Monday, August 31, 2009

Group dynamics

Saturday was the Sanpete Classic, a race I first heard about a year ago after Kris did it. At the time I thought “that sounds like a cool race. I wish there were more events like that in Boise.”

Since then I’ve moved. I’ve also learned I have ties to the host town of Spring City, a place I had never been but that my ancestors helped settle back in the 19th century. And thus I completed my tour of small Utah towns I have ties with and that one would never peg for hosting a road race but do anyway.

As we lined up for the start, Eric from Skull Candy, with whom I had carpooled to the race, said “there’s a few guys from Canyon who are planning to make our lives miserable today.”

And how. One of them, Alex (not that Alex), went on a break at the opening gun, er, cannon (they start the race with a cannon blast, which is really annoying after the first one). My plan, since I had no teammates, was to let solo breaks go, go with a break of three or more, and unless I was in a break that had a chance of success, stay out of the wind.

It didn’t take very long for someone to bridge. Then Eric bridged. They were up to three, so I went. And everyone followed.

Once Alex was back in the fold, he went again. This time he had one guy with him from the outset. Then another. Then everyone followed the fourth.

I figured the guy was tired of this by now, but no. He went yet again. Another guy was right on him, so I jumped again. And again, everyone was on my wheel, and we were all back together.

He wasn’t in the field five minutes before he went one more time. This time, he just hung out there alone for a while, not making any ground, and not losing any. Then a Simply Mac guy went, followed by Will from Spin Cycle, and a guy from Cyclesmith. They were about 40 seconds up the road when we hit some rollers and they disappeared. For a long time.

The waiting game began. Some Canyon guys got on the front and soft pedaled at a whopping 18 mph. The break was going 24-25. Nobody gave chase. Each of the guys in the break had at least two teammates back. With 31 starters, that left about 20 of us with nobody in the break. You’d think it wouldn’t take much to get us organized. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Two things were clear: 1) The break would never be caught if nobody got serious about a chase; 2) Nobody would do anything about chasing until somebody did something. So I threw my race strategy out the window and got on the front. I had very little help for about 15 miles.

Then something good happened: the Cat. 5’s caught us. Even though it’s the furthest thing from the truth, every single Cat. 4 thinks he’s faster than every single Cat. 5. Or at least he wants to believe it enough that he’s willing to put in some effort to not be behind the Cat. 5 field that started five minutes back.

We got ahead of the Cat. 5’s but still weren’t moving real fast. I got back in the pack and figured I couldn’t do it alone, so I’d wait for someone else or sprint for fifth. Then Eric drifted back and told me he had four guys willing to chase, so I went back to the front and worked, this time with help.

Some Simply Mac and Canyon guys tried to get in the rotation to slow it down, but we just elbowed them out of the way. I didn’t watch the speed, but it was fast. Just before we caught the break, I was blown and had to drift back. Once we were in sight, though, the guys in the break sat up. Turns out Will (Spin) and Alex (Canyon) were the only guys working; Cyclesmith and Simply Mac were just sitting in.

Nobody did much until about 2K to go. We knew it was going to come to a sprint, and everyone was jittery. But instead of a team getting on the front and pushing the pace to set up their man, things slowed.

With 1K to go, a Simply Mac guy went on a solo flier. He had two teammates on the front blocking. Nobody chased. I knew if I went, I’d bring the whole field with me and ruin my chances in the sprint. We were now racing for 2nd place.

I had recovered a little but knew I didn’t have much in the legs, so I didn’t want to sprint too early. We crossed 200 meters to go and nobody moved. 150 to go and finally it went. I gave it what I had but was boxed in and couldn’t get around. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th all beat me by two bike lengths or less. 5th place beat me by less than half a wheel.

I don’t think any of those guys spent more than a minute or two on the front all race, so I was actually happy with the results. 6th place was in the points, albeit barely, and I'm quite certain nobody, except perhaps two of the four guys in the break, did as much work as I did. It was a good confidence boost that even when I’m tired, I can still hold my own in a sprint. Plus I never felt under any pressure on any of the short climbs.

We’ll see if the form holds for Lotoja. I hope it will. As weary as I am from a long season, I find myself wishing there were a few more races in the fall. Hopefully the motivation will carry through to next year.


  1. I enjoyed the play-by-play account. Your decisions make sense to me. Like it or not your ability and fitness makes you a leader, but it is odd that more of the non-team riders didn't figure out what was going on and help out more. Maybe they were all maxed out and couldn't.

    For all the work you did 6th is a very good result.

    Without your teammate Steve it seems a bit tougher to get things going. Has this race increased your motivation to join a team or do like being unaffiliated?

    What did you think of the course? It's fairly flat but I though it had enough rollers, turns, etc. to keep it interesting.

  2. yep, sounds like ;fun', if I would of been there i would of tried to bridge to the front and dropped the break, letting you win, yep, or not, Did any one puff their chest out and get surly, i hope so

    The strongest person wins a Mountain Bike race, every time, mechanicals not withstanding, Some like the 'tactics' of road racing, but i argue that in the Cat 4's and 5's you can not really call it tactics, more like luck. If it becomes tactics, that means too many people have been racing cat 4 too long..

    I fully expect you to race CX this year, and crush it.

  3. Kris, with Steve and/or Sam with me, I think the result would have been different. Two guys are a lot better than one. A team is better still. Not ready to show my hand yet, but more to come on that topic.

    Bob, I had the exact same thought regarding strongest man and tactics on Saturday. I have mixed feelings about 'cross, though. On the one hand, it would be a good way to bridge between the end of the road/mtb season and ski season. On the other hand, it's another piece of equipment to buy, and I was looking forward to more leisurely mtb rides this fall. But, if you can scare me up a loaner CX bike, I'll come out and give it a try.

  4. sounds like a long ride of hurry up and wait games in your group. Was looking at results and winner of your group slots nicely into 25th place in the cat 5 times? Same course right - or no? I like your prospects at LOTOJA with a few compadres if that's how the 4's roll these days. Crazy! Congrats on the strong finish after towing that group for a few hours.

  5. why wait until next year? cyclocross anyone?

  6. I must ask again: did you like the course?

    Bob, while some find the chaos of road racing annoying, others like it.

  7. Kris, yes I did like the course. But I also like bunch sprints. The course was too flat to shake things up much. The climb you had at the end last year was taken out this year due to road construction.

    Jason, we did the same course as the Cat. 5's. As I mentioned, they caught us at one point even though they started five minutes back. The biggest difference between racing 4's and 5's is that the 5's tend to drill it on the front trying to shake people off the back. The 4's tend to go on breaks and hope nobody is willing to chase.

  8. Sounds like a good race...The account of the break seems as far off as uncle Rico's story about throwing the ball over the mountain. Will and Alex did work hard. However, no harder the Simply Mac (me) or Biker's Edge (not cyclesmith). If I am not mistaken, when you see a pack 1/2 a mile back, it makes sense to let them catch you and sit in to recover. No one made a move, so at 1 mile we decide to do a big lead out for our strongest guy early. Call it what you will, but I think fitness and at least some skill were contributors. "The harder you work, the luckier you are"

  9. I agree with anonymous above. It seems to me that no one has a good account of who worked and how hard unless you were actually in the breakaway pack and since he was, I tend to believe more his account of the story. What a lame excuse to sit back and ditch others efforts and put them down to try to make your not-so-victory seem justified. Where's the sportsmanship? Just say you had an off day or maybe made some wrong calls that day!

  10. nice anon posts, man up, SkiBike just told the story from his standpoint.

    Anonymous' "Though doth protest too much"

  11. Anon 1 and Anon 2: All I had was hearsay on what was going on in the break. I was told 2 of 4 were working. If that wasn't the case, fair enough. But I don't know for sure what was going on in the break any more than you knew what was going on in the pack chasing it. Next time put a name with your comment, though.

  12. I would think that since SBJ was not in the break maybe he heard from somebody in the break that the work was not shared equally. Just a thought.

  13. ^^^I guess SBJ can speak for himself regarding who he heard what from.

  14. Another difference between road bike races and mtb races, the after race accounts. Usually there is little debate about how a mtb race plays out - faster guys went out fast, fastest guy wins. Road races on the other hand are ripe for all sorts of controversy and subjective interpretation of tactics or the lack thereof, which makes for great post race entertainment and reports. Great report, keep it up. I miss L'Autobus and almost makes me want to do more road races again.

    Are you in the Cat 3-4 group for LotoJa? If you are, there was virtually no tactics in that race last year other than keep the pace as high as possible, drop the slow riders (me) and sprint it out in the end (so I hear). Good stuff. Watch for the Spin boys to roll through the first feed zone without picking anything up or slowing at all - most started with three bottles to avoid having to get hand-ups. We lost a few that way last year.

  15. JZ, I'm in the Cat. 4 group (not 3/4) for Lotoja and don't expect the "tactics" to be any different. I'll be among those starting with three bottles to avoid needing a handup.

  16. I took second in the race, and spent a fair bit of time on the front, and worked as one of the six (that I counted) working to pull back the break when we finally got organized. I don't think the break really had a great chance, as we pulled them back with only a few minutes of working a good rotation. We still had 20ish miles to go when we pulled them back by my computer. So not everybody in the top spots was just sitting in.

    Mike Hales - Mi Duole/Barbacoa

  17. Mike Hales, nice work. You deserve the good result. And thank you for not hiding behind some anonymous comment.