Saturday, September 17, 2011

Folsom Cyclebration - Criterium & Circuit Race

September 17 & 18, 2011 -
Folsom, CA
Criterium, Cat 5 (40min) & Circuit Race, 35+ 4&5's (45min)
Crit - 15th, Circuit Race - 14th
(32nd in Cat 5 series & 28th in Cat 35+ 4&5's)
I arrive with plenty of time to warm-up, check out the course and be ready.  The only other crit I've done is the hilly, technical Auburn Criterium.  I've always had some concern for flat & fast crit courses.  Today's is a .6mi flat loop with gradual corners.
I'm glad my friend, Vince Hoffart, is here as he's always helpful in knowing what to prepare for.  He also fills me in on his tire failure in the last race we did together.  I know he's a good sprinter so his strategy today will be to focus on the last 2 laps.  For me, not having a powerful sprint, I think I will just try to keep the pace up so the group at least goes into the sprint spread out, giving me more of a chance.
Most racers warm up on wind trainers near their car.  I still prefer the old-fashioned way of riding 2011-09-18 001 2011-09-17 001around the neighborhood.  I head down Folsom Blvd, cut onto the American River Bike Trail and am enjoying the beautiful trail… while avoiding the many runners and bikers.  Before I know it I've gone too far and don't know where I am.  I go off-roading down a trail and pop back out on the main street and get back in time for the race.. with my heart beating a little faster.
Robin, Anna and Ariel are here now.. they're the best supporters!  They pray with me, take my extra gear and cheer to the start line.  Michael O'Rourke gives us pointers on how not to cause crashes (Cat 5's are the "beginners".. we need pointers).  And then we're off!
First I try to get comfortable with the group and the2011-09-18 001 2011-09-17 014 turns and changing positions.  All while trying to stay well in the draft to save energy.  Each time around I hear Anna, yelling the loudest, "Move up, Dad, you can do it!"  Even though the goal is usually to remain in the middle until the last laps, I'm going to have to do something impressive in front of her for all that cheering she's doing.
The first thing I try is pulling ahead in the 90 degree corner.  My strong point is corners and descending, but it's not going to help much today.  2011-09-18 001 2011-09-17 015I do get well ahead in the corner, hoping to tire the group by catching back up, but it's just too much work for the effect it has so I don't focus much on that plan.  Instead I try to stay near the front.   Chasing everyone moving up and sometimes pulling but only shortly.
I make sure to come through the finish in the lead sometimes which gets Anna all excited, although the pack knows that it doesn't mean I'm any closer to winning.  On the next lap I come through in 2nd place and Anna yells, "Get back up there Dad, you can do it!"   It makes me smile every time.  Bike racing is confusing enough for me, let alone a 6-yr old.  I can hear Ariel and Robin cheering for me as well but Anna's yelling 2011-09-18 001 2011-09-17 010instructions like she's got money on this race.
With 2 laps to go, Vince finally moves up near the front and the pace picks up.  I definitely want to be near the front as well.  I make a daring move across some bikes to get to a prime position.  I was clear of their front wheels but it wasn't a smart move and they let me know, "Hey!"  (Afterwards I apologized to the group.  Don't want to set bad examples).
So we're winding up with 300m to go in a sweeping left turn.  I expected the sprint to start at 200m but it began 50m earlier and caught me a little off guard.  But I dug deep, staying in the saddle at first (I can't sprint 250m) while about 10 guys went by me.  At about 150m I gave it my all and did pass a few guys burning out near the line.
Wow, that hurt a lot but it's a really cool rush flying across the finish line at over 30mph and costing with the whole group for the next 200m and continuing the cool down.  I was satisfied with my finish of 15th out of 31.  I thanked the Lord for keeping us safe.  Someone crashed near the finish last year and broke a collar bone.  Nothing is ever for sure.  I'm so glad the Lord is in charge… I just have to keep it that way.
2011-09-18 001 2011-09-17 0232011-09-18 001 2011-09-17 025
In order to get to church, I had to change my category to 35+ Cat 4/5 and race the 5:30pm event.  This turned out to be awesome because it meant I got to ride with Lance, Todd, and Kevin.  And also other teammates, Robin and Ron.  But Lance, Todd, Kevin and I have ridden a lot together and I've watched them improve so much, moving to Cat 4, winning races and setting high standards.  All with humble and appreciative attitudes.  So now I get to ride with them and they've included me in their sprint strategy… I'm to lead out after the round-about with .8mi to go, with Kevin taking over at the bridge, then Lance going at the final 300m corner and Todd hopefully taking the sprint.  This is perfect!  I knew I had no chance in the sprint so just wanted to be a help somehow.  Now I'm nervous, figuring out how I can get clear in that turn #6.
Robin, 2011-09-18 002 2011-09-18 010Anna, and Ariel are here again, and strategically stationed at the round-about turn where a lot of the action will be.  We start the race and the pace is slow.  It's fine with me because I don't have plans for the final sprint.. mine starts way early.. and hopefully when they don't expect it.  My plan is to hide in the pack until the right moment.
After a few laps, getting the feel for the turns and the riders to avoid, I do a practice run leading out on the Sibley-Blue Ravine turn, through the round-about and around my "key" 2011-09-18 002 2011-09-18 016turn into the straight.  It goes well, but as I pull to the left to let the pack come through, I unexpectantly hit my pedal on a curb.  It shocks me but I recover fine.  Then I hear the crash way behind me, on the other side of the road.  I see him go down hard, sliding into the other curb.  I slow as 2011-09-18 002 2011-09-18 025my instinct is to go help him, but the support vehicle is already out and by his side and I remember Robin going through the same dilemma this morning, feeling the need to stop, and then having to catch back up.
I work to catch back up.  Feeling terrible that my jostle may have rippled through the peloton.  I talk to a guy who was nearest the crash in order to find out.  His rear 2011-09-18 002 2011-09-18 022wheel was actually the downed rider's demise.  That's what happens when you overlap the wheel in front of you and that rider suddenly shifts.  I still felt like I caused the "shift"
After a few more laps and successfully "sitting in", it's 1-to-go and our Victory Velo team is together and near the front.  But Todd is now pulling.  I'm thinking he's supposed to be resting.  I can't leave him out there.  He might burn out 2011-09-18 002 2011-09-18 032and hurt the plan.  I'm the sacrificial guy so I better get up there and block some wind for him.  So I do.  But now I'm in front way before my time.  I've known all along that I can't last a mile at the front and sprint, but I don't know what else to do. 
I'm leading the pack on the back stretch, trying to keep the pace high.  Now I'm thinking, "I can do it, I'll lead and then I'll sprint and the plan will work great".  After we cross the railroad tracks and ascend to the turn onto Blue Ravine Rd, the Bicycle Plus team makes their move.  It was the perfect place.  I was already taxed and the slight climb was enough to neutralize me.  It was also a risky move as 4 of them made the pass in the middle of the most dangerous corner.  This is where 3 girls in Robin's race went into the barriers.  Then, right in front of me, I see their lead rider clip an inside pedal, loose control momentarily, hit the barrier, throw his whole team into disarray, and then, somehow, recover and accelerate back into the pack.
Everything was out of control now as every team was taking advantage of the chaos.  Instead of my vision of going into the upcoming round-about in a single, swift line, I was deep in the pack desperately trying to get clear to move up.  Out of the round-about and there's my "key" corner ahead.  But 1/2 my team and 1/2 the pack are ahead of me.  Still, I grunt it out and do my best to move up and sprint but I can't make it happen.  My legs are burning up now.  Kevin has come around.  Todd and Lance are up ahead trying to catch up to the leaders.  I'm just hoping they can get there and sprint to a good finish.
In the last corner I give it all I have for the very long final straight-away.  It looks like everyone is ahead and they're all too far to see if our blue-and-white made it to the front.  I finish, huffing and puffing and re-group with my team.  I'm disappointed that I didn't execute the plan.  I'm concerned for the hurt rider.  And I'm thankful that no one else got hurt.  I was so close to the other team almost crashing, and the chaos afterwards, it's amazing to me we're all ok.
2011-09-18 002 2011-09-18 036Todd is an animal.  He says, "I feel fine, I still have more in the tank" while my legs are quivering.  I guess I could have left him on the front and he still would have sprinting well in the end.  This is the experience I need.  I have a great team that's very appreciative.  And it's a thrill to be in a bike race and come out ok.  I also heard that the rider was knocked out but came to and wasn't badly hurt.  And that his fall appeared unrelated to my commotion.
I learned a lot this weekend.  Bike racing is risky and happens in a split second sometimes.  It's addicting, too, imagining the perfect the plan and wanting to keep trying until it happens.  Only if the Lord wills.  That's what matters.