, so I go right.  There are no markings.  It's obvious now that I missed a turn.  I am tasked with turning around and climbing back the road I just descended.  The worst part is knowing that I am now out of contention for a top placing.
   It was hard to stay motivated climbing back to the course, but when I got back on track and caught some other racers it was hammer time again.  I had forgotten how ridiculously hard that last climbs through the winery were.  Adding to the difficulty, the ground was soft and the grass was tall on the off road parts.  I end up off the bike hiking several short climbs.  But I worked hard and I finished.  Mission accomplished.  No mechanical issues.  My choice of clothing worked out well.  I was both cold and hot in sections.  I don't know that I would have done anything different.   ...Except watch for arrows a little closer.  The price of riding solo, head down, digging, I suppose.
    A few snow flakes fell as I was enjoying the post-race food.  A fitting end to a cold, blustery day.  My thanks to all who made this race possible, my admiration to all those who braved the cold to come out and race.

See you on the trails!
...or fire roads!