Friday, May 15, 2009

Embracing my inner domestique

My brother Steve and I are like interchangeable parts on the bicycle. He rides one frame size larger, but other than that, we're pretty much identical. At Hell of the North, he had a flat and finished 18th, while I finished 10th. At Antelope Island, I had a flat and finished 17th, and he finished 10th.

Even on training rides, when we climb, we usually end up racing to the top. If he wins one, I’ll usually take the next. I don’t think either of us has ever taken three in a row.

Which is not to say that we’re great climbers. We’re both the kind of riders one would euphemistically describe as “all-arounders.” Which means we’re not very good at anything. Not great climbers, not contending the bunch sprints, and not strong enough to TT or stay off the front in a solo effort. Just good enough at each discipline to be frustrated as the specialists blow past us.

We were excited, however, to try the UVU criterium course last night, because we thought it played well to our lack of strengths. It’s in a parking lot that’s on a consistent 2.5% pitch, so you’re either going slightly up or down all the time. Not enough of a hill for the pure climbers to hurt us. Not flat enough for the big guys with big motors to last the duration.

Unfortunately, it really exposed one of my weaknesses as a road racer: cornering. I started out riding mountain bikes. If you lean a MTB over too far, the knobs will eventually fold over and the dirt will eventually give way. So you learn not to lean too far. Road bikes can safely lean much further (like 45 degrees max lean) before breaking free, but psychologically I can’t get past the limitations of a mountain bike enough to really corner the road machine to its true potential. Having seen some nasty crashes while watching crits doesn’t help much either.

After the first neutral lap, the big motor from the UVU Cycling Team dropped the hammer. I had the legs to stay with him, but as he carved through the corners, I let a small gap open between us. He had one teammate and my brother Steve right on his wheel. I worked hard to bridge and was nearly back on when I felt something squishy as I went around a corner. My rear tire had punctured.

I pedaled through to the start/finish area and started changing my tube. I would be allowed to get back in the race, but just for training purposes and couldn’t contest the sprint or have a placing that would actually count.

I was really wishing for a spare wheel (which would have been easy enough to bring along) or a domestique who could sacrifice his own race to give me a wheel. And then it hit me. All-arounders, like Steve and me, are usually the domestiques, not the other way around.

This was only the fourth flat tire I’ve had on my road bike in the last three years. I would trade higher frequency for better timing. The last one was during the Antelope Island road race. The one before that was 65 miles into a 150 mile solo ride and wasn’t just a flat, but a catastrophic cut of the tire that ultimately led to a long drive home.

Eventually I got the tire fixed and re-entered the course a few lengths behind Steve and the second UVU guy. The big guy had fallen off, so Steve and the teammate were alone on the front. I soloed for all I was worth, but with the two of them working together, I couldn’t get back on. I kept soloing for the rest of the race, but in the final laps gave up on trying to hold off the chase group behind me since it didn’t count anyway.

Steve raced well and was guaranteed either first or second, as they had nearly a full lap on the field. As they made their way through the last lap, Steve started making a move but cut a corner too close and clipped a curb with his rear wheel. It didn’t put him down but was enough of a disruption to cost him the victory.

The irony of the day is that before we started, Steve noticed a small cut in his rear tire and was worried throughout that it might puncture. He was using Continental GP4000 tires and finished with no problems. I, on the other hand was using Michelin Pro Race 3’s and was the one who ended up with a flat. You can bet my next set of tires will be Continentals, especially since they’re the tire sponsor for Team Revolution/Peak Fasteners.