Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rocking the Philly Phlyer

This weekend's races were in Philadelphia in the Fairmont Park where the big Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 was held. The park was massive and green with many big statues, such as the horse-riding generals on the Civil War Memorial near the start/finish line. I was signed up for 4 races this weekend. The Cat 4/5 circuit race, the Men's B circuit race and criterium, and the Men's B Team Time Trial (TTT). My goal is to get six more Top-10 finishes or 19 more points to upgrade to Cat 3/Men's A. Then maybe I can go to Nationals. Also, this last week I found out my Grandfather is very sick from several heart attacks, and only has about 10% of his heart muscle still working. He is in stable condition now, and I decided to stay and race for him, cause I think that is what he would have wanted me to do.

The Cat 4/5 circuit race was only two laps on a 6 mile course so itwas a very short race. Thankfully I got to warm up a good bit before the race, since the race would be very short; I think it only lasted less than 30 minutes. About halfway through the course was a 3/4 mile climb that would likely be the only real opportunity for a significant breakaway separation, but I wasn't planning on any attacks myself. There was a short power climb about 1/2 mile before the finish, then a twisty flat with a sharp turn before the finishing straight. My plan was to sit in for the whole race then sprint for the finish unless I saw a promising breakaway to bridge up to. I sat in the whole race in the Top 1/3 of the pack, tried to do as little work as possible, then went hard on the final power climb after the group of UPenn guys that were on the front. After a less-than-satisfying speed through the final turn, I sprinted, and got passed by two UPenn riders and got sixth place in the sprint. Yay! Another Top-10. I have 5 total Top-10s now.

The Men's B circuit race was 4 laps on the same course. I had pretty much the same strategy as the earlier race, except for I decided to stay on the wheel of Sean from UPenn or Derek from UVM the whole time. These two guys are the perhaps the strongest riders in the finish in the Men's B field. My teammates Zach and Chewie had discussed trying to breakaway on the last lap on the long mid-lap climb, but this plan fell apart after Zach tested the willingness of the pack to chase down breaks on that climb (they did chase pretty well), and so I decided to cancel the any break attempt on my behalf. The race was pretty fast, and I did have to work to stay toward the front of the race. On the last lap, I found I had the same idea to stay on Sean's wheel as Derek
did, so I just stayed on Derek's wheel instead. He is a pretty cunning racer. On the straight before the final power climb, there was a random crash, taking out Sean. I felt bad, but a race is a
race, so I kept on Derek's wheel. He took the route up the left side, and came around the leading riders as he took off full speed up the climb. I got out of the saddle and cranked up the power after him, barely able to stay on his wheel. About 10 second later toward the top of the climb, we found ourselves with a decent separation off the front. I got behind one of the bigger UVM riders who had come with us, and stayed behind him through the twisty stretch, to the final sprint. After the final corner, I sprinted as hard as I could, passed Derek, and didn't get passed by anyone else. I got 4th place. Another Top-10! I have 6 total now.

After the Saturday events, we went back to the Humpton's where they cooked us a grand feast of a meal and put us up for the night. I had a couple beers, and later that night, we went out for "water ice" which is like "Italian ice" but from Pennsylvania (Tim may have an issue with this definition, since he maintains water ice is qualitatively different than Italian Ice also). I got the mystery flavor from Rita's, which I think is raspberry. Then we went back and went to bed to prepare for the TTT and criterium race the next morning.

Our B TTT team was me, Zach, Isaac, and Ian. Isaac and Ian are two of our star C riders this year, and both of them are from Phi Sig fraternity. We got up a 5:15AM, ate breakfast, drove to the course, put on our rain gear, and went to practice the 8.5 mile course as a team that morning. The rain was coming down pretty light, and it made riding directly behind the guy in front of you pretty difficult since all of the road spray. We decided for a slight echelon formation (staying 3-4 inches just to the right of the wheel in front of you) to make the practice easier. Our relative strengths may have been pretty different, but we were working pretty well together. Zach was the strongest so we would let him determine this speed we could hold, and everyone else would pull shorter than him so the same speed could be maintained through the event.

We started about 1 hour later around 9AM, and took off into the wet course. Our plan worked out pretty well, except we dropped Ian about 2/3 of the way through, but that was OK since we only had to finish 2 riders across the line. Isaac stayed with us till the final power climb, then Zach and I took off for a sprint across the line. We ended up in 2nd place, only 5 seconds behind the UPenn team. We also beat UVM by about 5 seconds. With gaps this small, you can only think
that we could have found 5 seconds over that 8.5 mile course if we had just pushed a little harder.

For the Criterium later in the day, Chewie had graciously volunteered himself to help lead me out in the sprint finish, since he thinks that I have the best chance of the Men's B team to upgrade to A's soon. I approached Zach about this plan, and he also volunteered to help in
the effort. This is what makes cycling great: the teamwork. Our plan was for Zach to be the big diesel engine for the last few laps to stay toward the front and keep the pace very high so it would be harder for riders to move up to front of the pack. We would try to stay right
behind him, then Chewie would take off with about 1/2 a lap to go to lead me out, then I would sprint in the final 200m to go for the finish. Thanks to our Mentor Mike Garret for the race strategy, cause it definitely worked.

The course was a flat 3/4 mile loop with 3 corners. For the actual race, I just sat in toward the front of the group, trying to save as much energy as possible while also avoiding crashes. The race was fast, with speeds reaching 35 mph on a flat course on the final lap. With six laps to go, I tried to get around the to the right side of the pack to get behind Chewie. Most of the race, I had been staying on the outside since I found it to be less sketchy than trying for the faster inside line; there are always some trade offs I suppose. Zach got on the front with 3 to go and drilled the pace till the final lap. It was ok today that we weren't right behind him, but next time we
should try better to make the whole of our strategy work. Chewie took off with 3/4 of a lap to go, and I could barely hang on at points. I almost wasn't sure he would be able to get through the 10 or so riders in front of us with time left for the finish, but he did. I should have trusted him more. After giving it his all, we were in 3rd or 4th position going into the next-to-last turn, when I decided to come around Chewie and go for the Sprint in the final corner. He screamed "Go!" and I did. Right after the corner apex, I somehow clipped my pedal and almost lost it, but regained my balance and started the sprint again. I drilled as hard as I could, and went across the line
in 2nd place! Woo-hoo! I can't believe it worked, and how much easier the team plan made it. I almost got passed on the line, as the finishing photo will show, by Derek from UVM. A rider from the US Naval Academy beat me in the sprint. After crossing the line, I cried a little bit on the cool-down lap. It was the best I had ever done in a race in any category, and I couldn't have done it without the help from my teammates Chewie and Zach. Thanks guys, I owe you one.

Power and Speed ProfileSo this weekend was the best race race weekend I have ever had. I finished 6th, 4th, and 2nd in mass start races, and we got 2nd in the TTT. MIT won the overall weekend Omnium competition beating UVM and Army, and I am glad I could have been a part of that effort. The team aspect makes collegiate cycling so much richer than most amateur

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The UDelaware Race Weekend

So Tim and I left at 1pm to do the long drive down to Delaware. We talked cycling and life on the ride. It wasn't so bad, and after 6.5 hours we arrived at his parent's place outside of Philly. The Humpton's were a very nice family, and they bought us dinner of chicken cheesesteaks and onion rings. Then off to bed.

I got to sleep in the next morning since our race didn't start until Noon, then I made a 1.5 hour drive by myself to the race course, since Tim took his own car. When I got there, I registered then bought a sweet race weekend T-Shirt from the UDel table with some Zebras chasing a bicycle. Apparently, there is some controversy about the UDel cycling team, since they have chosen a different mascot (the Zebra) from the traditional UDel mascot (the Blue Hen). The choice of Zebra does make for some rather interesting team kit though.

My race would be 51 miles consisting of three loops of this course. The first lap I set in, and the pace was moderate. There were three medium grade climbs, not super-steep, but hard enough to get the pack winded. I decided on the second lap I would try for a breakaway on the last of the three climbs and see if anybody went with me. No one did. I pushed really hard and got a big gap, and I bridged to an Army rider who was off the front. We starting working together and stayed off for about 20 minutes, when I decided to give up. According to Zach, my MIT teammate, my breakaway did cause a whole lot of commotion in the pack and he decided to further exacerbate things by sitting on the front and not pulling. Thank you Zach for helping. Bucknell eventually took the pace and then I got caught. If only one or two more people had come with me, we could have made it a race-winning move.

After the break, I knew I had to conserve what I had left for the finish. Against my better judgement, on the final climb, I stayed toward the front and gave it one last attack just to test the group. Again, nobody came with me (a bunch of pansies this group was), so I stopped and went back to the group. I did finally sit in, then in the last 5 minutes of the race, I made a series of good tactical moves to get toward the front for the final two corners before the finish. After the final corner, the sprint started. I heard a very loud crash right behind me, and kept going all out toward the line. I was surely in the Top-10, and no one passed me in the sprint, but I couldn't get around anyone else either. I got 7th place in my first road race of the season.

Yay! 3 Top 10 Finishes in mass starts this year, with 1 or 3 from last year (depending on whether they let Men's C races count toward this). I need 10 Top 10 finishes to upgrade to Cat 3 so I have eight more race opportunities over the next four weeks to try for the goal. Wish me luck.

Monday, March 16, 2009

3 Crits 2 Days 1 Man - Columbia/Stevens Race Weekend

I had a great race weekend. 3 criteriums in one weekend never tasted so good.

Jose, Chewie, and I drove down at 4:30pm on Friday to Brooklyn to spend the night at Jose's mother Diana's place. She was a great lady nice enough to put us up for two nights and take us for a great dinner Saturday night. After about 4.5-5 hours we arrived and went straight to bed. Sleep is essential for victory, and Jose was hoping to win some races the next day. I was just hoping that my first race weekend as a Men's B rider in the ECCC would yield one top-10 finish.

The next morning's drive began in the dark at 6:30AM to get to the Columbia Grant's Tomb Criterium course since our Cat. 4 race started at 8:00AM. No time for Michael's morning coffee :-( but Chewie lent me a Red Bull to get me through the morning.

The course was a nice twist on the basic 4 corners crit course. It had a fast downhill turn, then a sharp steep uphill, then a wide fast turn into a long sloping finish. And around General Ulysses S. Grant's tomb on top of that. The weather was just above freezing for our 8AM race but it warmed up to about 55degF later in the day.

Grant's Tomb Criterium:

The organizers were running really late since there were about 8 cars that needed towed off the course before we could start. Most of the Cat. 4 field stood around at the start line and froze their butts off, but I listened to the official who said we had 15-20 minutes till starting and I kept riding around and taking laps to keep warm. After the 8AM Cat. 4 race started, I had no trouble staying toward the front of the race, which was I was glad about. I am much faster than last year, and obviously this is the year to start winning races and upgrade to Cat 3. I used my cornering and pack riding skills to stay easily toward the front and not waste too much energy. It was clear that some of the NYC club riders needed some training on their pack skills, because there were definitely some scary moments; there were at least three crashes in the race, but thankfully not caused by or affecting me. I stayed in the top 15 most of the race, then on the last two laps the speed significantly increased, and I had to work much harder to keep this position. Then after the wide long corner, I started a fast effort to stay with the leaders and sprinted with 200m to go, and I came in 8th. This is great since Top 10s are upgrade qualifiers. I definitely saw some much bigger riders sprint right past me, but that is to be expected. My real strength this year is likely the high watts/kilogram property; I should do well on climbs versus the big riders. Interestingly though, my power file shows that I made some major efforts early in the race going up the steep climb that were likely very unnecessary, and I had little left at the end for the sprint, so this was a good learning experience.

After a nice cooldown, a nap in the car next to Hudson River, and a healthy dose of lasagna, I prepared for the Men's B Collegiate race. I could wear less clothes for the second race since it was about 50deg outside at that point. This race started off a bit faster than the first race, and ended up staying about 2mph faster on average. About four laps in, the bell signaling the first Prime lap was sounded. A Boston College rider broke off to try and take the prize, and shortly after that I went after him. About 500m later I passed him and had a significant gap on the field into the wide final turn. The pack did start to catch me on the uphill but I kept the lead and won 5 points in my first Prime win ever. There was rumor of cookie prizes, but I guess somebody forgot to bake them.

About half way through the race, I told Chewie I would try to give him a lead out for the sprint finish, so my mission was to keep a wide line on the last lap to allow him to follow me while I sprinted early to allow him to come around me for the finish. The technique worked, except for we were both worn out from the high speeds, and my lead out only gave him two places ahead of me in 20th place, while I got 22nd. I was fine with that, and wrote it up to the workout earlier that day.

We went home, showered, and went to eat in the a Bay Ridge neighborhood diner a few blocks from Diana's place. I had a HUGE meal to refill all those calories I burnt. Here is the list of what I had:
hot chocolate
1/3 plate of fried zucchini with marinara
chicken noodle soup
8oz baked salmon
steamed broccoli
baked potato with butter and sour cream

After dinner we went across the street to an authentic middle-eastern candy store, where we bought some baklava and pistachio ice cream, which were both a delicious finish to the evening. Isnt' cycling great? I can eat whatever I want to most of the time. Then we went back and went to sleep.

Stevens Criterium:

The Stevens Institute of Technology offered to host a criterium race on their campus across the Hudson River in Hoboken, NJ. After receiving many emails from the promoter clarifying the parking situation, we were a bit worried about whether the organization was going to be done well, but I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, this is one of the most fun races I have ever done, and I wish there were more crazy criteriums like this in road cycling.

The course was absolutely nuts. It was a 400m winding downhill grade of -15%, with a sharp 90deg turn with several manhole covers, then a flat 100m section to another 90deg sharp turn, to a very steep 450m 15% steep uphill with many potholes and speed bumps, then a less steep section with good concrete with a slight uphill finishing stretch. Being such a short course, I think we did 20 laps or more to make a 40 minute race. The race started with the fast downhill, and I had started toward the back, so I couldn't move up much until the first uphill when I moved up maybe 10 places and realized I was going to be just fine in this race. UVM had about 20 people in the race, and it was hard for me to tell them apart, but I knew that they were very strong, and I had to stay with UVM or my man Jose to do well in this race.

Each lap was the same sort of thing, but with different players. The first 5 laps I passed people and dropped people each lap. I would pass people in the downhill curvy section since I had good handling and was being aggressive, sometimes I would pass before or after the fast downhill corner, and then I would try to save energy and not be so aggressive on the uphills every lap. Some of the riders were much stronger than me and I couldn't stay with them, but a group of 4-5 ended up forming for most laps with me, a Millersville rider, my friend Ross from UPenn, some UVM riders, a Dartmouth rider, and a Columbia rider. I pushed it to keep with the guys every lap, and we started to lap riders by about the 8th lap, and we even lapped some of them twice by the end. I ended up getting 8th place again, which was really exciting, and has shown me that I can stay with the Men's B field this year. The power file is graphed below, with power on the yellow line and speed on the blue line, so you can see each lap by noting the 13 mph on the uphill and the 33 mph on the downhill.

It was the most fun race I have ever done, and the organization was superb. Thank you Stevens for a great race.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The ECCC is alive and well.

Joe Kopena talking trash at the hilly Stevens Crit. Fun fun.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

BoldSprints 2nd Place!

Originally uploaded by octopistnskquid
Later that Sunday night after the Indoor TT effort earlier in the day, I went to BoldSprints at the Middle East Corner in Cambridge. It was a great time. I met a bunch of new friends, some former collegiate racers, some cyclists from the Boston metro area, and even a former woman pro named Mackenzie (sp?).

I had the 2nd place time for the seeding heats, then I won the first round of the top-8 tournament. But sadly we then got kicked out since we were going over our allowed time, and the Belly Dancers were coming in to dance later that night.

So I ended up second overall since the winners were chosen based on the seed times. I lost to a fast racer formerly of Tufts U. named Jeremy, who is a very nice guy. Too bad I didn't get to go head to head.

I won a pair of nice Core Windstopper gloves and a Cambridge Bicycles/Igleheart Racing cap. Sweet.

Landry's Indoor TT

So for my first official hard effort of the year, I competed in a 6.5 mile slight uphill time trial against 15 other individuals in my heat. We had 7 other MIT riders and my friend Alex Chaleff from the New England Conservatory, as well as Bret Fortenberry from BU, and a bunch of other local racers and triathletes.

It was a tough effort, but I think training with a power meter has helped me pace myself better for such efforts so I don't start out too hard. I started trying to keep my power between 260 and 300W, and I was able to sustain this the whole race. I won my heat! Yay! and for this I won a six-pack of Harpoon IPA which you can see me consuming below.

I averaged 280 W over a 19'19" interval, so I set a new FTP power record for myself. This bodes well for my first season in Men's B road in 3 years.

Friday, February 20, 2009

MIT Power Nerds Meeting - Boston-Area ECCC Racers Welcome!

Hello Conference-o'-mine,
We are going to have a get-together on MIT campus to talk about training with power on the bicycle. This will be the first meeting of the MIT Power Nerds, and I would like to invite some ECCC riders that also train with power. To keep the meeting small, we can only take 8 people from the ECCC, so please RSVP to me if you are for-sure coming.

The meeting will be just an informal discussion about our experiences and analysis techniques for power training. Bring your laptop with power data if you can. While I am no expert, at the meeting will be Jeff Godin, PhD of Blackstone Valley Human Performance (www.bvph.com) and Chair of the Department of Exercise Science at Fitchburg State.

Time: 7pm to 8:30 or 9pm
Location: MIT Campus Building 1 Room 134 (see map)