Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where's The Podium? #1: Morgantown Road Race - 4th

Let's start from the top. An afternoon race start time is key. JR Petsko's ABRA racing series is full of them and that alone is enough to make me want to keep coming back. It was with that in mind that I took the horrific weather with some reserved animosity. We could have been racing in the terrible snow, sleet, rain, and wind with not a prayer for sun early in the morning. Yet, all of that mixed in with a grueling "pain-cave" race made the Morgantown Road Race a race of great proportions with everyone involved. Myself, David Watkins and John Blank (after a clutch no-show opened up a spot for John) all raced in the Cat 4/5 race. I will say that although this race's distance was longer than I have ever raced, I believe the length allowed me to really figure out what it was that I needed to do. I had more time to read the race, judge my effort, and make my moves.
Looking at some other racers getting ready, the rain began to fall.. then a snow mix.
Slushy seat and bike
There I am warming up and this will lead nicely to me talking about the race and my tactics therein. I chose to pack no leg-warmers. I wasn't even going to consider it (channeling my inner Belgian). I wore my Elite Ozone warming gel and that was all that I needed. I will contend that I was the only one not wearing leg or knee warmers in all of the races and I am proud of that. That was part of my mental preparation... there was nothing that would stand in the way of me doing this race in the best way I could manage. It was going to be tough, leg-warmers or not and I have nothing to hide. Also note the Power Bar energy gel tucked on the quad. I had another slipped on the other side and that's where they stayed until use in the race.  I also decided against wearing my wind/water-proof jacket. I knew I would get cold, but I also knew my legs were the important component here. When we finally did get rolling after a 30 min delay for weather improvement, everyone was unsure of how things would unfold.

Rolling out, things were good and bad. Tough cold, wind, rain added to terrible road conditions with potholes that knocked many people's water bottles out (I almost lost one of mine) was the bad.  There was a lot of talking during the first 8 miles or so before a break happened with I'm guessing three or four riders and another trailing to bridge a gap to them. I will say that I would have probably tried to get with that break had I been able to move to the front, but I was sure glad to find out that staying in the peloton was just what I needed. I made it a goal of mine to go with any and every break that happened no matter what - afraid that the race would slip from me without my control. The peloton caught that break I believe on the first climb, but again I was not near the front so I am unsure of when that happened. Nonetheless, they were caught and another break was to go I believe on the 2nd climb (no one could control that one but those three).

Note about that 2nd breakaway: It stuck. They were all from the same team (TOMS... like Toms Shoes) and they admitted that they were just using the race to get points so that they could cat-up. I mean, I can accept that, but it kinda stinks to be racing below your level just for points. Apparently they actually started the race late, bridged up to the peloton, passed us all and took the 1-2-3. I fail to see how that is impressive when they could have raced in the Cat 3/4 race and challenged themselves with better competition. Enough said.... maybe.

With the breakaway gone the rest of the race was to be decided on the climbs and the rolling hills to the finish. I ended up finding myself with a nice group after the first climb. I believe David was at least there and it was at that point that I took my first energy gel and I suggested David do the same. The timing of my intake worked well for me. His proved to be a little more difficult as I believe we hit the second climb of the day struggling to open the thing and he was admittedly not ready for the horrid taste of banana-strawberry (it was all that was left when we shopped) bitterness. That second climb was a test indeed. A select group got away at that one and I was in the red to keep with them.

A lot was going through my mind at that point. Firstly, I thought that I just needed to limit my losses and tick away as hard as I could. Secondly, I needed to not give up. This race was not going to slip by me. Thirdly, I thought to make a joke with the others suffering by saying "I shouldn't have had all that candy at Halloween!" but I also  [fourthly] thought I might save that one. Fifthly, the thought of doubt came in the form of me wondering how I was going to handle the next climbs and bridging back the gap that was occurring and how much weight I wish I could have really lost during training. 

A gap certainly did occur and I had to bridge on the descent to keep with them. They were cooking and I was frying. Eventually I did come up on their wheels and recovered enough to give a few pulls to make sure we were not going to have too many others join us. It was clear that our work should not be done in groups of two or three, so eventually we formed a nice "chasing group," as they'd say, and worked together. Hitting the third climb was a brutal thing. We were all on the rivet and I would contend I was the worst. My pain-face was evident just sucking wind. I remember blurred vision just looking down at my front wheel; I suppose to make sure it was still rolling forward. Although I believe the pace was quicker on the second climb, energy stores were being tested on this third one and my legs were screaming. Yet, so were everyone else's (one must never forget). I fell off the wheels of my group again and knew that even after the summit, I would still have to work myself hard to catch them again.

The descents were sketchy. Wet pavement is one thing, but I am not used to such switchbacks. I don't know if they just look fast doing them in the pros, but I did my best to hold a line without skidding off-road. However, I didn't really have a problem with them and don't you think the only switchbacks were on the descents. Uphill switchbacks reminded me that these were the kind of climbs I have dreamed about killing. Though I surely hoped they wouldn't kill me.

I suffered to bridge the gap to my group of five and I wondered if I was burning too much of what I had left for the finish. Upon that thought my tactics came to mind. Instead of taking more pulls like I had done after the second climb, I decided I had better not just latch onto a wheel directly. Rather, I knew I needed to protect myself, my efforts, and my legs for when I needed them most. I trailed off the back a bit and did no more work than to remain as inconspicuous as possible (out of sight - out of mind) Now I do understand this kind of thinking and tactics. I was benefitting from the work of others and am no better than the Toms teammates taking advantage of a situation. Albeit, they chose to race an "easier" race for points. My move was a race time decision and it paid off. I got no complaints from the guys trading pulls and I tried to stay off the back just enough so as to hope they would think I was suffering more than I was and maybe even still trying to catch their group. I don't think I fooled anyone though.

Tactics are something I am very much focussed on this year. I want to race like I know what I am doing. I chose to take the race into my own hands and play it how I needed to. I did not take any wind for the last 10+ miles and I am okay with that. Some may call it cheap, I call it race tactics. It was within this time that I made sure I took my second energy gel, made sure that I was drinking a lot of my V8 Fusion/water mix in my bottles, and recover. I played my cards right and I am happy with how it turned out.

The last 2-3 miles I knew from the drive in. It was a relief to know where I was and what to look for through the finishing miles - crossing the state line from Pennsylvania into West Virginia. Those last two miles were testing for everyone in my group. The two guys who put the most effort in pushing the pace before this point got dropped by three of our group's members on the third to last roller within the final mile. I was still playing my patience card and kept to their pace as they slowly faded to a surge from those aforementioned three. I knew how close we were to the finish and I knew I needed to attack my waning lead-out and find more suitable wheels to follow before the road opened up at the "200m to go" mark where the yellow-line-rule was to be nulled for any sprint finish. I caught my three targets on the second to last roller and for some reason a straggler from the Cat 3/4 was following their wheels too. Upon bridging and recognizing (by not recognizing this rider from our breakaway) this atrocity I readily snapped at the rider to back off their wheels and I found my position at I believe third wheel with about 500m left. Once we rolled up on the last little roller to the slight uphill finish, I knew where to look for that "200m to go" sign and I quickly accelerated and swept to the left side of the road upon us passing that sign. I was surprised that no one in front of me had tried this move and I was happy to have it all to myself. I don't know what happened with the other riders of my group, but after I swung over, I took the sprint with strength and full confidence I had just taken 4th.
I had high spirits before and after the race. I felt confident in myself, my training, preparation, and mental state. I was excited to just be racing and I wanted the race to be a learning experience above all. Beyond that, I wanted to work not only my legs for a result, but also my tactics and mental game. They say that it is not always the strongest that wins a race, but sometimes the smartest. I believe I played this one right and I got the "win" I wanted. I am not a "climber," but I made it work out. I knew that my pull after the third climb was not necessary unless someone in my group was to yell at me for not doing any work. We were not going to be caught by anyone behind and I knew I needed to do my best to recover. I do wish it could have been for the top spot on the podium, but I am happy with my result. My bike needs a shower.

Looking ahead to other races, I believe I just need to try to remain consistent. Continue and believe in my training, remain patient, and going with my gut during a race. There is no need to go into the red for a pull when I have a greater concern - the finish line.
Great race and I look forward to the next ABRA event.
David finished 25th in his first ever bicycle race and I am not sure where John Blank finished yet. As a team I believe we are happy about the race and I am most certainly looking forward to the next weekend. I will update as I see fit. Thanks for reading!

Other info about race: Unfortunately, I forgot to start my garmin right when the whistle blew so I lost the first few miles of the race, but my average speed was 20.2 mph, max heart rate was 191 bpm with an average hr at 161 bpm, I had an average cadence of 88 rpm, and the total ascent was 3199 ft for my recorded 47.95 miles. The official race results can be found HERE For the race my official finishing time was 2 hours 24 minutes and 28 seconds, but think about this... the finishing time of the Cat 1,2,3's race was 2 hours 8 minutes 55 sec. We all had ~50 miles to do so yeah; I have a long way to go. I did win $20 though!


  1. $20... that's about 3 Papa J's pies right?

  2. You have to race 4s before you can Cat up to 3...right? I don't see the problem with it. If anything, all the guys that have been in the 4s for more than a couple years are the true sandbaggers. At least these guys are hustling trying to upgrade.

    It sucks if you are a 5 and have to race against advanced 4s, but if they are racing the 3/4 race...they'll likely take a lot longer to progress to a 3 and then take even longer to progress to a 2.

    Think about it.

  3. I never called these guys sandbaggers and I never would. I accept what they did and how they raced. Yes, you have to race as a cat 4 and going points or enough races within 12 months before you can cat-up. The point is, is they could have raced in the cat3/4 race and done just as well as opposed to the cat 4/5 one.

    I wouldn't call people who are cat 4s for multiple years sandbaggers at all. If they were a true sandbagger - beating up on all the cat 4s- they would no longer be a cat 4. I guess I can explore different reason's for them being there so long like... they are really poor racers, they are scared to move up, they don't race enough, or they had had some really really bad luck? In any case, I don't think the podium for my cat 4/5 race would fit your definition of a sandbagger.

    I totally get their mentality. Why not show up to this race, dominate the cat 4/5s, and get some needed points for us? It's sound logic, yet probably means they weren't going to take it [the race itself] very seriously; just to get points. They probably have some other races that they are really hoping to peak for and this is a stepping stone for their form and categories to advance. It's all about perspective... and I do respect them.

    I will not go to defend my motives for the race beyond saying that I am no climber and this was certainly a climber's race to win. This is my first race of the season and, again I was using it to gauge where I am and where I might look to focus my season's efforts. I take every race I do seriously.

    I applaud the cat 5 racers that did my race. They were going big. My teammate that finished 25 was in his first race ever.

    Thanks for the comment!

  4. race as a cat 4 and gain* points

  5. Ok I'll bite. I am one of the TOMS riders and I was directed here by sources unknown. I'll spare everyone my race report and keep this brief.

    As a team we have been working very hard in the off season and teamwork and tactical execution has been a big part of that equation. It's true, we are chasing points so that we can cat up, but as a team. The races we choose to race always involve a plan. We see cat 4/5 races as an oppurtunity for us to practice our race tactics and see if the organization we practice on our own will work in those situations.

    In many of the crit events through the mabra calendar you will see us doubling up in the 4/5 and 3/4 races where our tactics vary greatly but in Morgantown where we had to choose one field to race on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar racers, we chose a field where we could hopefully achieve our goals safely with more control. Given the shenanigans that went on in the first 20 miles of that group, stretching it out and creating smaller groups might have been for the best whether our move stuck or not.

    As a team we are new to the scene but the message we want to convey is that we are a team that works for the benefit of every member and the tactics we practice and execute are team oriented. Several things happened during that race that could have split us up but we stuck to the plan, executed it and it worked out well. In the future, we will pursue different ends for our members and the strongest of us on paper is not always the one we pick to win.

    As is the nature of road racing, we will rise to our level of incompetence so not only do we see the 4/5 field as a way to move forward but as a place where we can dictate the race rather than just reacting to it. There will surely be races where we have to learn how to react to stronger riders but in this situation we were feeling good and the timing was right.

    I hope no one thinks we are letting success in a cat 4/5 race go to our heads. As cyclists, we know we have a long way to go in terms of our strength as riders and our ability to plan and execute team tactics. It's simply a stepping stone of progress and a demonstration we hope will generate interest in our cause and new membership interest for a smaller team that doesn't neccesarily offer as much in terms of membership benefits but is dedicated to the advancement of it's members towards their goals as cyclists, good communication and a competitive but friendly attitude.

    Depth is hard to find and getting teammates through category upgrades together so we can keep racing together is important especially for a smaller team that doesn't have at least 4 guys in every field of every race every weekend everywhere.

    Hope I see everyone at Chantilly and Dolan and races beyond. Come say Hi even. We don't bite.

  6. I absolutely appreciate the comment and I do hope I did not come off as (too) judgmental or unfair. I understand that everyone has their motives, rights, and privileges to do as they please within the rules. You guys were gracious winners and it is good to see that you could work out your team tactics. Practice at this level will surely help out when you all head to the bigger leagues, as I can surely see you all headed there.

    Everyone has a long way to go and I hope my words don't make me sound like I'm taking this cat4/5 race too seriously... I've got a long way to go too. I will say that my collegiate team sounds similar to yours in the sense that we have limited member benefits, members (even less who actually race), and skill level. I look forward to getting on a team upon graduation that will allow me to be a part of team tactics and race planning.

    Anyway, you guys certainly are a friendly bunch and I look forward to racing with you all again.

  7. Word...If all road cyclists spoke to each other with such respect I would maybe consider getting back into it....

  8. The whole point of bike racing (or any endeavor you can waste a similar amount of time, money and social connections pursuing) is to continue advancing until you reach the level at which you suck.

    When you're trying as hard as you can and still getting your ass kicked, then you know you've found "success".

    Once you reach that point, you start doing masters races.

    If you approach the sport in any other manner you're a fucking dork.

  9. Sure, but sandbaggers of any capacity don't deserve much respect. There had better always be someone(s) better than me. This being the first race of my season, a climber's race a that, and still a cat4 contest, know that I'm not taking it too seriously.

  10. That's kind of my point but I didn't see the need to just spell it out. There's no way to label their particular race execution as "good strategy practice" because once/if they do decide to move up to the appropriate level, that move (or anything similar) will never, ever happen again. And if it does, then they're too strong to be fucking around in the lower categories.

    Anyway, there's no reason for anyone to be shy about making fun of them or otherwise tempering your comments. Ridicule is pretty much the best tool we have at our disposal, in terms of enforcing social/behavioral norms and expectations, particularly when we're talking about dudes who seem to lack a basic awareness of sportsmanship.

  11. they lack morals. what cat 4's do they think were suppose to race the 3/4 race? complete assholes.

  12. why isn't anyone complaining about the OP sucking wheel until the finish but is so upset about guys that probably turned themselves inside out to get to the finish? it seems like the toms guy has it in perspective. the rest of you haters are just jealous.

  13. ... I'm not jealous at all; everyone was suffering.