Sunday, 9 August 2009

A return to cycle racing

Week one of shorter, but more frequent posts to my blog. Pics are Jim's, as usual.

Being done with IMLP but with lots of time before IMH, I decided that I should get back into cycle racing again. My last race was over two months ago, and one thing I've noticed is how my 1-minute and 5-minute peak power have dropped, not to mention how rusty my "feel" on the bike has gotten at high speed, in tight corners, and around other bikes in the bunch. As well, my FTP could use some rebuilding after several weeks of Ironman taper and recovery. And cycle racing is just plain fun and a great workout! So with that in mind, I was off to Dunsfold Park this morning for the women's cat 3/4 Surrey League race.

Leona and I warm up in the shadow of a giant 747

Dunsfold Park is also serves as the test track for the TV show Top Gear. In fact, our finish line is the very same as the one for "Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car". Today's course around the airfield was slightly shortened and modified, turning us up the main runway (car tire donuts could be seen everywhere) and back down the outside. I never realised how massively wide an airfield runway is, and how long/large the paint patches have to be to read them from the sky. Of course, the crosswind meant that 60-odd cyclists were strung out in a line along the grassy edge of this 45-metre wide stretch of perfect tarmac, but it wouldn't be bike racing if someone wasn't riding onto the grass in a panic.

Dunsfold 4ths 3-4 W race 09-08-2009
Dunsfold Park Aerodrome

Only five women showed up for the women's race, so we decided to join the men's 4th cat race instead. Probably less of a workout for me, but certainly better for getting the rust off my racing skills. Everything went well, with some attacks getting away but always been dragged back. About 25 minutes into the race, I found myself near the front on the sharpest corner and coming out of it I was in a group of five or six guys pulling pretty hard. I pulled through, a couple of guys sprinted by me and I realised we had a bit of a gap on everyone else. I kept riding hard, and just when I started to flag, someone new would bridge across to me, giving me a wheel to sit on and catch my breath for a few seconds. A hundred metres ahead of us was the strongest break of the day, four guys who were working well together. By now a few guys had managed to bridge over, so I decided to go for it and pedalled my heart out for several minutes trying to reach them. But it was like paddling in a strong upstream current towards a bridge: you can see it there, it's kind of getting closer, yet you seem to be making no quick headway. After a while, I realised the rest of the bunch had caught me and was happily sitting on my wheel as I put out 275 watts... yes, did I mention my race smarts were a bit rusty too?

Should have realised that I was already caught here, but my head's still down!

After that, I mostly hung in the bunch, tried to move up before the corners and accelerate smoothly out of them. A dead-flat course with a 90-degree corner at one end and a 135-degree corner at the other made more interesting by traffic cones narrowing the road and some large potholes; I was not in my element. We had dropped two of the women, leaving three of us in the main group when the last break was reeled in a few laps before the finish. The two ladies had been joined by a couple of guys who'd also been dropped, and they were working together as a tidy foursome. The only problem was, we lapped them just as we crossed the finish line for what I thought would be the bell lap (the lap counter had been displaying '3' two laps previous). And the bell rang, sort of. The lap counter now said 1. A few of us looked at each other and asked "so is this the last lap then?" And suddenly the whole bunch sped up, so we did too. Coming around the final sharp corner, I was on my teammate Leona's wheel but she had picked a bad line on the windward side of the course. Wheels were going by me on the leeward side, so I jumped onto one and started moving up the field. With 100m to go, I noticed the third woman ahead of me but catchable, though that meant giving it full-bore and standing up to sprint past her. Which I did... just in time to hear the bell ringing again, signifying the real last lap.

Ian (far left) sprints for second

Being so out of touch racing-wise, it didn't really occur to me that the bell was ringing until the bunch shot past me and a gap opened up. Leona rode up beside me and we both cursed the air blue over the confusion, and our own idiocy being caught out. Well, nothing to do but try to catch the bunch and latch back on. We both worked pretty hard up the runway straight, but by then my heart wasn't in it. Came around the final corner (again!) and Leona went for the sprint while I sat up and threw my hands in the air. Disappointing 3rd place for me, about 50th overall. Later I learned that the bell and lap counter had been for the group we were lapping (why those four riders should take precedence over the entire bunch is something I didn't get to ask the race organiser). Oh well, that's cycle racing I guess. Next time I'll be more aware of bells and riders.

Not happy at the finish!

The best part of the day, though, was hearing my Kingston Wheelers teammate Ian -- he of the strong steady wheel and awesome slipstream -- came 2nd overall and has now moved up to join Jim in the 3rd cats. Leona got enough points to move into 2nd cat and I'm now only 25 points away from 2nd cat myself. Not sure if it's worth really pursuing that promotion before the end of the season (rankings in regional women's cycle racing up to 1st cat seem somewhat arbitrary anyway, as points are given out for the top ten in every race and there are barely ten women in any given race), but it does give me a reason now to race at some of the other local circuits I haven't made tried yet, just to pick up points! Feels good to be back racing again.


Judith said...

Hate that. The Masters Nationals two years ago, we got 3 laps to go where I thought I would have an attack and rest in on the second last lap, but we got the bell next...huh???? my race plan was does happen and not many girls were impressed we went from 3 laps to go to bell lap...(what happened to two laps to go?).....Not being a great sprinter I think I rolled in at the back of the bunch

Groover said...

Love that shot with you two in front of the 747.