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


Graham Anderson said...

i've never met you in person yet, but just wanted to tell you good job on your results this weekend (and indeed all season)! following your training on this blog is motivation to have at least part of the dedication and commitment you have (apparently hard work pays off) - good luck at your next races and i'll look forward (sort of) to seeing another
MIT rider in A's

Joe Kopena said...

This is exactly why MIT is one of the hottest properties in collegiate cycling across the nation. Combine awesome recruiting and organization with pro teamwork and great team dynamics and you get two wheeled dynamite. Now someone just needs to get Jose to not pull the entire A field all race, ever race, and MIT will be off the charts.

"Chair" said...

Damn, I don't think I want you in A's. MIT's drinking water must contain steroids. I agree with Joe about Jose- every time he hit the front of our small break and accelerated, a little part of me died. Suuuper strong, but also a great way to kill a break!