Monday, 17 May 2010

Pack Fill redux

Last year I wrote about my first men's cat 3 race, a great experience where I was happy to finish in the bunch though upon reflection I knew I was just pack fill. And I thought to myself at the time, "enough of this! from now on I will ride at the front, attack when I can and make a difference in my races!" Ha ha.

To be fair, I haven't done a bad job at this, at least in women's races. In men's races my prime objective is to 1) hang with the front group as long as possible, followed by 2) not get dropped by the main bunch, and 3) get a really good workout and test my limits. But in women's races, my aims are higher. Obviously, I'd like to 1) win, but failing that, I'd be happy to 2) get on the podium, 3) make the break, or 4) do something memorable. Sunday's Hillingdon Grand Prix women's race was one of those where I did none of the above, and my mediocre performance led exactly to what it deserved: a mediocre result.

Well, maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself. It was a national series race, which turned out to contain half the elite riders in the country, most of the Olympic Development Team, plus various world track champions past and present. The course is the least technical around, with wide sweeping corners and barely 5m of altitude change per lap. In fact, it's the very same course that lulls average 3rd and 4th cat men each week into believing they are good racers because they can hang onto the bunch for an hour "saving themselves" for a finishing sprint they have no hope of winning. And I'm all of 5-foot-2 and 53kg, with a nearly-middle-aged crash-wary body, lacking the drive to claw my way up the bunch for what would be at best a 15th place finish in the final sprint. So my only hope in such a race is to attack early and often, try to get a gap, try to get someone to join me, and hope we can stay away.

But did I do that? No. I watched and waited, saw a few other strong riders try to make a break for it and told myself "if it sticks, I'll bridge". It never stuck and they always came back. The primes every few laps did nothing to help us there, as the big sprinters -- also strong riders -- knew they'd make an easy £20 every time if they kept it together. Why work harder than you need to?

Two girls take advantage of a couple of lapped riders to make a go of it, what I should have been doing.

With two-thirds of the race gone, I had moved up to the front fifteen in the bunch in preparation for another prime, wondering if this would be the one that opened a gap and divided the bunch into two. And it almost happened, six of the strongest contenders went for the prime and kept going, and I instantly knew I had to join them, now or never. So I dug in, sprinted away from those behind me and made sure nobody was on my wheel, got over to the six girls... just as they sat up. The End.

Where's Maryka? Safely in the middle of the bunch! zzzz

Ten laps later and I, deflated and jaded, lacking any motivation to have a go myself and no longer wanting to fight to maintain my position in the bunch, had drifted back to 30th or so for a while. Then two laps to go and I wondered if I took a flyer off the bunch at the bell, would I be allowed to get a gap and maybe ride away with it, everyone thinking I'd blow up long before the finish? Probably not but at least I'd come away accomplishing #4, something memorable. But it was too late, I was well back and there was no way I'd get up the bunch in time to try it. And the bell went and I rode around at a slightly higher speed and effort than I had most of the day but made up no places and rolled in for 33rd in the end. Power numbers read 180 watts average and 205 watts normative power -- far from what I can do in a 68 minute race.

Just another easy day on the bike from the look of it. You have to look pretty far down to the bunch to see me on the right-hand side. Oh yes, the girl crossing the finish line is already 11th.

Lessons learned:
-- crits are not my thing
-- non-technical crits are definitely not my thing
-- position maintenance is incredibly mentally tiring
-- it's hard to unleash a sprint from 30th place and achieve anything
-- next time I should just put my entry fee directly into the pockets of the prime and race winners and not bother racing! and just hit the pub instead.

I can see, however, that crit racing would definitely appeal to some kinds of folks, and frankly I'm surprised that I don't bite harder on them, what with my background as an ice hockey player. Contact sports, I love 'em! But somehow contact with people on expensive bikes going all out at 50km/h with nothing but hard asphalt to answer to if a mistake is made doesn't quite entice me the same way. I'll stick to the hills I think.


At least my day, mediocre as it was, ended with me and my bike upright. Not so lucky for Rapha's CJ Boom who was part of a 3-rider crash and lived to tell about it. Best wishes to her and to Cassie Gledhill who came off the worst and was taken away by ambulance (she's home now with broken ribs and shoulder injury).


Owen said...

"position maintenance is incredibly mentally tiring"

I'll second that

Nick Franzini said...

I'll third it - still not really cracked it...