Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sat, Feb 26

What a day. Got up at 6:30am to literally ride/rise to the occasion: the 26th edition of the Snelling Road Race. Snelling is probably only known to three groups of people: its residents (all 341 of them), the Google Street View Team, and the bike racing community. As a member of that last group, I headed out the door this morning to take that 100-mile drive to this little town, in order to participate in this 50-mile race. While earlier forecasts told about record-low temperatures and rain, we were actually blessed with low to mid-40's and sunshine the whole day. The race in the 35+5 category started at 12:55pm, with a neutralized ride of close to 3 miles. We rode through that little town, with people waving at us. It felt special, and without sounding elitist, nice to be recognized in a moment like this. Our motorcycle referee continued to guide us out of the town, and then the race was on. In the beginning miles, it started to feel like a club ride, as the pace was not as high as I expected. After a couple of miles, there were some inclines, and this is when I decided to accelerate at a climb. Nobody did follow me, so the choices were "wait" or "keep going". I opted for the latter, and went into cruise mode, and quickly I got a good gap on the rest of the group. It's normally only a matter of time in any bike race, until a breakaway gets caught, so I had no illusions about hanging on to that lead for the remaining 45 miles. The motorcycle ref pulled up to me at one time and said that I got a 20-second gap on the pack. With being by yourself in the wind, and not wanting to waste all your energy in the first of four 12-miles laps, I just waited until I was integrated back into the peloton shortly before end of lap 1. I was still feeling good after this escape. The following 2 1/2 laps were rather uneventful, except for another breakaway of 2 riders that apparently succeeded, until our race was kind of neutralized to let a women team pass, and shortly after, probably Cat1-3 men teams. The women ahead of us slowed down, and therefore us too. The ref neutralized our race to let the women advance. It took several minutes, where we just sat up and cruised, before we were let go just about 2km before the finish. At the last corner, with about 300m to go to the hill finish, I was probably among the top 10, and while I passed two other riders, more others flew by me. As of right now, official results are not available yet, but I think I finished among the top 15. As always, I thought that I should / could have done better, but I'm content with today's achievement.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sun, Feb 13

The 2011 Early Bird Series in Fremont wrapped up today with an actual race that counts towards your ranking. This series of training crits and clinics, held throughout the first several weekends every year, provides both newcomers and more experienced riders alike a refresher on racing skills. We rookies certainly benefited from the various drills, and today was the day to put everything learned into this final race.

The turnout of Pen Velo riders in the 45+5 category was bigger, compared to prior weekends. We had six riders in the somewhat smaller than expected field of 24 competitors. Before the race, my team mates decided behind my back (how could they ?) that they would support me and another team mate at getting a shot at the podium. Bike racing is a team sport, and often, you have to sacrifice your ambitions for someone who might have a better shot at placing well. So it was lucky me today. As "usual", I tried to stay close to the front, and actually spent most of the time in the top 5, with one team mate pulling at the front for several laps. Last lap, last turn, I saw two other team mates zooming by me. I guess I was in awe for a moment too long, before I latched on, and tried to stay in contact with that lead train. Maybe a gear too low, I was pedaling at probably 250rpm (at least that's what it felt like ;-)), and was passed by few other people. These two team mates went on to place 1st and 2nd, while I hung onto 10th place. Goal accomplished, although in hindsight, I should have done a little better. But no complaints, as it was another crash-free race. Only one other team mate in the earlier 30-44+5 category hit the street, after a rider behind him touched his wheel, which took him out. A bent wheel, road rash, torn lycra, and the statement to never race criteriums again, were fortunately the only outcome. It can always be worse.

The next race is in two weeks, the Snelling Road Race, a 48-mile race in the middle of nowhere. This will be a new experience, after mostly racing criteriums. New experience, new fun. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sun, Feb 6

Let's talk about the Super Bowl XYZ$&#@ .... Just kidding. You can click here to read my Super Bowl essay, then come back here to read about bike racing.

Yesterday, it was my first official race of the 2011 season, the Ronde van Brisbeen. After four weekends of training crits, it was time to see what it feels like racing something other than the familiar course in Fremont. The RvB takes place in Brisbane, just north of SFO, and east of 101. I haven't found out why this race has a Dutch name. I was signed up for the Elite 5 category, and along with around 11 other team mates, we started at 8am. After a neutralized first lap, the pace picked up and stayed high. Over the next 40 minutes, I managed to stay with 4 of my team mates near the front, when I failed to bridge the gap to the rider in front of me, due to lapped riders sneaking in between. With five laps to go, I suddenly found myself all alone in the wind and fell back, until I got company for the last 2 laps from another team mate. I finished 22nd with approximately a 1/4 lap back. With a field of 47, only 25 managed to finish without getting lapped or dropping out, therefore I was ok with my placing.

Today, another race, this time the Cherry Pie Criterium in Napa, where the first three finishers' reward is, you guess, a cherry pie. It was an awesome nice day, sunny, clear, and 80F by the time the race completed. I was registered in the 35+4/5 category. Compared to E5, at least you don't have the young crowd in your race, but rather more mature riders, which makes it somewhat safer. It was a big field of 75 riders, and my goal was to finish better than Saturday, without the illusion though to get a pie. My strategy as usual is to try to stay near the front, and counter all surges. While the field stretched out at times, there were ample opportunities to recover, and with only 35 minutes race time, I felt comfortable to maintain position until the end. With one lap to go, I moved up among the top ten, and the pace unexpectedly did not pick up until the chicane before the hill finish. This is when I failed again to get out of the saddle and sprint. Instead, I stayed seated, and lost some steam on the final meters, placing 12th. While I could have done better, I was still happy, considering size of the field and competing with younger Cat-4's.

So, two upgrade points and no pie earned for this weekend, and having managed to stay out of trouble. Next Sunday, the official Early Bird Criterium; my goal: top 10 finish.