Monday, April 12, 2010

Cycling - The Hell of the North Bay

Paris - Roubaix took all the attention yesterday....rightfully so--it was an awesome race. It showed again why I love the Classics. 92km to go, in the Trouée d'Arenberg, and the eventual top 5 were "present and correct", to quote Paul Sherwen, in the top 5 positions of the lead group (I am conveniently ignoring the breakaway, which was already doomed).

But there was another Hell of the North going on yesterday--The Spring Hill Road Race, held west of Petaluma. And it at least featured weather worth of a Classic. It was 48º and raining steadily the whole morning. The night before I was planning to skip it, but in a burst of enthusiasm, I thought I should go ahead and experience a little bit of what a northern European spring race is like (minus the cobbles).

I was not even sure how to dress for such conditions. On a training ride, I would dress up in the nearest coffee shop until the rain stopped.

First, I oiled myself up like Pippo Pozzato with "warming oil" on my legs and back.

Then I wore a Rapha wool long sleeve undershirt, my jersey, and a Rapha rain jacket. I wore bibs and my Capo windstopper knee warmers on the bottom, along with shoe covers. I thought about wearing my Gore waterproof overshorts to keep from getting swamp ass, but thought I might be too warm.

I raced in the 35+ Cat 3/4 class--basically the slow old (but not really old) men. It is always fun to see the road jewelry in this class. These are guys with real jobs, and real credit cards, and they spend to go fast. I might have been the only guy on a metal bike, and there were lots of deep carbon wheels.

I had a short warmup because I was running late, and did not really get warm, but it was enough to keep from going into shock as we hit the first little hill right after the start. I let myself slide back through the pack of about 75 riders on the first couple of climbs because I wanted to warm up slowly. After two crashes in the first few miles, I decided that maybe I should be up front, and I spent the next lap and a half in the first 5 riders, doing a lot of work along the way.

There was a brief moment, about halfway into the first of the two 22mi laps, where I had finally warmed up and felt sort of comfortable. That was to be short lived, as the rain and road spray soaked through my shorts and knee warmers. Hmmm....should have worn the waterproof baggies. Or maybe more oil.

Conditions were sketchy, with slight flooding in some areas of the road. I decided that 75 people was too crowded and spent the next 45 mins working hard to blow the group apart. Lots of little accelerations and I cranked it up the climbs as we came through the start/finish again. The start/finish area is a great place to do damage to a pack on a miserable day. Faced with their warm car so nearby, many riders will abandon.

The efforts tired me out, but it kept me warm and safe, and cut the group to a manageable 20 riders. But, I was too tired to respond to what turned out to be the winning move with half a lap to go--dumb. No one else seemed to want to work at that point, and we watched the leaders slowly wander up the road. Frustrating.

I guess that is why I will never be a good racer. I want to ride hard. A lot of the guys just wanted to hide and then contest the sprint--though, to be fair, many probably just wanted to survive for a pack finish. At one point, with only 3 miles to go, I slowed to what felt like a crawl, and still no one would come around to break the wind. I sat up, hands off the bars, and just coasted for a bit. Then I waved my arm to invite someone to do some work. Saving all that energy, they got to sprint for 7th place. Approaching the line, my legs just would not answer the call for more power, and I was glad to be done. I think I got around 12th place, but it was hard to tell as different classes got mixed up at the end.

Three different guys came up to me afterwards to compliment me on how much work I had done, and ask me where I had placed. Hmmmm.....lots of work, no podium. Clearly I am not doing this right.

Being so cold made it feel like my legs were not working, but looking at the data, I actually did a lot of work. The cold just muddled the sensations. 320 watts normalized power means I basically ran at lactate threshold for over 2 hours. Of course, that is an average measure. The killer was all the little accelerations. I spent over 20 mins above 400 watts, and 34 mins between 300 and 400 watts. That is a lot of matches being burned, though obviously not at the right times.

It took over an hour for feeling to return to my toes...excuse me while I go check to make sure I still have 10 of them.

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