Thursday, May 27, 2010

Look no further

So I raced again last night. Shocking, right? Shocking that my wife puts up with it is more likely.

If I’ve improved my bike handling skills at all (which I like to think I have), it’s mostly from racing at DMV. That course is all about maintaining momentum, and you can’t maintain momentum if you don’t know how to handle your bike. The way it’s typically laid out, there are 10 corners per lap plus the “West Valley Wall,” a ~15 vertical meter climb that may not sound like much until you’ve done it for the 15th time in 30 minutes. I won’t pretend to be an expert on how to do well on that course, but if you’re interested, some sound advice can be had here.

As much as I admire Jens Voigt, my racing style is very different from his. I like to sit in and let others do the work, saving it all for a big effort at the end. If a break gets away, hopefully I have a teammate in it. It’s not likely I will be.

Last night Cam went on a solo break for a lap or two, got joined by another rider for another few laps, and as the rest of the field chased, lots of people got shelled off the back.

Then Steve and Pete went on a counter-attack that also had a guy from Canyon and a guy from Ski Utah in it. With those two teams represented, there wasn’t anyone left to chase. It stayed away, Steve finished second, and Pete finished fifth in his very first race in the B flight.

Casey from Canyon beat me by half a wheel in the best of the rest bunch sprint. I’m going to write a country song called “half wheel loser” because it seems that’s as close as I can get to beating anybody. Perhaps if you play it backwards, I’ll actually win something.

But the race report isn’t what I really wanted to write about today. What I really want to write about are yesterday’s photos. And as awesome as they are, their awesomeness is not what I want to mention. What I want to mention is Alex K.’s head.

Look at the photo below and notice how close Alex (red helmet, front right) has his head to his handlebars.

Think this is an accident? Alex is going nearly 60kph in that photo. At that speed, the thing he’s fighting most is aerodynamic drag. With his head down like that, he has a lower profile and consequently has to push against less air. Just as a lighter racer has an advantage on a climb because he’s pushing less weight up the hill, so too does a more aerodynamic rider have an advantage at high speed—he can go the same speed with less effort, or faster with the same effort. And since wind resistance increases at the square of the rate of increase in speed, the faster you go, the bigger deal reducing drag becomes. (I promise, the post on drafting really is forthcoming, and I’ll keep the math simple enough that I understand it.)

Being a sprinter requires a lot more than just good top end speed. If you’re not in position at the end of the race, you can go as fast as you want, and you’ll never get to the front. I watched Alex for the duration of the race Tuesday, and he was always about 10 back, near the front, but never on the front. Getting and holding that position is difficult, because everyone wants to be there. I watched Casey at DMV last night, and he did the same thing. The field was a bit smaller, so Casey was right around fifth wheel the entire night and didn’t stick his nose in the wind until we were sprinting up the hill to finish.

Staying near the front also helps you avoid the yo-yo effect of accelerating out of corners. The further you are from the lead, the more you have to accelerate to catch back on. If you’re on the front, you basically just hold your momentum through the corner and keep your effort consistent. Pedaling efficiently also matters. At DMV that means not pushing a big gear up the hill. At RMR that means staying smooth and in control. When Alex pedals around the course, his upper body is stock still—not one wasted movement. He stays low and in the saddle for the duration, saving it all for his sprint.

I love to watch professional racing, not just for the entertainment the drama and competition provide, but also because I try to learn from what the pros do. I started racing in my mid-30’s and have a lot to learn. But I need look no further than my teammates and competitors to learn plenty of valuable lessons. If only I could put them into practice…

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