Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa…
Boris Simmonds has been training a lot over the winter for road season, he took it to the Tour of Tuscaloosa this past weekend. Here’s his write up.
Enter Road Racing - Tour de Tuscaloosa 2012
Disclaimer: I have not “blogged” in a while, so this is a bit of a novel!
This weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to compete in my first “real” road race, the 6th Annual Tour de Tuscaloosa. The TDT takes place over two days beginning with a criterium race near downtown T-Town followed by a road race near Lake Lurleen the next morning. Having spent the whole winter on a legitimate fitness plan with Pat Allison’s Lead it Out Cycling, I was more than eager to stretch my legs and see if this whole training plan was legit. With the weather beautiful and race form beginning to develop, this weekend was the perfect chance to learn what road racing is all about. It is about skill, endurance, and strength… it welcomes those with confidence and rewards the few with finesse. Road racing, especially crit racing, is ballsy and is not kind to sissies. Most of all, racing requires you to use your head, a lesson I learned the hard way.
TDT Day 1: Cat 5 Criterium
For those who don’t know already, a criterium is like NASCAR for bicycles…only our “engines” aren’t all stock and many have smaller gas tanks than others. The bikes have no roll cages to keep you safe when you bump against other racers (or objects) and the moment you pop off the back of the peloton, you’re out for good. This means there is a constant drive for individuals to get to the front without actually being at the front. It gets chaotic, but played smart it can be performed easily enough to allow you to go virtually unnoticed until the final meters when you dash out of the group and take the victory for yourself. That is how you win a criterium. The pictures below show how to lose a criterium.Towing the Cat 5 Crit like a boss/fool.
Putting in another dig at the front near the end of the same lap.
In retrospect I suffered from a complete lack of strategy, false confidence, and plain dumbness. I not only ignored everything that I had learned about riding on the road, but also the advice of my riding companions and what my body was telling me. Perhaps it was pride that made me want to just sit and pull. Whatever the reason, I rode stupid. After the race I was reminded by my good friend Jacob Tubbs that the only time you need to be in front is at the finish. It reminded me of when my dad used to tell me in soccer that all I need to do is put the ball in the goal… but I wanted to dribble around people and pass and slide tackle… this time I finally learned my lesson.
I rode off the start at threshold and did my best to push the pace and match every attack. I was too scared to sit on another wheel to closely as I didn’t trust most the riders in the race yet. I was convinced that every rider in the group was a Cat 5 because they rode once a month. I was also too anxious to move backwards because I felt I could miss the winning breakaway. My reasons for riding the way I did were conflicting and prematurely formed. Thus, in the end, I took a really hard pull into a ruthless headwind for the last lap and missed the jump into the last turn before the sprint, finishing 4th, just out of the multi-tools (no money L in Cat 5). On the bright side, being up front gave Hanh several chances to get some neat photos, of which I was clearly able to go back and see exactly when attacks were made. Unfortunately, the beef of the race took place after the starting downhill on an exposed flat directly into the headwind and in the short grunt climb that followed. No photos were taken there, but it’s on Strava, so it happened I swear!
TDT Day 2: Cat 5 Road Race
Saturday night I spent the entire drive home to Hoover cursing at myself for making such a novice error in the day’s crit. I really wanted to make an impressive show at my first race, and I did, but in a bad way. So I committed myself to a new plan – become the laziest, most selfish cyclist in the Cat 5 peloton at the road race. I got home and pinned my numbers to my jersey for the day to come, and helped myself to two servings of turkey, marinara sauce, and spaghetti squash with white rice and a fruit smoothie before dozing off…ZZZ…
5:45 AM arrived quickly and I immediately acquainted myself with a bowl of oatmeal and a banana before making my way out to Lake Lurleen for the road race. I arrived with about 30 minutes to spare so I quickly got into my kit and out on the road to warm up and have a gander at the mile-long finishing climb that reminds me of Karl Daly, but with a slight downhill before the finish line. Warmed and ready for a day of sitting in I picked a spot in the front quarter of the race to watch the Pro/1/2’s take off. Our race began with a neutral start into the triple stair-step climb where almost immediately people began to grab brake, surge, or change lines without reason. Once the race began, the pace didn’t change. I think the first lap may have contained an attempt or two to breach the peloton, but from where I sat nothing appeared planned or well executed. In our first turn off of Sam Sutton Road, some fool took off sprinting on the downhill over the rumble pads before sliding out in the turn and nearly taking others with him. Who attacks a downhill into a 90-degree turn with gravel in it? Someone thought it was a fantastic idea!
Our first stroll through the finishing hill was uneventful, but it quickly became apparent that the same top five from yesterday’s criterium would be setting the pace. While my original strategy was to hide in the group, my general disdain for sitting on another novice’s wheel led me to the front where I took rotations regularly. However, if I was in the lead I made sure I was in nothing more than tempo/Z3 pace, and at times sat there in Zone 2 waiting for others to come around. I felt selfish, and lazy, but I knew after yesterday that nothing else would work better. Our second lap around there were some more breakaways, including one from the 3rd place crit finisher who must have burned everything up in the effort as I don’t recall seeing him near the front after that lap. John Newsome and Kyle Campbell put a lot of time in the front on this and the last lap and so we had some time to chat and play some games. One idea that came up was to push the pace a little on the finishing climb on lap 2 and see if we could trim some of the fat off of the peloton. While a true breakaway group never formed, I heard later than in the effort a good deal of riders did burn too much energy and popped before the stair steps leading into lap 3.
In Lap 3 I grew impatient. I knew I should just sit it, but I began to entertain the idea of taking off on my own. At the base of the first stair step I sprinted up to the false flat generating a small gap…nothing to be proud of, so I sat up and waited for Mr. Newsome of ST3 Cycling to bridge up. Then I remembered something Phillip had told me about attacking right when a group works to bridge to you, so I went again hard on the second step and put a bigger gap…however I didn’t want to start working just yet I sat in and enjoyed the increased pace for a while before the group caught up again. The ride was pretty neutral at this point and even had a few super-slow segments where nobody wanted to take a pull, so when we reached the base of Sam Sutton Hill I gave a hard push and sprinted up and over… looking back I probably had a 20+ second gap that was only growing as I pedaled. I felt I could have led it out to the end there as Sam Sutton Road had lots of good rollers for me to power through; but I was lacking in confidence after the night before and didn’t want to make a mistake so I sat up and enjoyed about a minute of soft pedaling before rejoining the group. Somewhere in this road an older guy launched on a flat but we all jumped on for the free ride and it quickly ended. As we hit the treacherous turn off of Sam Sutton I took my place up front. I stayed at zone 3 somewhere in the low/mid-20’s and waited for the turn onto the finishing climb. To my surprise nobody came around with an attack. We were shaped like Canadian geese with me at the front. I looked back several times nervously waiting for an attack, but I didn’t see any of the faces that had given me trouble the night before. When we turned on to the finishing climb, I flipped a few gears down and just set a steady effort to the top. Kyle Campbell of the NSAT crew led a hard chase behind me up through the false flat but fell off at some point. I think he was the only person to jump on my wheel as I took leave of the peloton, and it came as a surprise to me. I weaved back and forth across the road trying to shake him off my draft… the finish came as a relief and I was glad to have done the day’s race right. My number one goal was to not repeat the crit’s mistakes, and riding smarter paid off. Looking back I got to watch John and Rueben of ST3 take 2nd and 3rd at the sprint, giving the Alabama boys a podium sweep. I was glad to keep the Pensacola peeps at bay…the hills may have helped!
At the close of my first road race I was awarded the Alabama Cat 5 State Championship medal and a dinky cyclocomputer, which will join my collection of multi-tools. I got to watch Brian Toone dominate the Pro/1/2 field, including riders like Andy Crater and Frank Travieso by a huge gap. I got to witness the strengths of fellow riders like John Newsome and Kyle Campbell, and I met several new people whom I will continue to race with in the future, God willing.
I have posted the photos Hanh took at the criterium on facebook, but I included this short snapshot of my performance data from Strava. I would have posted my Training Peaks charts if I had a power meter, but without one, I still rely either on my rollers (speed) when training indoors or on Strava’s approximated power (only valid-ish when riding alone, but still not accurate for sure). Regardless, when I compare my efforts this weekend to rides in the past, Strava is suggesting that my threshold power is well over 100 watts from where it was in August of 2011. When I have real numbers from a power meter I will post those (I’m due for a computrainer test, but have too many races this month to do it). For now I have a half-jokingly annotated reason for my race data…some people learn from books, other from advice, and some just have to pee on the electric fence. The evidence is clear that training this winter with Pat has boosted my fitness in a huge way, and I can’t wait to take back some KOM’s from you-know-who, or at least try. But I need to get smarter. Good riding this weekend everyone!