Sunday, April 24, 2011

Teamwork Pays Off

Saturday morning at first looked to be similar to many of our previous race days, as the rain started coming down just as I started loading up the SuperSix for the Greene County Road Race. For the WVU Cycling team, rainy race days have become the rule, not the exception, as many of our previous race weekends have had miserable weather at best. However, after crossing the state line into Pennsylvania, rainy skies turned into clouds, which turned into sun. It might be a good day after all.

While the stormy forecast might have scared off a few people, over 40 starters were present for the combined mens 4/5, 5 field. Racing for WVU was Kyle Kukieza and myself. Other familiar faces included the Dynamic guys, including president Todd Latocha. Once the race started, I found myself getting pushed to the back of the field from some eager Cat 5's. Although at this point all I wanted to do was sit in, I did not want to have to navigate through a field once the climb came up. With Kyle behind my wheel, I made a move to move back up to the top third or so and jumped back inside and stayed put until the climb. Once we started going up, I shortly found myself up at front with Todd by my side. Although him and I are relatively strong climbers, we didn't really push the tempo up enough to truly break away.

Cresting the peak, our tempo pace had split the leaders to about a group of eight, with one a bit off the front. Not being too overly concerned, our group worked well to slowly bring back the leader. The middle section of the course was mostly flat and rolling, and the group maintained a strong paceline throughout. Soon after passing the 27th mile, I took a GU to prepare for the hill climb carnage that would soon be upon us. The "tentative" plan of attack for the hill was to ramp up the tempo hard with Todd and try and stay away. In addition, Kyle would be blocking any attempt at a chase to bring us back in the end. Kyle graciously accepted the sacrificial role in exchange for a lead-out if the either the break didn't stick or happen.

As we hit the hit the noticeable part of the climb, it suddenly got real hot. Not knowing the climb length, I let Todd get a couple bike lengths on me in fear of blowing up. Unfortunately, the climb was much shorter than I anticipated and I hit the crest with a match or two that could have been used. Despite that, I was sitting 4th and riding solo and I knew I was likely the last person who got away. If I wanted to keep my place, I had to give it everything and hope Kyle was doing his job behind me. When I saw the 1 mile to go sign I found some extra energy and cruised to the finish.

As it turns out, Kyle was in a group of three behind me, doing his best to slow down the chasing pace. Once he knew I was clear, he was free to move and prepare for his sprint. Despite a mechanical not allowing him to sprint out of the saddle, he still won out and claimed 5th. In summary, it turned out to be a great day for racing and a perfect execution of team tactics (contrast to my last post!) allowed both of us to finish top 5.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Agony of the Teammate-less Racer

Let me preface this post by saying this is only my second season of racing, and the first season being fast-ish enough to really contend for a podium spot. Although that might just be the SuperSix.

This past Sunday was the road race leg of our home race weekend, following an awesome downtown crit in Clarksburg, WV. The road race course was about a 12.2 mile loop with some rollers and 2 climbs. The climbs themselves were respectable in terms of grade and length, certainly enough to break a C field. The morning of the race was certainly an adventure, as driving from Morgantown to Lost Creek in a thick fog got my attention up a lot faster than my coffee did. Fortunately, the race got delayed half an hour, which gave me some more time to digest my epic Black Bear dinner from the previous night. Very clutch. However unfortunately, our police lead cars did not show up in time and Todd had to drop out of the race to fill in.

Once the race started, Kyle and the NC State freshman set the pace up front at about 18 miles an hour for about the first 7 miles. Somehow they also managed to effectively block anyone else from attacking during this time. Once we got to the gravel hill I finally said enough is enough and launched an attack and drove up the pace. After hitting the descent, there was about 8-10 riders who could sustain my pace and I thought this would mean a break group would form.

Nope, huge wrong on that one.

I can't begin to explain how many people would not take a pull and just slowed the pace down. Not only did this let dropped racers back in, but relegated me to the back after a hard pull. Not much else happened the rest of the second lap, although the pace was at least above 22mph. Had a short conversation with Kyle just before the climbs, saying if we were going to make a gap, we had to do it this time. As we were getting ready to hit the gravel climb the second time I heard a scream from behind me. I didn't know what happened or how, but Kyle was down and out. Still, I attacked again on the climb trying to shed as much of the group as possible. Crested the peak with VT and App riders close by and this time I surely thought a gap could form.

Wrong again.

Once again, following the descent people would not pull. After some serious yelling and unkind words, people started doing work and an apparent break of 6-7 riders formed. This carried about until the first set of rollers came again and I found myself off the front after nobody followed my pull. I was not about to slow the pace down so I continued to attack. After maybe a minute a Navy rider pulls along side me and says "WVU, its just you and me." I was definitely ok with this and we started doing some serious work. This must have lit a spark up the chasing field as they caught back on after a couple miles and instantly shut the pace back down. Once again, the group increased to about 14 or so and I was getting pretty unhappy. I knew if I didn't get away for good on the climb this final time it would be a lot harder to post a podium finish. As with the previous laps, I put myself up front going into the gravel climb and gave it my all to get away. When cresting the top of the hill, I had maybe 10 seconds on 2nd, who undoubtedly had time on others behind him. Taking any and all chances to stay away, I hit the descent hard and fast giving my all to stay away.

Then it happens, caught by VT. But its the final stretch into the finish - He'll push on with me to the end right?

Again. No.

He sits up. App catches on. App sits up. Now the sprinters are all back in it. At this point I'm frustrated. The final mile is a mess of attacks and responses, and despite my efforts, the end of the race turns into a field sprint and I finish 8th.

In road racing, getting help from teammates is essential. Whither blocking, helping to launch an attack, or leading out, having help in the field is undoubtedly a difference maker. I learned this the hard way, watching other teams work together to take away my efforts. Some help blocking, and or sustaining and the race outcome is probably a different story. Hopefully next weekend with the C squad back in action, we can turn the tides and launch an attack that sticks.