Thursday, 13 August 2009

Crystal Palace

Watch that pedal strike (and the tongue won't help in a crash!)

In my quest to get enough points for cat 2 and to visit all the race circuits around London in the meantime, I headed to Crystal Palace on Tuesday evening for their weekly race. It's by far the best atmosphere I've seen yet for a cycle race: lots of folks on the grass lounging around and chatting, a course that only takes about two minutes to ride per lap, and sunny weather that's the requirement for the race to run (too slippery and dangerous if it's raining). Apparently the women's race tends to attract pretty low numbers, so it was nice to see a dozen of us on such a beautiful late summer evening lining up at the start.

Early on and we're already chasing escapees

The Palace is more crit-like than any other circuit I've raced, save the Nocturne: a 1.3km course consisting of a 50-metre straightaway after the start, then a sharp 180-degree turn, a quick little twisty downhill, a long 180 degree corner, and a draggy uphill before a flat finish. The course is wide enough to allow overtaking, though with three groups racing (women's, men's cat 3/4, and men's cat E/1/2) it can be a little crowded at times -- as evidenced by the guy who swung wide into me on the corner and hit my front wheel, nearly taking me out! But as I proved at the Smithfield Nocturne, my cornering is pretty awful, and my descending and cornering combined is even worse, so even though I'd ridden a few laps in warm-up, I had no doubt that I wouldn't be going off the front anytime soon, if ever. And in 23 laps at Crystal Palace, I swear the lap counter said 14 before I even felt comfortable in the drops, not braking, and managing to lean my bike into the turns! The good news is that by the end, I sort of had it worked out, though I had to keep shouting to myself "lean! lean!" on every lap and focussing on weighting my right leg as much as I could for those left-hand bends. But for my first time at the Palace, I wasn't disappointed with how I rode.

Following Rachel's line, I'm getting better at the lean

I'd read some other reports of how this race usually goes down -- a strong rider goes from the off and manages to stay away the whole race -- but with Charlie Blackman out of town, it was going to fall to someone else this time. I thought, "if only I can keep her in sight, whoever she is, til my legs come around in the second half, then maybe we have a chance to get some ground back." Little did I know the effect the men's race overtaking us every 7-8 laps would have. Basically I learned from the wrong end the prime rule for racing at the Palace if you're in the women's race: get a bit of a gap, hold it as best you can, let the draft from the overtaking men's races give you a little boost to get even further ahead, then repeat seven laps later. Not sitting on wheels, mind you (that's not allowed), but just using that massive pack of guys to disappear from the sight of the women chasing you. I must admit I tried to do that myself when the guys came around -- use them to get a bit more speed and momentum to make catching our ladies' break easier -- but by then it was too late. If someone's away by the time the guys come around the first time, you can pretty much plan to see her at the finish line unless she either punctures or blows up.

Trying not to lose touch on the downhill

The effort is starting to show for all of us

Is that a grimace?

Still, a race at the Palace turned out to be the best 51-minute workout I could have asked for. Once I settled in (took me a good half-hour as usual -- and I'd ridden an hour to the race as warm-up!) I sat a lot on the front and drove the pace up the hill in particular. One of the two girls who went off the front was brought back; the other was too strong. I didn't trust my legs to try to get away myself, so I just worked hard and brought our group of 11 down to six by the finish. My teammate Leona and I -- both of us never having raced there before -- didn't have any kind of plan, so it came down to a bunch sprint. I knew that there'd be at least one person trying to come around and outsprint me at the finish, and given my awful acceleration and sprint power, I knew I had to use my head instead of my legs. Coming up the final hill, I was caning it quite hard but eased off just before the top, thinking I could jump on the inevitable wheel when it came around, but I mistimed it and she was by me before I knew it. A valiant effort to get on her wheel, but I ran out of road and finished a bike length behind, 3rd place overall.

Leona and I both have rental powermeters on our road bikes so we've been comparing power data lately. We're about the same weight, though she's taller and younger and I've been cycling for longer. Still, thanks to Leona's recent push into training and racing hard, we're remarkably close: FTP, top-end watts, even heart rate. It's interesting to break down the differences in our Crystal Palace race.

Entire workout (207 watts):
Duration: 51:29 (51:33)
Work: 640 kJ
TSS: 85 (intensity factor 0.996)
Norm Power: 234
VI: 1.13
Pw:HR: 5.2%
Pa:HR: 3.09%
Distance: 30.413 km
Elevation Gain: 683 m
Elevation Loss: 682 m
Grade: 0.0 % (1 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 678 207 watts
Heart Rate: 123 187 175 bpm
Cadence: 38 170 101 rpm
Speed: 0 60.9 35.4 kph
Pace 0:59 0:00 1:42 min/km
Altitude: 73 99 87 m
Crank Torque: 0 89.7 19.3 N-m

Entire workout (204 watts):
Duration: 51:32 (52:41)
Work: 630 kJ
TSS: 94.9 (intensity factor 1.051)
Norm Power: 231
VI: 1.14
Pw:HR: 5.25%
Pa:HR: 1.58%
Distance: 19.018 mi
Elevation Gain: 1504 ft
Elevation Loss: 1467 ft
Grade: 0.0 % (38 ft)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 624 204 watts
Heart Rate: 117 188 175 bpm
Cadence: 31 182 91 rpm
Speed: 4.6 41.4 22.1 mph
Pace 1:27 13:03 2:43 min/mi
Altitude: 219 303 266 ft
Crank Torque: 0 1303 187 lb-in

-- FTP: judging from this race, I think Leona's FTP is probably higher than the 220 she's got in WKO+. In fact, given that Crystal Palace is the kind of course where you don't get much rest (sprinting out of corners, riding uphill, even blasting downhill to catch up to faster descenders), I'd say that if we'd ridden another 9 minutes to bring the race to one hour, her NP wouldn't have been much lower than 231. My tested FTP on my road bike is 235, and both my perceived exertion in the race and the numbers show that that figure is probably still about right.

-- Work: according to the kJ spent by each of us, I did more "work" per se, even though the overall training stress score (TSS) for me is lower than for Leona. This is because TSS is directly related to FTP -- the higher the FTP, the lower the TSS for the same training session, all other things being equal. The reason I burned more kJ is because I sat on the front of the group more and didn't draft as much behind other riders.

-- zero watts: what you can't see in the data summary above is how much time we both spent freewheeling, or producing fewer than 20 watts. According to Coggan and Allen's book, "most winning road racers do not pedal at least 15 percent of the time". Looking at our cadence distribution charts, I pedalled for 86% of the race at Crystal Palace, but Leona managed to pedal only 80% of the time. Again, this shows how much she was drafting and how much I wasn't -- and in fact, how much smarter she raced because of it! Maybe if I'd pedalled less, drafted and conserved more, especially in the last lap or two, I would have been the one coming around the others to sprint to the win. Or maybe not...

In any case, both Leona and I are signed up for a men's cat 3 race this coming weekend (Jim and a bunch of other Kingston Wheelers will join us), and you can bet that both of us will be doing as little work as possible!


Jim said...

I thought you and Leona were racing to sit at the front, control the race and pull all the breaks back? To save the rest of us to set a hard tempo on the last lap and lead out our sprinter for then win?

maryka said...

Um.... think again. :)

Mum said...

It appears from the photos that most of the corners are right hand turns? Do you usually race clockwise as opposed to anti-clockwise? I would have thought (or is it because in Canada we drive on the "other side of the road")that the left-hand turn would be easier??

maryka said...

In open road races in the UK, nearly all the corners are left-hand turns to make it easier to marshal (the racers not having to cut across traffic), so the routes are always anticlockwise. Crystal Palace and other closed circuits often have a mix of left- and right-hand bends, but they still seem to be run anticlockwise for the most part.

One of the weirdest things I had to get used to living in the UK was that *people* usually walk on the "wrong" side as well -- going up/down stairs, on narrow sidewalks, etc. I'm used to it now, but at first it was a bit awkward bumping into people all the time!

Anonymous said...

Maryka, thanks for your intelligent comment posted on The Science of Sport's blog post "caster-semenya-male-or-female". It's amazing how much alarm Dr. Tucker seemingly created by listing all the doctors it would take to determine whether or not an athlete is "entirely female", yet he's included very few facts. Your specific question, asking how an association decides, brings to a point what Dr. Tucker's missed: what are the rules? He's raised the vague question, but hasn't helped answer it. To the contrary: he's apparently made up his own (unspecified) criteria for what "you have to" do, namely "make use of internal medicine specialists, gynecologists, psychologists, geneticists and endocrinologists". And what questions do each of them answer? He doesn't say.