Sunday, June 12, 2016

K-W Classic OCUP: A Familiar Refrain

I like the K-W (Kitchener-Waterloo) Classic for a few reasons: 

It was my first-ever road race, even if it was a completely different and far less scenic course in 2013; it was the scene (sort of) of one of my stupider mistakes; and also because the race runs through Mennonite farm country, and the technical guide has this lovely typo (uncorrected in two years), that asks riders "when passing a horse and buggy please give the horses lots of room and do not make any unseen gestures to the Mennonites". (Like secret gang signs or Masonic handshakes, I guess.) And in truth there were a lot of horse-drawn buggies and black-clad farmers scattered around the course. (On the question of "who looked goofier to whom" I'd the say the cyclists had the edge.)

"I hope I never have to witness climbing that bad ever again."
Anyway, it's a nice course through farm country, with a few rollers and one longer slow climb near the start with a bit of a kick-up. The roads were mostly in OK condition, and a bit damp at first to go along with the regular bursts of manure, and there was a brisk SW wind that made the back half of the course pretty tiring (unless you were in the peloton, of course). The first two laps, that's where I was, happily motoring along at 37+ kph on 150-170W lap average and a comfortable 75% MHR. In lap one I'm in the middle of the pack somewhere; in lap two I'm at the back of the pack but manage to surf my way about a third of the way up. That's because I'm desperately trying to get some cushion for when I get passed on the one long-ish climb of the course, which is what happened on the second time up.

And on lap three, of course, everything goes to rat-shit. Third time up I was too far back in the pack, got passed by everybody like I was riding backwards, and was gapped at the top. Again.

Let me just pause a minute here and speak to the particular, small hell that is that moment when, as an under-talented & over-aged amateur bike racer, you lose the wheel of the main group. They are so close, so tantalizingly close, a matter of 10, 15, 20 metres...  and yet nothing can make your screaming legs push hard enough to cover the wattage difference represented by the Peloton Effect, and latch back on. Better men than I can heroically make this jump. But there's something about being gassed at the top of a dispiriting climb that just crushes the fight out of me. I'm like the left-behind Vietnamese kids on the roof of the American Embassy at the Fall of Saigon, waving helplessly as the last overloaded helicopter lumbers up and away into the burning sky, without them, forever. (OK maybe not that dramatic. But, y'know. A bummer.)*

What drive me nuts is if I were to put out the same power numbers I get while riding the resultant  shat-out-the-back time trial, inside the peloton – I might be in the thick of things. And actually do some racing.

Because here's how it looks:
Lap One: 16:44, averaging 37.2 kph, 150 HR (75% max) and 151W; cool; perfect.
Lap Two: 16:33, averaging 37.7 kph, 162 HR (81%) 171W; up a bit, but totally manageable.
Lap Three: Rat shit. 18:34, 33.2 kph, 177 HR (well over lactate threshold, uh-oh we know what comes next); but with an average of 205W. 205 watts inside the peloton probably means I'm chasing down a break or something. But on my own, it's just downhill from there, the laps getting slower, the HR climbing, and the power diminishing – but even on the last, slowest lap I averaged more power – 173W – than I put out on my fastest lap. How fucking stupid is that?

The culprit? that bloody climb. The difference? 5 seconds. Hawkesville Hill climb #3 was 5 seconds slower than climb #1 (1:42 vs 1:47). And that was the insurmountable gap. Climb #4, gassed and out of the peloton, was another 20 seconds on top of that. And it's a bad downward spiral that only got worse. The guys in the thick of it, on the other hand, had pretty consistent times up that climb (+/- 1:40), every time.

As ever, I found another guy to ride with for the last few laps (Kevin Gibson, Waterloo Cycling Club, high five!), so at least I'm getting good at recruitment. But even then, when he wanted to race in the last couple of hundred meters to the finish ("It's a race after all," he said, and I totally agreed, goddamn it) I couldn't even muster up a decent fight to the line.

So I gutted it out and finished, which is its own kinda victory (mostly I was driven by not wanting to be the only guy on the team showing a DNF when we posted results on the club Facebook site on the following Monday). But I will admit I was dreadfully envious of my teammates who were in the thick of it til the end, and got to talk about it afterwards. I'm kinda done with moral victories.

This I think is the nature of races in Ontario.  Really, all it takes is to be 5 or 10 seconds slow on one of those climbs and it's over. For me, anyway. So, at least I know, unequivocally, what I need to work on. And I have the Flyers' own racing & training guru, Warren Shiau, on the case helping me out with workout suggestions.

In short: Hello, Brimley Hill!

* A small homage to the late, great Spalding Gray there. Anyone familiar with "Swimming to Cambodia" will know what I'm talking about.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Steve Bauer (Niagara) Classic: Effingham Still F-ing

The venerable Niagara Classic was re-christened The Steve Bauer Classic this year

Which was a nice touch and a tip of the hat to a local guy who was only one of the greatest cyclists Canada ever produced. Steve himself was fully in attendance, running stuff and presenting prize vegetables at the podium ceremonies (the lead sponsor was a hydroponic farm company, prompting many to comment that the prize pack might have benefited from some other type hydroponic vegetation along with the admittedly gorgeous sweet peppers); and if he had a hand in changing the finish to the top of Effingham, I would add that he's not only a great cyclist, but also a sadistic bastard.

We also got some nice team results on this one, with Dan Donovan coming in 2nd and Mike Fawcett 11th in M3; Chris D was 27th in E4; Nat Wise got 5th in E3 Women (in her first race!) and Molly Mac got 19th.
Dan gets 2nd (w/ manspreading from #1)

Different day, same result (64th of 70). 
As for me, I'd like to make excuses on this one and I have a few; like: I had a crappy night's sleep, there was a long delay to the start that killed my warm-up, and (yet again) I ended up starting too far back in the paddock, and so had the feeling that I was pretty much beat before it even started. That is exactly the feeling that beats you on a hill, and there were six climbs of Effingham on tap, so I was feeling the dread of the pre-beaten well before the horn went off to start this one. At least the neutral start really was a neutral start (unlike the lemming stampede of previous years), with everybody gathering at the foot of Effingham, wheeling neutrally up to the top, and then starting from there.

According to Strava, the climb on that neutral start was my second-fastest time up Effingham. Which is a good indicator of how the rest of it it went.

Nat (left) receives the Ceremonial Vegetables
If there's one single lesson I've learned from my meagre racing experience, it's this: The peloton is the place to be. Lap One, it's great, I'm in there in the mix, but on the first Effingham climb I skidded back in the pack, but stayed on. On the second Effingham climb I had almost no cushion of riders to pass me and still stay in the pack. I lost contact near the summit of the hill, and watched helplessly as the last guy attached slowly wheeled away from me down the long, fast, back side of the climb. No way to catch up; I'm gassed and the peloton travels way faster as a group on downhills. Crap. Here we go. It's only Lap Three and and it's another goddamn time trial.

"C'mon. That's not a hill. That's a bump."
However, the other thing I've learned is: I'm probably not last. Which means there are likely a few other losers who have also been shelled out the back, and it's possible to get them working together and make the whole thing less painful and ignominious. So I didn't hesitate to take charge this time (unlike last year's fiasco riding with two goofs who didn't know what a paceline was). So when I tracked down two other riders, I got us organized rotating through 30-second pulls, and made introductions, and it actually worked pretty well. (Bauer was standing on the road halfway up Effingham on one of our climbs, and as the three of us struggled past him I have to say he looked decidedly unsympathetic to our plight. Just sayin'.) One of my crew bailed on the last lap for some reason, but the other (Renson Clouden, Independent, shout-outs) stayed with me til the end (actually rode away from me on that damn climb to the finish), and there's no doubt that we both did better as a result. And y'know, there's some fun in that kind of instant camaraderie.

But that damn climb...
OK I'm gonna do this bastard race one more time, next year. For my pride, if not for the vegetables.
And I'm gonna come prepared.

Mid-Week Crits: Facing My Critophobia

The first race I ever considered doing was the Springbank Crit

...back in 2013, the year I joined the Flyers. It was near the end of the OCUP season, and late enough, I figured, for me to get my fitness somewhat up to speed. (HA. Little did I know.) Anyway, one of the more experienced racers on the team, Jorge, just looked at me and said, "No. You don't want to do Springbank as your first race." He was a laconic guy and a bit of a hard-ass, and said no more, but then I looked into it and realized a) Springbank was a criterium race (had to figure out what that was) and b) on the Ontario road racing circuit it's known by nicknames like Bloodbank and Crashbank, and a good few terrabytes of YouTube is taken up with crash footage from the race. One of those clips from the M3 race is described by the poster as "Lovely sunny day, overshadowed by the scariest race I've ever been in." That was the 2013 race I was told not to try. OK, thanks Jorge, good call.

So I've sort of had a phobia of crits ever since. There are a few of them in the OCUP schedule, and not racing them really cuts into the available menu of races in the season. The Mid-Week Cycling Club here in Toronto runs a weekly Tuesday-night crit series that goes from late Spring through the Summer, and I had never got up the gumption to go try one – even though it's perfect race practice. But surrounded by the newly invigorated Dark Horse Flyers team, I decided to give it a shot. I figured if it started to look too hairy I'll just bail. No need, it turns out. Great race, lots of fun (very well organized, shout to the Mid-Week crew), and like Calabogie, I got a 00:00 finish (19th place). Which for me is practically miraculous. But super fun to be in the mix and actually racing; I even took a brief flyer off the front because for once I was actually in a position to try it. Cool.

Cornering at the Mid-Week Crits, without incident.

Keep Calm, and Ride Crits
So while I remain wary of crits, looking at this and Calabogie, they may be my best bet for the elusive single OCUP point. But that is probably for next season. And in retrospect, I'm jealous I didn't race Springbank this year, as this year's Flyers had pretty good, non-crashy results there, including an awesome win for Molly Mac. In the end, I will get to it, but probably not before I get to a certain level of comfort in racing. Which is getting a lot better; I feel a lot more loose and relaxed in the peloton, and the pre-race is much less tense. Once I get to the point where I'm chill enough to get my breathing under control, I think I'll be there.