Niagara Classic: OCUP #4, May 17th

I'm beginning to appreciate the value of a little experience

Not that I have much. But familiarity – returning to a race I've done before –  makes a huge difference. Just knowing where everything is (parking, registration, washrooms...) really takes a lot of the stress out of the equation.

The same can be said of knowing the course. You you what you're in for. Or up against, which in the case of Niagara is the famous Effingham Hill, a poisonously steep, short climb that pretty much ruins an otherwise pleasant ride out in the country. The M3 circuit was 5 laps, which meant five climbs of this delight. I managed only two circuits last year before I called it quits. This time I came in better prepared, and determined to at least finish the bastard.

Bottom right corner of the course: Effingham, you bastard.
Other valuable local knowledge was the that the "neutral" start was not particularly neutral, and that the field basically bombed off the line before hitting the left-hand turn that quickly runs up against the first Effingham climb. So I knew to be as far forward as I could get at the start, and to hammer hard to stay in the pack on that climb – two things I fatally failed to do last time.

So I stayed in the pack for the first two laps, but after the second climb started to slip back and lost contact. I had a few other guys with me but they were young E4s and they didn't seem to know what a rotating paceline was, and the middle of a race was not exactly where you want to run a seminar. So it ended up being awkward random pulls, which was too bad because we might have been able to get back on – for a lap or two the pack was tantalizingly in sight –  if they had known how to get it together. Anyway.

The numbers refusing to lie, as usual
The Strava data is very instructive here: every lap and every climb I got slower and slower. Looking at some of the top finishers' data the main difference was consistency. Some guys hit the same numbers for that climb every time. Mine went from a respectable 1:39 on the first round to a grinding 2:27 by the last. Lap one, the fastest (20:19 at 36.4 kph), was at 170 watts and average HR 160 bpm: perfect, right below threshold. Last lap: 168 watts, 179 bpm, 24:52 and 29.7 kph. Slower, and way deep in the red. The domino effect of not staying with the pack is the real killer.

In the end: 42nd place out of 57, 1:56:22, 15:24 off the winning time.

Solutions? Strategies?
Two things really:
1) get my fitness up so that I can hit more of my max wattage with less of my max heart rate. It's something we were working on pretty specifically at the Cycling Gym. It means training carefully to stay up near, but not over, my lactate threshold (or however you want to call being in the red) for extended periods.
2) improve my climbing. One thing I realized afterwards is I had become biased against standing up to climb, and had sat and ground it out every time when actually it would have helped on the very steepest parts to stand for a bit; if for no other reason than to change up which muscles were being taxed. I've since started to mix that in more on hills and it definitely helps, and there's a bit of a psychological boost to it as well.
3) Both of which are contributing factors in the need to stay with the pack. Every race I'm doing less and less shit-out-the-back time trialling, but I still haven't got all the way to the end of an OCUP race actually in the pack. 

Put those three things together and maybe then I can actually start racing.



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