11
Feb
09

Alsatian Country Road Race

Sorry this continues to drag out. I had a discussion with Katy yesterday, and both of us are still pretty wiped out from the weekend. I’ve had some poor workouts since Monday, and while I’m inspired, my heart and legs are just whipped. Still, I know it’s going to get better. I just need to balance things out, get some regular sleep, and get outdoors some.

The Alsatian Road Race on Sunday had the Cat 3’s starting at High Noon. The wind that I had complained about on Saturday was even worse on Sunday, and while the terrain was gently rolling, the wind was right out of the South, blowing at a minimum of 15 knots, with gusts up to 25, later 30. We had a neutral roll out through town, and soon after we left the city limits, the fight was on.

The outbound leg was on the TT course, with a set of descending rollers backed up by the wind, so we were humming along at 30-35mph in a pack of 45-50 riders. There were a few faux attacks, but quickly a Moritz rider and a TxTough rider, I think, got away and were soon 1, 2, and then 3 or more minutes up the road. THEN we started these turns in to a strong crosswind, and everyone got guttered.

Let me sidetrack a little bit. There’s a real art to guttering a peloton. The lead rider basically rides about 2 to 5′ from the yellow line, allowing maybe one or two riders behind him some shelter, but everyone else is strung out, fighting for a visual wheel that actually provides zero shelter. The smart thing to do is to form another echelon, but it rarely happens, especially in the amateur categories. I’ve set up a second echelon before, and I have actually done it in recent months, but when you’re racing, it’s just sort of the last thing to come to mind. However, I have a tendency to ride at or near the front, in order to avoid crashes, respond better to attacks, and maybe, just maybe, make my own breaks occur. So when I pull, I usually allow for at least 5 other riders to echelon behind me, and I take strong, steady, long pulls, just so no one can claim that they never saw me at the front. When I pull off, I usually verbally ask if I can take #5, and honestly, they usually let me in. But they ain’t no 5-man echelons in racing crosswinds when I’m not pulling. Theyr’e just gutterfests.

The pack got guttered. Within 15 miles, we were down to 30 riders in the lead pack, with 2 off the front. Over the course of 2 hours, it was winnowed down to 15, including the break, which we caught at lap 2.5 with me pulling.

Let’s sidetrack again and have a little chat about strategy. I witnessed some real racing this weekend, most of it having something to do with teams and leadership and tactics of the moment. It made the rest of us work that much harder.

Moritz had three riders, all of whom were strong. San Jose had at least 3 riders, again, all of whom were strong. TXTough had at least two strong riders. OKC Velo had two strong riders. There was a team from somewhere in white and red jerseys, and they were, you guessed it, two strong riders.

When the break went, it was a Moritz cyclist and a guy from that red and white team. Their teammates did everything they could to block, break up the echelon, break up the paceline, etc. Scott from Moritz was a genius. He randomly launched attacks that were strong and popped quite a few riders, only to come back to the pack and slow us down. It drained our collective energy. When he pulled, he pulled slow. He pulled short. He basically banked his arsenal and waited. When we pulled the break back in, one of the other Moritz riders went off the front and took some guys with him. This went on and on, until finally, with less than 12 miles to go in the race (I like to call it “Running out of real estate”), Moritz, San Jose, and one other team launched what basically became the winning break. I’d been chasing breaks all day, trying to get riders to work together, and trying to forge alliances, but when the chips fell, I was tired and my legs were cold. I missed the break. I lost the race.

Team identity is sort of like fraternities at WASP colleges. Everyone’s pretty much the same, but your colors dictate the terms. You can be friends in class, friends outside of class, but when push comes to shove, you look at your “Brother” first, and your college buds second. Riding for Mirage, I may as well have been a “GDI”. Just like yesterday, I rode hard, I rode fast, I took risks, but I played my hand too early, and while I finished strong and just 5 seconds behind the lead pack that was behind the lead 3, it was not good enough for a placing. I would have thought that perhaps my ‘strength’ in hills (this was a 2-minute hilltop finish at 4%) would have allowed me to at least finish with the pack, but dammitall, when push came to shove, I was spit out the back like a watermelon seed at the State Fair. I was picked apart well before the finish by some excellent teamwork from two or three teams. Kudos were had at the finish, but kudos again won’t get you points for the upgrade. So once again, I question whether this team affiliation is worth it.

There was an incident again with David. On one section, something happened where he was at my 11 o’clock, and he either braked, or looked left and drifted right, and he put his rear wheel right in to my fork. I braked, someone hit my rear derailleur, and then the guy behind him went ass over teakettle and ended up breaking a collarbone. NUTS. I certainly know how that feels. It’s not painful so much as it’s knowing that you can’t put pressure on the handlebars. Tyler Hamilton pulled it off, finishing 4th in the TdF in ’03, but he ground his teeth to the root in the process and had to get them all capped. After the race was over (David had actually won the field sprint, but was relegated to 25th), he was incredibly remorseful. The other riders, however, were without shame as they verbally threatened him with harm if he caused another crash. I know emotions get high after a race. Heck, I’m one of them, but you don’t threaten someone with harm over what is essentially an accident in a hobby activity. The right guys won, the official relegated David for acting like a squirrel, and he and I spoke to each other immediately afterward, and he asked for my help in improving his skills. So the situation essentially resolved itself. I’m hoping he can meet up with me on Saturday.

I know this is getting choppy, and I’ve replayed a bunch of the events in my head, but now with a few days’ distance and rest, I’m pretty philosophical about it. I rode myself in to the ground, I played hard, and I engaged in the moment. A Sports Psychologist I worked with said that one time Andre Agassi was so in to a game, that when the opposing player had to default due to an injury, Agassi was so in to the moment, so in to the act of playing the game, that he basically didn’t want it to end, or even end that way. He tried to cajole the guy in staying on the court. He offered him points, serves, games, even a set, just to keep him on the court. I don’t know how it was resolved, but for me, those 3 hours that I was out there on the chess board of the Cat 3 peloton, I was living in the moment. I could hear my breath, even in the wind. I could feel my outsized heart thumping against my ribcage. I could feel my legs as the strained and stretched the chain. I heard the gears shift on my own bike and others’. I talked. I gasped. I joked. I coerced. I encouraged.

I coached.

I’m not a professional cyclist. I’m a cycling professional. My field is coaching, and as an athlete, I coached myself, I learned, and I intend to apply those lessons to others in the future.

I’ll throw in numbers and details later. I better git. 0430 beckons.

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