As long as you look good


Sunday, August 31st, brought the 2008 cycling season to a close with the Blackberry Criterium held during the Blackberry Festival in scenic Bremerton, WA. The 4/5 race started at 11:45, which as it turned out is horribly from a Seattle – Bremerton ferry perspective, as you either take the 8:45 and arrive two hours ahead of time, or the 10:15 ferry and arrive with about 30 minutes to go. I opted to ride down to the docks and hop on the 8:45, along with about 15 other riders doing the same thing. The weather was cloudy but holding, and so I was looking forward to a good 30 minute dry crit in Bremerton.

I arrived with Matt, another racer from our team. We checked out the course. It’s a nice rectangular ~1 mile course featuring a down-and-up along each long stretch. This meant that each corner would be nicer than most – people would be going slower due to the uphill, so less of a yo-yo effect when the pack straightens out to take the corner. Plus with a downhill on the beginning of each straightaway, it’d be easy to catch back onto the pack.

He and I kicked back at the Cornerstone Coffee, which was right there at corner 2. Around 10:45, we started getting ready to warm-up, only to see the skies open up. Well, here was the day’s squall – a short-lived hour long rainstorm right during our warmup. We all huddled, and about 11:30 went out for some quick warmup. The rain had brought all the oil to the top of the road, so the course was going to be sketchy. The warmup laps confirmed that, especially at turn 1 where there were a few manhole covers that would be super slick.

We started the race… the field was I believe 22 all together – a small showing. Some had held off registering when they got their due to the weather. Oh well. So, the race kicked off and we were off.

94AD0743bb.jpg

94AD0756bb.jpg

For the most part, the pack stayed together. A few folks got dropped throughout, but not many. The down-and-ups kept people together, and everyone behaved themselves going through the corners. I was fishtailing through turn 1 and 4, so I was content to dangle and hang to the outside.

94AD0776bb.jpg

At one point, Amara Boursaw caught me taking a drink… you can see me at the back on the right out of the way of people. Given how small the field was and with the down-and-up, it was easy to hop out of the pack to drink (as I didn’t want to have to brake or react quickly with one hand in slick conditions) and hop back in.

94AD0808bb.jpg

Anyway, at 4 laps to go, I made a minor tactical error. I was following a straggler and taking a drink, and then Matt and another guy took off from the front. The pack sprinted ahead, and I was gapped and promptly dropped – just couldn’t catch back on. Well, I wasn’t thinking I was going to be in it for the sprint finish, and I was close enough to finish without getting pulled, so I rolled it on in for a high teens finish.

94AD0817bb.jpg

Even though it wasn’t pack sprint, I will say that this is the first crit I’ve finished. Yeah, an easier one compared to Des Moines or Twisp, but I felt better about cornering and better about staying with the pack. So, perhaps I am getting the hang of these!

Des Moines Crit, take 2

Last year, my first crit was the Washington State Masters’ Championship Crit, in Des Moines. This is a short course on great pavement with minimal cornering. Only catch is that it’s a ~30ft climb every lap. Last year, I got popped pretty quickly in a shallow field. I noticed Masters C, which I could have raced instead of Cat4, was huge. This year, I decided to race Masters C. Yeah… my mistake.

I had problems clipping in, but I was able to catch on to the back. However, when I thought I’d be able to rest on the downhill, turns out I was wrong – people were busy accelerating on the downhill too! No rest! Gah! And each uphill was 600W – 800W according to my powertap. I lasted 4 laps before getting popped, and another 3 before getting pulled. A whopping 7 minutes out of the 35, although it felt like forever. Worse than last year, which I thought was pretty bad! Gah!

Oh well. Better luck next year, perhaps… or I’ll just marshall. My quick exit did allow me to get some nice pictures though:

Greg Luniewski abandoning after getting popped… his expression says it all:

DSC_8794.jpg

And the finish:

DSC_8804.jpg

DSC_8805.jpg

DSC_8806.jpg

Tour of Methow

A bit delayed, but here nevertheless.

Father’s Day Weekend, I participated in the 3rd annual Tour of Methow, a 2-day omnium bike race. An omnium is a multi-race event where the winner of each event gets a certain number of points. The overall winner is the person with the most points. Typically, in Washington State, an omnium is a time trial and crit on Day 1, and a road race on Day 2. This was the format for Methow. I had arrived with the family the week before, staying at The Cottonwood Cottage in Winthrop. I spent the week checking out the courses… the time trial is an out-and-back on a hilly course near Mazama. The road race is a loop starting from Winthrop and heading north, with some decent rollers and a nasty section when the loop dips down onto Highway 20. The crit is a loop on sketchy pavement in Twisp.

So… the results. Well, I got off to a late start for the time trial, and arrived quite literally 5 minutes before I was supposed to go off. I scrambled and didn’t even pump up my wheels… turns out, by being second to register for the tour, I was second in the time trial. Great. Oh, and the first guy didn’t show up. Even better. So I get there, and I’m ready to go with about 15 seconds to spare. And then, I’m off! I have no idea what I’m doing, as it’s my first real TT, so I just go as hard as I know how, given I had done the course a few times before. There are two decent hills, and on the descent of the first I was passed – I figured by the guy :30 behind me. Turns out later it was the guy who started 1:00 behind me. I was passed a bit later by my :30 man. On the turnaround, I was able to overtake him on one of the hills, but I blew up and he passed me after a bit. I ended up some :47 behind him, and in 34th place when all was said and done. However, turns out this was enough to beat the three other Cat 4/5s from Wines that showed up! Which says something about our time trialling, really…

Here’s a quick shot of me pulling in, ahead of my :30 man Jeremy. There’s my time below, at 14th place… not gonna last for long!

DSC_8671.jpg
DSC_8681.jpg

Then, the crit. Man, do I suck at these. Probably because this was my second. Anyway, I had problems clipping in, was not confident on the pavement, and got popped pretty quickly. Oh well. Turns out half the field did too, so I don’t feel that bad. After all, the difference in points between the second guy to get dropped (me) and the last guy to get dropped – nothing! We all got zilch. I’m blaming it on my awesome time

trial performance.

Next day, road race. I started off strong, and actually pulled during the first lap on the flat / downhill section from about a quarter of the way through the first lap through the halfway point (a turnaround). At this point, there were some hills and some attacks, so I slid back a bit trying to keep up. Then, the loop-around point… a downhill S curve onto Highway 20, then slight rise to a quick climb, then a flat and another longer but just as tall climb. Took a lot to hang on, but I did. Kept in the middle towards the end for the second lap, and was dying on the down-and-up in the 2nd lap turnaround. At this point, I was thinking I needed to move up towards the front to stay with the attacks and the next (and final) down and up, as the race ended right before the downhill. However, as I was surveying the pack to figure out the best way to move up, WHAM! Crash ahead! Brake, brake… nope. I go over too. I turn around and see another bike coming at me, and I sit up and catch his front wheel, ensuring that at least he doesn’t go down. Someone is moaning, but the callous nature of bike racing is to get back on your bike and go. So I survey the bike, looks fine, and go. But I can barely move! Some groups pass me… and at the end of the slight hill I was on, I hop off and look again — yup, brake is rubbing. So I adjust that and have a much nicer ride, but I’m feeling burnt. Right knee is bleeding, and I know that even if I finish this lap and the 4th, it’s not worth it. Plus, we have to drive back that afternoon. So, I finish the lap at the finish line and wait for everyone else to come through. Turns out that the guy moaning was taken away by an ambulance, and the 4/5 men and the two women’s peletons were neutral going through that… scary!

Anyway, a rough way to end Father’s Day. But Methow was beautiful, and the race was fun. Next time, I’ll need to focus on staying up in the front more and being more aggressive on the downhill. Oh, and the crash? Apparently some rookie strayed across the yellow, then panicked and swooped back in, clipping someone’s wheel and causing a chain reaction quickly. Best to get me in better shape to upgrade!

Sequim delivers again!

MB Tour de DungFriday, 9 PM, 3/28. I’m packing up the race gear. It’s snowing. There are two races the next day, a rarity. Sequim #2 or North Shore circuit up in Bellingham. I haven’t done Bellingham, but it’s hilly, and about the same distance as Sequim. And it’s snowing. In theory, Sequim is in the rain shadow, and dry. Bellingham, not so much. I check the radar… there’s rain and snow everywhere.

Saturday, 6:30 AM, 3/29. It’s partly cloudy… could Sequim be nice? Or would it be a waste of a 2 hour drive and $23 in ferry tolls to see Dungeness snowed under?

8:45 AM, 3/29. We arrive, in weather that could only be described as, “Doesn’t suck.”

DSC_8081.jpg

It was chilly, but warming and gorgeous. And dry. A great day for a race!

There were 35-45 in the Cat4 field… the race marshall at the beginning said 35, but folks at the end said 45. Felt more like 35, but who knows. Anyway, there were 8 Wines and 2-3 members from the usual suspects. Two strong Carter guys did a ton of work, but we were covering their moves. And of course anytime any of us tried to get away, the pack would chase things down. So, while a few people would get popped off the back, the pack mostly rolled around the course uneventfully. One of our guys caught a pedal in his Zipps… totaled the front wheel, but he stayed upright and nobody else crashed. Otherwise, bunch sprint at the end. The two Byrne guys, including Jeff whom I rode with last week, took first and second, and then our guys rolled through 3rd and 4th and then scattered throughout the pack. I didn’t take the last corner well, and the pack started sprinting almost immediately, which was about 1000km out. I was further back, so had to catch some wheels, but didn’t have enough gas to get into good position. Ended up #22 – better than last time. Still gotta work at having gas as the end though.

DSC_8110.jpg

And for fun, some shots of the folks after the race. Here’s Alec and Jon checking on their placements at the finish line:

DSC_8086.jpg

And here’s Mark Wistrom, who hung at the back nearly the entire race and still finished well! He was #21, as we were both out of gas.

DSC_8085.jpg

Here’s Dessa relaxing after the race. He also had a good race, finishing 11th.

DSC_8106.jpg

Good stuff. Oh, and as for what happened in Bellingham?
94AD9522wwu.jpg

Race canceled. We’ll see ya next year!

Independence Valley, the Foggy Hills

Independence ValleyWell, that was fast.

Independence Valley is a ~20 mile loop down in Rochester, WA, which is just off I-5 halfway between Seattle and Portland. It’s a narrow, chip-sealed route with two ~250 foot hills. That’s where the race is won and lost… those that can stick on the hills, make it to a sprint finish with maybe 20-30 other people out of some 70 that start. I figured I could hold my own at least on the first hill, and hopefully the second.

Nope.

I kept up a bit about 80% of the first hill, but couldn’t keep speed. I tried to catch back on the descent, but the pack was just out of reach. Jeff, a Byrne guy who also got dropped on the hill, caught up with me and we rode to the next hill. As we were huffing up, the 5s overtook and those who could climb passed us. We let them go (not that I had much choice) and hopped on down a nice windy descent. We picked up a few of the 5s who had also been dropped and cruised the final few miles to the lap marker. The 5s we were with decided to do another lap; Jeff and I packed it in. We met up with a few other 4s who had also been dropped along the way towards the end.

Welp… time to get on the trainer and work on those hills. But hey, next week – Sequim #2!

A fast finale for Mason

Mason Lake MBThe final race of the Mason Lake series, #3, happened today. Since the Ravensdale race is tomorrow, a race much closer to Seattle and on a faster, wider course, not many people were at Mason. For the 4s, there were only 25 of us, which made for a much more interesting race. Moving up was amazingly easy, as the pack was typically in either a single or double line. At one point I found myself at the end, and so I just hopped out near the center yellow line and moved up to the front, about 4th, just like that. And I don’t think anyone actually followed my wheel, which says something about how fluid things were. People were attacking and covering often, and because of the small field the surges were felt by everyone… or at least me. :)

Near the end of the second lap I almost bumped into Dessa… he was swooping out a bit on a corner, but all was good. He apparently recognized my profile, and asked if I was with the Touring Machines. I said yup! And he introduced himself. I guess he’s on the CycleU team now; good for him! Anyway, we didn’t have much of a chance to talk as the there started to be attack after attack on the back rollers. This managed to sap my strength a lot faster than I would have thought, and I got popped off towards the beginning of the 3rd lap with a FSA guy. We chased for a while, but after a few miles it was pretty clear we weren’t going to catch the pack. We did a reasonable pace to finish and called it at 3 laps, just in time to see the Masters C/D and 5s packs come in a few minutes later.

I’m still not sure why Mason is so hard for me… not sure if I can blame it on the rollers. Last week my legs blew up… this week, I just got popped. The third lap solo I clearly had gas still in the tanks, so perhaps I need to be closer to the front when attacks start coming. Easier said than done of course! :)

Next week: Sequim #2… back to the flats!

Update: one of the most flattering shots of me I’ve seen in a while, from the fine folks at WheelsInFocus.com:Erik at Mason Lake #3

Tour de Dung #1

Tour de DungAh, Sequim… the top of the peninsula. A fast 12-mile loop along wide, dry pavement. The race winds along the top portion at usually a fast clip, then hits a 5-mile straightaway that’s usually into a 5- to 10-MPH wind. Staying with the pack will yield a good finish typically, but that also means it is easy to get dropped! Last year, I had a good race and finished 16th and 19th. This year?

As it turns out, there was very little wind. This means the field of ~65 racers was packed together, and actually sped up on that 5-mile straightaway. A bit boring of a race for the first two laps. About the third, a break got away with Duane, our fearless captain, and four others, including a rider from Hagens-Berman, the other strong team in the field. Well, once a break with teammates has gotten away, the team in the pack knows what to do: mail it in! So, nobody chased. Starbucks tried to chase, but couldn’t quite get one together and just ended up blocking and getting yelled at. Then, around the end of the third lap, a few people went down near me inexplicably… one bumped my wheel, but I was able to get around it and get back with the pack. A few minutes later at the beginning of the fourth lap, another crash, again far too close to me for my liking. At this point the pack settled having lost about half its number due to the crashes, and we had a nice ride to the finish.

Near the end, I tested joining a minor break, but discovered my left leg was cramping… I went from 3rd to 20th in a second as I worked it out. At that point, I decided that a simple finish would do fine… no sense in killing the leg on the second race of the year. So the pack rounded the final turn and sprinted for 6th place. I finished with the pack, somewhere below 20, but hey, it was a fun race. Duane ended up taking 3rd after hearing he and the two remaining in the break were 2 minutes ahead with 3 miles to go and letting the other two get away (the 4th and 5th in the break having been dropped earlier). Ben Collins, a rookie pro triathlete and the ox leading the break, towed HB’s Cat 2 track sprinter to the finish in time to watch what sprinters do best – pop around and win from behind. Oops. :)

Mason Lake #1

Mason Lake MB 9:30 AM. Dave Douglas, former president of the WSBA, gives his annual inaugural speech to 70-odd Category 4 racers.

This is a training race. There are no prizes, no cash, no merchandise, no points for winning. This is just to remember how to ride in a fast pack again. The centerline rule is in effect, so don’t go over the yellow line. If your team put in some wheels and you have a flat, move over to the right and get a swap. If not, sucks to be you. Make sure your numbers are on the right side. Last lap, the full road is available for sprinting to the finish for the final 200 meters. Neutral until the first corner, and then you’re racing!

And we’re off! I’m towards the back, foolishly, and spend the first lap getting my heart rate under control and trying to move up a bit. I get to the 2/3 mark of the pack… a bit better, but still yo-yoing too much on the turns. There are some new kits to old teams… the brown Zoka is now red Cucina Fresca, and red Native Planet has turned into green and white Starbucks. My team, Wines of Washington, is still black, white, silver, and yellow… a bit too noisy for my tastes, but that’s OK.

Laps 2 and 3 are OK… my heart rate is under control and I think I’ve got gas. Last year at this time, I was dying 4 miles from the end of Lap 3. This year, no problems. We sail through, bounce about and make a left onto good road and an incline. I handle the turn nicely (a shock, as I’m still horribly at following wheels on turns), keep behind a guy as we latch back onto the pack… and I’m done.

It was a weird sensation… the legs just lost energy, and I saw the pack starting to slip away. The follow car was quite generous in giving me time to catch back on, and I knew in my head that my race was done, but didn’t want to admit it. I tried pushing to get to the downhill and catch back up, but nothing doing. OK, fine… I’ll have a slow 11-mile cooldown. Bad idea… left side starting cramping and freezing, and really, by the time I was at the 6 mile mark on the course (halfway around), I was hurting. Spun my way out of it at maybe 15 miles per hour, going very slowly up the rollers. Oof…. not an auspicious start, but hey, it’s a rolling course, and clearly, I still suck at hills. And really, gotta be in the front from the beginning!

BTW, our team plan generally works… we hid until the end, and then we bunch sprinted on the right side to the finish. Got 2nd and 3rd, although one of our guys went down hard in a 4-man crash… that sucked. 2nd doesn’t get you anything in this race, but Greg got some stitches in his knee for his effort. Ah well, that’s racing.

Next week: points matter, as we head up to Sequim for Tour de Dung!