Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A tale of two races

Sid Standard Memorial Race

Having had a little break from cycle racing the past few weeks for the marathon, I was eager to get back to it. Last week my monster 15 hours spent training (but the weather's just been too nice not to get out there and ride!) meant that Sunday's National Women's Team Series race just outside Nottingham would be an interesting test of the legs. As a member of the Surrey League ladies team, I was racing with a handful of other women from local clubs -- all of whom, like me, don't have enough teammates to put together their own teams -- for the first time this season. It's a team series, meaning that the top 4 results per team count toward the points ranking, and the final trophy goes to the winningest team rather than an individual (though each race rewards individual winners too of course).

The race started out fast with several riders on the front (most notably elite rider Charlie Blackman of the London Dynamo) driving the pace and controlling the attacks, but after four laps when it appeared that no cohesive break would stay away and the bunch was whittled down to 30 or so riders, things settled down a bit. On the sixth lap as we approached the main climb on the course, a little 500m 3% affair, I found myself at the front and decided to take a run at it and see what happened. I hit the climb hard and didn't look back til I got to the top -- much to my surprise, the bunch was more than 50 metres behind me! Unfortunately I was now descending into a crosswind so I tucked down and did my best, but after 2km the bunch came back (note to self for next time: if the motorcycle pulls in front of you, you've been caught and can stop working now).

The legs felt good though, almost like that little super-threshold effort woke them up, so I stayed near the front of the remainder of the race, hoping a late break would still materialise. My teammate Jen Hewitt had a few digs, as did some other riders, but again nothing stuck. So the flat finish meant a bunch sprint, where my skills are not particularly well-suited. Being a bit scared off by the argy-bargy and generally poor bike handling of the field in the final lap, I did not try to contest the sprint and instead just stayed safely out of trouble, finishing 23rd overall. The race was won by Laura Trott, the up-and-coming and talented junior who placed quite well at the recent KW Dunsfold 3rd cat road race. I discovered one of my teammates, Nikki Wheeler, can put in a sprint, so next time I'll know to try and help her out better if it comes down to a bunch finish. The photo above of Jen on the front with me a ways back in the bunch (both of us in white jerseys) is a pretty typical view of the Sid Standard race. The British Cycling write-up, where we both earned a nice mention despite finishing outside the top 20, is here.

But the truth is, for me to have any success at women's racing (or any racing for that matter), I need to create, join, or force a break to happen -- not solo! -- so I can put my ability to suffer at threshold for a long time to good use. Looking at my power profile according to Coggan, my five-second peak power is the equivalent of a lowly cat 4, and at one and five minutes I'm only a bit better at mid cat 2 level. It's power at FT where I'm strongest, as I'm putting out ~230 watts with my 54kg, making me a 4.25watts/kg solid cat 1 equivalent. And given what seems to be some hill climbing ability on steeper grades, I think I need to find some hillier races with better prospects for a break escaping and staying away til the finish. (As an aside, now that we've got our new Powertaps, I need to do another round of testing to make these numbers a little more firm and set myself some goals.)

Hillingdon Tuesday Night Series

Jim's been wanting to do some more racing, so despite a nice steady 90km ride on Monday afternoon that left our legs a bit tired, last night we headed over to the Hillingdon summer series (my favourite local circuit of all that I've raced so far) to take on the cat 4 race. I had been playing with the idea of entering the E/1/2/3 race as there's a £15 prize for the top female finisher, but once I got there and saw a) how huge the sign-on list already was, b) a well-known pro men's team warming up, and c) women's pro rider Leda Cox who would undoubtably take the prize money, I wisely decided that the cat 4 race was the way to go. And that way Jim and I could race together, a first!

All was going well, with both of us in the front 5-10 riders for most of the race. I had gone off at a good pace almost immediately, as the bunch had started so slowly that I feared a massive acceleration where I would not be able to grab a wheel, and ended up leading most of the first lap. Then the attacks started, but with a headwind going up the hill and a tailwind coming down the back straight, conditions were not great for a solo break to last. Jim bridged to (or chased down, depending on how you saw it) a London Dynamo rider but that didn't last, and he ended up on the front as the E/1/2/3 race stormed by. A few other guys put in some digs and the bunch always collected them back into the fold after half a lap or so. The E/1/2/3s passed us once again, rather scarily through the hairpin turns where a lot of riders have difficulty holding a line, but everyone made it through safely.

Around 15 laps into it, I put in some effort latching onto escaping riders, thinking that even though the sun was setting, there was a lot of time left in this one-hour race. That cost me as I had
slipped back to 15-20th place by the time we got to the lap board, and stupidly failed to notice that we were heading for the bell lap til the bell was actually ringing. Well out of position to do anything in the final lap, I tried valiantly to move up on the back stretch and nearly did it on the final corner, til the wheel I was following sat up and stopped working. Alas, unless I'm in the top 5 or so coming around that corner, I just don't have the power to put in a strong finish against the guys, so even though I got around him and got some speed up for the little climb, it was too late. To add insult to injury, some well-meaning guy who was determined to get 19th instead of 20th place muscled me over towards the grass in the final chicane, killing all my speed.

At that moment, I could see Jim ahead who was in a better position for the final sprint, but then a massive crash took down four guys right in front of him, so I slowed up completely and just rolled across the line (after I had a close look at the four downed riders and determined with relief that he wasn't one of them!) The crash looked nasty and I think one of the guys involved was a Twickenham rider that I'd already shouted at twice during the race to hold his line (the second time after he'd been weaving all over the back straight in an attempt not to do any work on the front and get people to come around him). Jim had to lean into a rider next to him to avoid riding over one of the downed rider's heads, but he stayed upright himself, though his sprint was finished.

I'm a bit annoyed with myself for missing the lap boards and losing focus right at the moment when I needed it the most, but given the crash, maybe I'm glad to have been in the back half of the pack towards the finish. It didn't look good and an ambulance with flashing lights turned into Springfield Rd as we were riding home, presumably to collect one of the victims. That's about the 3rd or 4th race I've done at Hillingdon that contained an ambulance-worthy crash, and I've only raced there 5 times! I wonder how long til the law of averages gets me. I definitely wish it could have been longer as my legs felt great and longer races suit me anyway. As it was, the one-hour came up a bit short, only 42 minutes which was about 17 laps, 38.6km/h avg speed.

I think some of the riders in our race could learn a thing or two from these guys on how to hold a line going up the final hill...

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