Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 Tour de Champaign

It has been a while since I have posted a race report or a blog of any sort. I have found it a challenge to allocate time to blogging. In the past, I have always been too much a perfectionist in searching for the right words, adding relevant links, and embedding lots of pictures. All that takes time and can be draining. Going forward, my first priority will be to simply record my thoughts. If there is any time left, I'll make them look prettier. I find the race reports especially useful to review when I return to a race I have done before and I hate that there is a 2 year gap in the record. It's good to try to learn from past experience and improve next time.

The weekend of May 21-22 marked the third edition of the Tour de Champaign criteriums. I missed racing on Saturday for my kids' birthday parties, but I served as a volunteer course marshal for the masters, cat 3, and Pro/1/2 races.

First up for me on Sunday was the Masters 4/5 30+, the old and slow race. There were only 14 riders in the field, which featured 6 Wild Cards (Dan, Art, Karl, John, Jim, and me). I tried to get away early, but it wasn't an overly ambitious attack. I was mostly just trying to open up my legs and test the other teams and I was brought back after 1/2 lap or so. At that point, there were only 7 left in the lead pack, but two teammates were still around: the big diesel engines of Jim and John. I went to the back to rest. A few laps later, 2 riders jumped off the front (Frank from Team Mack and Jon from Bloomington Cycle). Jim was in a position to follow and I paused a bit to see how he would respond. He tried initially, but didn't have the legs to stay with it. I had mostly recovered, so I bridged up. Frank and Jon welcomed a third set of legs because they were a little tired. With 3 of us pulling, all would be guaranteed a podium as long as nobody quit. We worked well together and did about equal work, but I was tiring toward the end and my pulls didn't feel particularly strong. In the end, they were good enough to keep us in front. I pulled the 2nd to last lap (or was it the 3rd to last), then dropped to the back. I came around the last corner in third wheel, facing a headwind sprint. I came around Jon and was able to nip him, but Frank was a bike length or so ahead of me. Ironically, we finished from oldest to youngest. (I thought young guys made better sprinters, but maybe I will get faster with age.) I was my first podium in a crit (or anything other than TT and tri), so I was pretty happy.

Here is my race profile. I reached 180 bpm on the final sprint, which was into a stiff headwind and slightly uphill.

Scott (2nd), Frank (1st), and Jon (3rd)

Jennifer and the kids made it downtown after church to watch me in the cat 4 race, which was fast from the start. The field was modestly sized at 21 riders, but had several 18-24 year-olds who had not yet raced that day (and sadly, no Wild Card teammates.)

Cat 4 Start

About 20 minutes into the race, there was a group of 3 off the front and the main pack was crumbling. (I think it might have been two leaders and one chaser, but there were a total of 3 up the road.) The pace stayed high for a while, and I mostly dangled at or near the rear of the main pack, while riders were popping off at a rate of about 1 per lap.

Early in the race, it is already getting hard

Just when I was about ready to pop myself, the race miraculously slowed. At that point, there were 7 left in my group. Later, with about 6 laps to go, 3 guys jumped out of the group, trying to bridge to the leaders. That shattered the group and I wound up in the middle with Jacques from xXx, while the other 3 dropped behind us. Jacques was a little stronger than me, but not strong enough to follow the attack or try to bridge. He worked with me (and probably did 2/3 of the work) until the second turn on the final lap, at which point he simply rode me off his wheel. No one was threatening me from behind and I was really feeling the effects of the heat, so I soft pedaled home into 7th. (There were actually 7 ahead of me, but one of the leaders crashed out on the last lap.)

As a bonus, Jennifer and the kids were in the race coverage that aired on the 10 pm TV news (WCIA channel 3). They were shown close-up, watching the race from a sidewalk bench.

Here is my cat 4 race profile. Note the pace of the first 15 laps or so, followed by the relative calm. No sprint in this race, but I stayed north of 170 bpm for most of 44 minutes of racing.

Saturday results - lots of Wild Cards represented, including 8 in the cat 4/5 race. Nice job Luke taking 5th in a big field. Props also to Jason and Jim for pulling double duty.
Sunday results

Lunch Downtown at Guido's - more pictures

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Madness Indeed

The forecast for Sunday, May 15 called for pain. Rainy and cold conditions would smoother most of Illinois, and Effingham would not be spared. The evening before, Martin, beset with visions of hypothermia and pneumonia, and the possibility of only his buoyant wetsuit keeping him from sinking to the bottom of murky Lake Sara, cautioned that he might become a spectator to the suffering of the May Madness Sprint Triathlon. I only half-jokingly considered doing the entire race in my wetsuit. Any day that my furnace kicks on is not one that I would choose to ride dripping wet and wearing only a wafer-thin tri suit. In the end, Martin and I are both competitors (who both dropped $65 in non-refundable race fees), so we decided to harden the #$%* up!

The water temperature was a chilly 67 degrees Fahrenheit and the racers had the beach to themselves. With the air temperature locked on 49 degrees throughout the day, northwesterly winds of 13 mph, and a driving drizzle that replicated the effect of being hit repeatedly with a giant pin cushion, the swim, with the aid of 5 mm of neoprene, would be by far the most pleasant part of the race.

The racers, 73 strong, started in a single wave. Usually a group this size would be broken into several start waves to limit the duration of the full-contact portion of the swim to about a minute or less, but the nice thing about a single start wave is that you always know the score. Anyone ahead of you on the course is ahead of you in the race. It would add intrigue to the intra-team rivalry between Martin and I, since I am a little better in the swim, we are about the same on the bike, and he is a little better in the run - usually. As the countdown began, I asked Martin to kindly not pass me until a mile into the run.

Needless to say, it was a little crowded in the water. I only got really clobbered once: a forearm to the thick part of the top of my skull. I have done at least one tri with a fat lip, which is no fun. One key, I've learned, is to ease up a bit when the bubbles get really big. Swimming in a crowd never feels really fast, especially when you have to keep your head up, but being pulled along with the momentum of human-generated current is usually not as slow as it feels. Just avoid getting boxed in by a group of really slow swimmers and letting a gap open to the pack you should be swimming in - not at all unlike road racing on a bike. I managed to get in the clear after the first turn in the triangular course, but Martin felt trapped until the final turn.

I exited the water in 7th place, with Martin 40 seconds back in 12th. It was my first race in a wetsuit. I had, of course, tried it on for size, but had never actually gotten it wet. I had no trouble finding the zipper and pulling the top off my shoulders. Sitting next to my bike in transition, I pulled it down to my knees, but then hit massive snags mid-calf on both sides. As I flailed away, kicking and screaming, Martin pulled up. "This has to be my worst T1 ever", I offered to Martin and anyone else unfortunate enough to hear. "This is not really a day to be fast", Martin replied. Both of us kept our gear inside totes with lids to keep the rain out. Anyone tough enough to not care would surely put seconds into both of us in triathlon's "fourth discipline." We also packed full-fingered gloves for the bike, but both abandoned the idea of pulling them on over wet hands. I left T1 52 seconds ahead of Martin and would not see him again until the bike turnaround. Martin started the bike just 2 seconds behind rival Eric, a tall dude in Decatur's Spin City Cycle suit, whose efficiency in transition would prove pivotal.

The wind and rain were certainly nasty, but the northwesterly orientation was nearly ideal. The bike course was mostly out and back, with a westward "out". Martin opted for the rear disk and I went with Zipp 404s, front and back. We both made the right decision for our comfort level in the crosswinds. I thought about dropping the pressure in my tires for the wet conditions, but given that there were only two 90 degree turns and one turnaround, I left it up at about 110 psi. I thought most of the course was smooth asphalt, from what we saw on the drive in. However, the smooth tarmac gave way to oil and chip after a couple miles, and I felt myself bouncing over the uneven surface quite a bit. Know the course, dummy.

We both passed most of the faster swimmers on the bike, but two guys stayed out in front the whole way. I was third heading into the turnaround and Martin was fourth, with Eric close behind. They both passed me shortly after the turnaround, but I kept it close and the three of us would enter T2 with less than 9 seconds of separation. At the last race, I nipped Martin by 19 seconds on the bike, which I chalked up to my having a rear disk and his not having one. Today, the equipment, and the tables, were turned - 60 seconds advantage to Martin. But setup doesn't explain it all; Martin rode harder this time. (Bike Profile)

Martin paused to put socks on for the run, a challenging test of motor skills with fingers numbed by weather and his blazing ride. I nearly forgot my Garmin and dropped several seconds going back for it. (I should have left it; there is no need to monitor lactate threshold in a sprint race, but I like to look at splits.) Mr. Spin City wisely did not mess around and exited T2 first among us. I followed 17 seconds later, with Martin another 4.5 seconds back. I went out at about a 6:50/mile pace, but with nagging Achilles tendinits (and a near total 3 week hiatus from run training), that was all I could do. Martin steadily accelerated and passed me within about 1/4 mile. I shouted, "Spin City is 46 (years old - in Martin's age group) - go get him!" The gap steadily grew though and Martin brought it home in 4th, 35 seconds behind Eric. I finished 39 seconds later for 5th. (Run Profile)

Transitions were the difference, at least for Martin. He beat Eric by 40 seconds in the combined swim, bike, and run, but gave 75 seconds away in the two transitions. I spotted Eric 50 seconds in transitions, but lost 3rd by a larger margin. Still, maybe I could have found inspiration to run harder if the deficit had been surmountable.

The first and second place finishers were really solid in all three phases. Guys like that are hard to beat and your only chance is if they have a bad day. They didn't. (Full results)

We will both stretch the distance for our June triathlons, but go our separate ways. Martin, gearing up for a return to Ironman Louisville, will return to Lake Sara for the Cutting Edge Half Classic and I will likely head to Missouri for the Quartermax. It is only fitting we would split the early season duel for the "Wild Card Cup."