Sunday, April 5, 2009

Va Tech Race Weekend

First of all mad respect to Virginia Tech Cycling for putting on an amazing weekend - beautiful courses that were professionally run, and amazing weather to boot!

Saturday was the road race and the team time trial run on a 15.2 mile loop out in the middle of freaking nowhere. Half of the course was in a valley, so it was dead freaking flat and had a 20-30 mph tailwind. The back half was up the side of a mountain (or so it felt): it started with a nasty 2-part climb for a couple of miles, then somewhat leveled off into a series of rolling climbs for the next 5 or so miles. Just before turning into the staging area it headed down again. Despite the climbs, the course was extremely fast. The roads were 1.5 lanes wide, no center line marking (means no center line rule - hooray!) with surprisingly smooth pavement. The scenery was just gorgeous, and there was nearly zero traffic.

The RR was fun, but extremely painful. We started out with about 33 riders. Like most of our races, we took it easy out of the gate, just tooling along at mid 20s with a tailwind. The pace slowly ratcheted up as we approached the base of the climb, which was essentially right after the first turn: a hard left that was more than 90 degrees; this took everyone by surprise.

The first time up the climb I was (stupidly) one of the riders setting the pace. I pegged my heart rate at 199 bpm for about a mile or so, just absolutely at my redline... eyes going crossed, breathing out of control, the works. At some point I looked down at my HRM and had the thought, "You know, I could have a heart attack if I keep this up. I really would rather not die out here. Maybe I should back off.... Nah" This was absolutely the most pain I've ever been in on a bike. The upside is we whittled the lead group down to about 15 riders, and no one managed to make an attack stick.

Me and a couple of other riders managed to somehow keep the effort high through the rolling hills, so no one tried to attack. As the road turned down again we were all just chilling trying to recover and mentally prepare to do that again on the second lap. Nothing much happened besides some insane speeds on the flat section - it's too hard to get away with a tailwind.

The second time up the climb(s) the whole group went a lot slower - my HR was in the high 180s instead of 190s, but no one broke away - the whole group was content to climb together. The climb seemed a lot shorter on the second lap, too.

As we crested the last hill a couple of the riders realized they had blown their chance at getting away on the uphill, and put the hammer down trying to compensate for that. Of course it failed, because the whole group came with them, now doing 30+ mph down these little mountain roads. Since we were about 5 miles out, people started jockeying for position and I started mentally preparing for a field sprint, which I had been hoping to avoid because it was going to be an extremely fast finish.

The finish was just ludicrous. The pace just kept coming up as we neared the end - my first taste of what a full-blown lead-out would be like in a peloton. I nearly collided with a rider from App State who was riding the wrong way on the course - at this point, about 1.5 miles out, we were spread across the whole road and doing about 35 mph. The finish, as predicted, was crazy. My positioning going into about 200 m or so was around 10th, which was a little too far back. I gained spots like crazy as the sprint wound up - I was passing people all the way to the line, and ended up in 6th.

A couple of lessons learned. One is I probably should have attacked on climb on lap 2, since I knew I had reserve power based on my heart rate. At the very least I would have spit a couple of riders off the back and whittled the lead group down further. At best, I would have taken a couple of guys with me and we would have stayed away for the finish.

The second lesson is I need to start my sprint sooner and work on my positioning. My impression is my sprint is generally stronger than most other riders', so I should start further out.

The TTT was painful. Since we didn't have 4 riders, we recruited Harris to ride with us, who is a D but should be racing C. The team was me, Thomas Bradshaw (a mountain bike rider), Harris, and Kai. The plan was for Kai to take hard pulls until we got to the climb, where he would drop off. However, he only managed one hard pull before he bonked/pulled his hamstrings and went OTB at some ridiculous speed. Harris had never ridden in a group before, so had no clue how to pull through or ride in a paceline. In fairness, it only took one instruction and he got the hang of it. We looked pretty pitiful during this event - we weren't drafting close enough, I was the only one with aero bars, and everyone's legs were completely fried after the RR earlier. One notable moment was cresting the last hill and we come upon a woman with a stroller in the middle of the road. We were doing about 30 mph at this point, and I'm in the front on my aero bars. I see her eyes go wide as dinner plates, just a complete look of surprise and fear come over her face as she scurried across the road. Somehow, we managed to get second overall! I'm pretty stoked about this, because the point awarded for a TTT are pretty hefty.

The crit was a lot easier than I anticipated. The course was around a mile long, with a short steep climb just before the finish, and a long downhill on the other side. The course was amazing - not really technical, with good wide corners with multiple good lines around them.

Since half of the C field hadn't done the TTT the day before, I was anticipating getting my ass kicked, but the race turned out to be really low-key. In retrospect it was kind of funny - no one wanted to be on the front because they didn't know how much they had left after yesterday, so at times the field would slow waaay down and just kind of toodle along at 12 mph for a bit. The only really hard sections were the preem laps and the finish. I would gain lots of positions on the downhill by popping out of line and soft-pedalling to the front. I did this nearly every lap, and no one else caught on, it was weird. But good, because I could get to where I needed to be with minimal energy expenditure. I got two second-place preems and somewhere between 4th and 7th overall.

This was definitely a good weekend for the C team - we put a lot of points on the board and I got some fantastic racing in. I'm definitely looking forward to our last 2 weekends.

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