Monday, May 24, 2010

Shoulda, woulda, coulda

Critics of road racing (a.k.a. mountain bikers) are fond of griping that the strongest racer isn’t the one who ends up winning because others can just draft* behind the leader and come around at the end. And while one need only watch Dave H., Peter A., or Nate P. race to know that this is not exactly true, for some of us, not needing to be the strongest to win is the appeal of road racing.

*My explanation of crosswind tactics was only to whet your collective appetites, as I’ve got an entire post on drafting in the works, complete with numerous awesome graphics and actual math**. It will probably take me a year to finish, but once I do it will be awesome. If anyone doesn’t get drafting when it’s done, I will consider myself a total failure and sign up for the next blogging mom prom so I can learn the finer points and once and for all master the blogging craft.

**Maybe just kidding about the actual math part. Seeing as how I was only able to pass 12th grade physics, required for high school graduation, because of a technicality***, having me explain the equations associated with aerodynamic drag may be a bit beyond my pay grade. But if I can make sense of it and in turn explain it in a way that makes sense, I will.

***Dying to know what the technicality is? I assure you it’s totally boring, and the story completely falls flat when I tell it. So I’ll take a page from the Lost playbook and build up a bunch of suspense with no thought to providing a satisfactory answer.

If it’s just a matter of who’s strongest, I’m never going to win. Every time I’ve had a good result, it’s been the result of decisions I made during the race that positioned me well at the end and conserved energy such that I had something left for a late surge. Only rarely do I have the elusive combination of good tactical decisions and good legs, but it’s the pursuit of that magical combination that keeps me engaged and motivated.

The frustrating part is when I make poor decisions and finish knowing I could have done better had I made better choices. I replay those decisive moments over and over, constantly thinking “if only…”

Saturday’s Sugarhouse criterium was just such a race. At the beginning of the race, Jon S. said to find him on the prime lap* and he’d give me a leadout. Things went as planned. I got on Jon’s wheel, and he attacked onto the front. Just as he was starting to fade, two guys came around us, so it was time to go. I passed one of them but was a wheel behind Nick E. from RMCC at the line. Would have been nice to win the prime, but having come short, now I was concerned about how much the effort cost me for the finish.

*Prime, pronounced “preem,” like the first syllable of “premium,” is French for “prize.” Most criteriums feature one or more prime laps wherein the leader on that lap is awarded a prize. Most race organizers seem capable of offering primes but not spelling the word. I’ve seen it spelled “priem,” “preem,” and “prieme,” among others, but only rarely “prime.”

I figured somebody would counterattack and make those of us who contested the prime pay for it. There were a few attacks, but nothing serious. Most were chased down quickly, and the pace going up the two short hills on the course was moderate enough that I was able to stay seated most of the time and recover within a few laps.

With two laps to go, there was a group off the front, but they were close enough to be chased down. I found Steve’s wheel and figured I’d hold it and trust him to be in a good position at the end.

On the bell lap, we came down the first hill, and people were fighting hard for position. I tried to keep Steve’s wheel but got pushed off. I should have fought to get it back, but I was also worried I’d get shelled if he tried to bridge, and I was more interested in a good placing than risking it all for the win.

Climbing the first hill, I saw teammate Bart, who had been in the break, back in the field. I thought he had fallen off but there were still others up the road, and the rest of us were racing for scraps. Had I known they were all caught, I would have fought harder to get back on Steve’s wheel, as he was near the front.

As we descended the final hill and approached the sprint, I couldn’t see Steve. I knew he was up front and figured he’d be best of the rest. I was about mid pack and started sprinting on the finishing hill a little late but not wanting to go too early and run out of gas. I had a good kick, passed some people, and probably could have snuck through a narrow gap, but it would have only got me past teammate Cam, so I backed off.

Steve was in first place coming up the hill but started just a bit early and faded to second. Who’s to say what the outcome would have been or how the dynamics may have changed, but all weekend I’ve been plagued by the what ifs. I had good legs, if only I’d held his wheel...

I’ll take the top 10 finish—that was my objective going in (frankly I just wanted to feel like I belong in the Cat. 3s without getting destroyed), and I should be happy with it. The “what if” has me highly motivated for the next race. I just wish we were racing again on that course next weekend and not next year.

Props are due to lots of teammates who earned good results. In addition to Steve’s 2nd place, Cam P. finished 8th in the 3s. Curt D. took 4th in the Pro/1/2 race, Sarah W. won the Women’s 4 race, and fully half of the top 10 in the Cat. 4 race were Revolution Cafe Rio, with Alex K., Pete M., Jeremy T., Mike H., and Ryan W. taking spots 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9. Pete came back for the Masters B race and took 5th, with Justin A. right behind him.


  1. "complete with numerous awesome graphics and actual math**"

    Sounds good - if you need help with that part (or actual data!) lemme know.

    Somewhere I have a project96 paper on the team pursuit where each rider was using a SRM and you can see the drop in power based on the position in the echelon...


  2. Greg: If you could find that paper and maybe forward to skibikejunkie at gmail dot com, I would be super stoked. And since you offered assistance, maybe I'll send the post your way for "peer review" before sending. What do you think?

  3. sure thing - will look for it tonight.

    and happy to "peer review" it - since aparently no one in the state of UT knows how to echelon!

    spend some time in a flat, windy state and you learn quick...


  4. Your posts make road racing sound like a lot of fun really.

    I wonder how my physiology would fit into a team. I am explosive as all get out, and can lay down power hard for about 40 seconds, then I blow up equally hard and am pretty useless for quite some time. I have maybe five efforts like that before I am entirely blown up and worthless.

    In typical aerobic stuff, I am honestly mediocre in speed, and I hate the pain of riding right at the anaerobic threshold. I really wonder if I could hold on in a real road race.

    If it were the TDF, I sort of think my role would be as a lead out guy like Hincapie if I could hang on until the sprint.

  5. You do know it's an infinite loop? With so many variables the permutations are endless. But of course that's part of the fun.

    You state it quite off-hand, but from my little experience it's very difficult to keep track of breaks, who's leading, and all the other details that inform in-the-moment race decisions. In other words, I think you did pretty darn good.

  6. Team Revolution needs to invest in some race radios and a DS driving along behind the group watching the video feed and listening to race radio who can then tell you what to do. :)

    For me, the tactical challenge is one of the best aspects of road racing. Conversely, the lack of tactics (for the most part) in mountain bike racing is one of its best aspects. Go figure. Good thing we can do both, even if some people (I won't name names but it rhymes with cupidtrike) suggest otherwise.

  7. See ^^

    Of course, despite its name, Sugarhouse really isn't a crit.

  8. I have raced crits, 2 years worth back in the day, they are stupid, so are hybrid circuitcrits.

    Circuitcrits on dirt, grass and gravel with a few barriers on teh other hand, smart-ass

  9. Greg: thanks, man.

    Enel: road racing is fun. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You'd be a great leadout man/sprinter. Good sprinters provide good leadouts and vice-versa. As for hanging with the group, I just follow wheels until the end most of the time.

    Kris: I felt good about the race until I saw where Steve placed and imagined the outcome had I stayed on his wheel. But like you say, infinite loop.

    JZ: It's nice not having to choose. I just wish I could go head-to-head with Bob on Monday so I could get on his wheel and chant "crits are stupid" repeatedly for as long as I could hold on. Maybe I'll do that at one of the midweek races.