Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Joy of a Dirt Crit: Big Ring Rumpus Report;

Some guys complain about boring race courses. When its a cyclocross or mountain bike race they decry the parcours as a "dirt crit". The truth is that if you have time to enjoy the landscape, you may as well put on a pair of khaki cargo shorts and load the panniers, because you're touring, not racing. Steeper, twistier, or longer courses may favor some athletes. But true racers will fling themselves around the same flat 1km paved square for hours and find thrills. It is the competition, the strategies, the attacks, that make an event exciting;

The racers make the race.

The Big Ring Rumpus is unique on the north east circuit since it has no single track and no hills. If any race deserves to be called a "dirt crit", this one does. The course is a 4 mile, hard pack, 12 corner, double track speed fest. The only thing to slow anyone down is the loose 90 degree corners. It is the only mountain bike race where I've been tempted to bolt on aero extensions. The Rumpus means that drafting and sprint tactics win. It was a perfect race for me to test my post-crash form.

My strategy was to stay in front four and cover moves until 2 to go, then see if I had legs to make an attack. 18 guys started in the Sport Vet II field. My thinking was that the start might be like the photo above, so I slotted into the front row and got a good clip in off the whistle. I tucked in at second wheel for the first lap. The group cruised the course at a moderately high speed. At the start of lap two I punched up the pace for a few minutes before letting a couple of guys come around. We quickly settled into a tempo pace around the trtack. No one attacked hard, so we kept trading long pulls amongst 4 guys. 3 others rode dangling at the back of our bunch. I was not sure if anyone had legs to go hard, or if they were saving themselves for a final lap sprint. Everyone seemed to be riding near their limit, but sometimes its difficult to tell in the race. I kept myself in the front of the bunch in case someone attacked. I felt like I could go faster, but wanted to avoid cooking myself before the finish.

With two laps to go it was time to see if anyone had legs. I made a 90% effort attack up a little rise. I was able to get a sizable gap very quickly. I rode hard tempo for a few minutes to see if anyone would chase. After 3 minutes or so, a group of three was closing in. I latched on to the back and the pace slowed immediately. By the end of the lap, the group was back up to seven guys. No gain in reducing the bunch.

On the bell lap I worked to secure second wheel for the front half of the course. I waited to attack coming out of a big loose corner about 1km before the finish loop. I punched up a little speed bump and cranked the tempo. Just as the last corner was almost in sight, a White Mtn Velo racer edged past me, chugging like a freight train. I chased for his wheel, but could not get back around him before the finish line. 2nd place 2nd year in a row. The guy who won took no pulls until he chased down my attack. He played his cards very close to the vest, and very well. Perhaps I should have done the same, or attacked harder, or gone earlier, or ect. ect. ect.

I raced my plan and lost by a bike length. I was happy to have a nice fast race to test myself. We averaged just under 18 mph in 24 miles on mountain bikes! The elite field did a couple of 20 mph average laps. For the speed on dirt alone this race is a blast. The other reason is the turnout; between Chip Baker, the Rowells, Libby White, Mark Soups, Jack Chapman promoting, the Cambridge Bikes/ Boloco kids, JONNY BOLD & Wilichoski at the front of the elites, plus a cyclocross open division, it was a nice NECX reunion.
A reminder of the fun that awaits us in the fall.

Racers do make the race.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Krank the Kanc. I signed up for what?

It is no revelation that I am not a pure climber. In fact, I climb like a bowling ball, I climb like a box turtle, I climb like a narcoleptic hippopotamus. To be fair, I can climb hills on the bike, its just not pretty, or quick. But I have a bunch of team mates that really wanted to do Krank the Kanc. When the individual divisions filled in seconds, I signed up to do the 3 person team time trial. I just hoped that I would not be a ridiculous drag on my team's time.

The course itself is not a pure climb. The first 17 miles of the 21 mile course is a slight grade to actually flat. The race breaks down into 3 parts: the first 9 miles at a 2-3 grade is a big ring climb, the second part is the flat/downhill 7.5 miles, and then part three, the climb, 4.5 miles at 7%. Our game plan was to be as aero as possible for the first two sections. One of our team, Joe, rode his full TT bike. Dana was on a Cervelo Soloist w/ Zipp 404's.  We all ran aero extensions. I debated about using aero wheels (Hed 3's), climbing wheels (Dura Ace 24's) or something in between (Bontrager Carbon Aero's). The trade off between wheels being either fast on the flat or light for the climb. The plan was to do 2-3 minute pulls at threshold to maximize our speed on the first 2 parts of the course, then pace each other on the climb. I figured I might need a push or two.

Our course preview training convinced me that I would need the climbing wheels. Coming off three hard falls in two weeks, I just didn't have alot of power. I was barely able to do my pulls on the flat sections. On the hill, I was at only 80% of my typical slow climbing. So I only glued up the Dura Ace wheels, and hope I would do better on race day. Thankfully, we worked the pace line well on the flat sections, so I might get some recovery before the hill.

Race day I felt fresh. I had a good session of hill climbing the Wednesday before. My warm up was a little short, but adequate for an hour+ long time trial. Unfortunately, one of our team had a head cold. We held the tempo down a notch in the middle section of the race per his request. We pacelined together well, so we were still working our plan. Still, we started the climb a couple minutes behind our target time. We worked the climb at his pace. I felt like I could give a little more until the last km, then my calves cramped. I spun for a few seconds and pushed for the finish. We finished together, sprinting for the line.

We had caught both of the teams that started before us, but 12 teams started after us. So we got to sit at the top of the Kanc, munch on pretzels, and wait for the others to finish. (But no water?!? who puts out food at the end of bike race but no water?) We managed a 1:12:30, 3 minutes slower that we hoped, but a solid time. In the end it was good enough for 2nd place.  We also won the intra-squad contest for bragging rights by besting the other Team Alpine Clinic three-some.

We might have raced faster on the flat section, but we gave it what we could on the day. Dana and Joe are eager to see if we can do better next year. Perhaps more aero wheels would help our speed in the flats. And now my mates are eager to do Crank the Crawford as a team.
What have I gotten myself into?