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.


"Chair" said...

Nice meeting you at Stevens! I was a little frazzled after the race, but noticed that you had a great weekend in B's- I'm sure you'll kill it when you can dig in on the upcoming hills.

Jose Head said...

Great effort and nice writing, I almost felt that I was riding with you.