Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bloomfield (or how to exploit my weaknesses)

Yeah this season has been a bit better than last. I'm still no powerhouse but I'm hanging a bit longer in these races and even doing reasonably well at times. It's true that I started doing this sport late. The age that I did my very first race is generally the age that a professional cyclist retires. Fortunately I don't have to race with the pros, although I do have to race with ex-pros at times. It's interesting to think about the amount of time someone like that has put into the sport, over the many years and hours of an entire career. Malcolm Gladwell has his "ten-thousand hour rule" from Outliers, where he details the amount of time that experts in various fields have devoted to study or practice or simply doing that which they need to do to achieve mastery.

That is a long way off.

However, I have some understanding of it. I was discussing this with someone a month or so ago and the subject of music practice came up. I estimated that I still practice close to 20 hours a week even now. Since I've been playing music for 32 years it has all added up quite a bit, especially during the years when I was putting in 9 hour days and the like. She concluded that I had reached my 10,000 hour mark a long time ago. I think it is probably closer to 30,000 by now.

When I was still in the early phases of learning how to play music I went through a lot of difficulty. Sometimes it was close to unbearable living with the fact that I simply could not do what I saw others (with more experience) doing easily. This led me to change the focus of my practicing to try to increase the level of my minimum performances. Isolate the weak spots and work on them. Don't worry so much about the strong spots. They will take care of themselves on stage.

So I apply that to my cycling. It's easy to keep working on the stuff that I do well, threshold stuff, longer hills and the like. It's not so easy to work on the stuff that tends to limit me and take me out of races. One-minute power climbs, brutal surges, repeated sprints, closing gaps in windy conditions. Hence I race a lot and work on these things. I also have tried to add more of this stuff to my training.

Bloomfield, when windy, is a course tailor-made to exploit these weaknesses. It is absolutely a puncher's course, having no climbs in excess of two minutes (although there is one section of three climbs that can add up to 5 minutes if you string them together into one effort). Most of them are short and steep, and the riders who power over them are going to be dictating the pace. Wind is another huge factor, and on a windy day this course becomes suited to heavier riders who can survive the brutal crosswinds that make even a two-bike-length gap take ages to close.

We had pretty good numbers in this race. Four RUUD guys, four Team London guys, and mostly singles and pairs in the rest of the field. On paper it looked to be a match between our team and the Londoners. Things started out that way too, with both of our teams at the front, setting a relatively easy pace. Goncalves took off early and I think we did the right thing in not pushing it, keeping him in sight. In fact he was getting a bit closer when we were on the first descent leading into turn one. Pete, first wheel, took the corner hot with me right on his wheel. I looked over my shoulder, saw I had the expected several bike-length gap (more on this later) and made a choice to jump up to Goncalves.

This was win-win. Either I get up there with him and start pushing to maintain the breakaway or the rest of the field will jump with me. If they do, then the race comes back together and the guard at the front changes. The second choice happened and I slotted back in to the field. This is where the pace started to get painful, hitting the more hilly sections mostly standing and mashing, surviving the wind while the field strings out, and generally hammering.

Things kept up that way for the rest of the lap when, upon crossing the start line again we completely strung out into the crosswind. Just before that section is a steep climb which slows the field down dramatically and I tend to keep pace there, but the shock from the harsh wind once you hit the top has to be felt to be believed. Generally, it was all I could do just to hold the wheel in front of me as we crossed the line. Bruce chose this moment to attack and Goncalves went with him (one Rogue, one London, both bigger than me and better suited to this race). I wasn't even close to the front and didn't even see it happen. Pete was there but couldn't push through the wind to jump with them.

and so it goes.

London shut the pace down with their remaining three. We had already lost two of our guys in the hills and it was down to Pete and me. We had to make a hard choice. Should we commit our two against their three (plus one OTF) in the hopes that we will still have something left if we pull the breakaway back? Will anyone help? I tested this by pushing the pace a bit and watching to see who came up there. One Kurzawinski guy was up there and he seemed moderately interested. Faso was there too, but neither of these guys was all that jazzed about suffering in this wind. It wasn't going to work. Neither Pete nor I were feeling like we could do a whole lot at this point so we didn't push the issue. London seemed to have the advantage both in numbers and in strength.

I paid attention to the corners. Every time I hit one first-wheel I could get a sizeable gap so I was counting on hitting the final corner first and then giving it 100% to the line, hoping for a decent finish and grabbing a few upgrade points if possible.

And then there were ten (or so) coming in to the final lap. The wind again. Always the wind.

I'm in the back.

I'm gapped.


And got lucky. Pete must have sensed something was wrong and looked over his shoulder. He dropped back a bit to surf me back in to the "field" (does ten riders make a field?) Of course this took FOREVER in the crosswind and we were tired going in to the hilly section when the attacks came. One attack, fine. Two attacks, sorta fine. Three... not so fine.

Dropped. Both of us. (we were not the only ones dropped, these attacks shredded the rest of the group as well)

Joe from London was dropped too and he grabbed our wheels as we tried to hang tough on the climbs, coming around and helping out in the flats and downhills. He's a strong one and sometimes he'd go so hard on the downhills that I'd have to tell him to take it easy!

This enabled us to pass a few of the previous attackers and potentially put us back in the running for a top ten finish. We picked up Mike Minerva with about 4 miles to go and I was keeping an eye on him. Minerva made his play on one of the final hills and I looked behind to see what was going on. No Pete, no Joe. I went with Minerva, hoping I would have a shot at a good finish on this one. If most of the guys up the road were 50+ I could still grab a point or two out of this one.

Now comes the last descent and final corner. We picked up another few stragglers. Minerva's in first wheel. He's starting to slow for the corner.


I blast around him, knowing exactly how hard I can go in this corner, after testing it three times before. I rail that sucker as hard as I can and get a huge gap!

At this point I give it everything I have to keep the gap open. Uhh, everything...




Minerva makes it past me on the little hill. Loews from London makes it past me at the top in the awful crosswind. I limp over the line.


Pete and Joe cross after me for 11/12. I am still hoping beyond hope that the age split will work in my favor.....


As it turned out, only one of the guys in front of me was 50+. One.

So after all that work I managed to still look like I finished in the basement with a stunning 9th out of 11. Things do look a bit differently in the overall though, where it's more like 10 out of 34. Whatever.

I wasn't really pleased with getting dropped during the attacks but I feel positive about the race in general because it highlighted two of my biggest weaknesses (punchy anaerobic hills and wind) and I still managed a fair finish.

another baby step. goo goo ga ga.

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