Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Where's The Podium? #18: Steel City Showdown 2014 - 22nd

Well, it has been some time since I have posted here. It has been over a year since the last post and that horrible crash. That's obvious. Less obvious might be the opportunities I have recently been afforded to ride, train, and race my bike. To put this quickly, my updates here have been lacking due to less riding. I have put a lot behind me and while opening myself up to a new challenge ahead, the window of opportunity to ride and spend time with my bike and the friends and support around it has presented itself. I'll take it. After this weekend's race and experiences I have been motivated, if not inspired, to have a go at posting again, and to keep ever diligent with riding.

Tough drive up
The Pittsburgh Steel City Showdown holds a good place for my racing legs. Though I haven't raced every year of its existence, the two that I have did not disappoint. This criterium race through downtown makes for an exciting venue and an ever challenging race.
This is a road trip.
Though this will be the first 2014 race recap, this is not my first 2014 race. The three previous races of the season were fairly squalid as far as performance and quality on my part. Having been dropped in two of the three and finished in the back (tho apparently I scored a DNF) of the other, any subsequent recaps do not need much more breath than that. It could go without saying that my expectations for this Cat3/4 race were not high. My Cat4 abilities are still finding their legs and race alertness.

IUP Cycling had a great showing in the morning's earlier Cat5 race. Club VP, Theron, took the win! Teammates Drew and Alex finished top 15 at 10th and 14th respectively. Those boys make the IUP Cycling alum proud and excited to see more success.

Race day looms
The Cat3/4 race started its way around the .8mi course in a hustle. My expectations for this race was that it was going to hurt, and I would do my best to hang in for as long as possible. The early laps set a firm tone for the peloton's proceedings.
Photo by Mike Briggs
I had the sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't last, but somewhere through the middle of the race my legs fell into a rhythm following the pace, turns, and constant accelerations up and around the two bridges.

The turns were the worst. Most of my time was spent regaining lost ground from having to touch the brakes through corners 1 and 2 from the sometimes sudden and ever unfortunate decellerations that had to be made. I quickly realized thst this pattern of slowing and subsequent acceleration was nothing I could waste any energy on. I would do what I had to to hold wheels, catch drafts back to the pack, and not allow any gap to form between me and the main pack. Potholes pinched nerves and the curb after turn 2 claimed at least 5 riders throughout the race. I could not understand how guys could overcook turn 2 and skim up on that outside curb after that turn. Yet it kept happening, and I made sure to hold my inside line.
Green dot - start/finish. Clock-wise.

Round and round, my legs kept up. It was well apparent to me that I was not the strongest in the race. I sought recovery every chance I could, but eventually I began to realize that I had opportunities to make gains on the field as sluggers on the front slowed after ascending the bridges. No one really wanted to make a blistering pace in the field, so the pace dropping allowed a lot of guys to catch back on. Instead of me hitting my breaks and holding my place near the back, I would allow a simple sling-shot effect to take place and gain positioning up bridge 1. I knew I could easily carry speed through turns 3 and 4 to carry momentum over the second through to the lap lines. This tactic would keep me in the hunt.
Photo by Mike Briggs
I kept an eye toward the lap cards flipping by when I could. Guys thinking they needed to bunny hop every pothole and gap in the road really got on my nerves, and kept me wary of someone making the wrong twitch into someone else's wheel to ruin everyone's day. As the laps moved on, my confidence and mentality strengthened. With 10 laps to go, I began noticing who the players for the finish wanted to be. Teammates began pairing up, and tho I didn't know any of them by strength, the tactics were simple. Follow their wheel for a ride to the finish.

I thought to myself "If you can see the front, you can be the front." I was going to give myself the best chance to win.

At this level, no one was going to be able to make a break away. With 3 to go, I knew that I had to be toward the front and hold my place there.

My adrenaline is pumping, my eyes twitch from wheel to wheel sizing up strengths and gaps in the field around me. Through turn 1 I am sitting halfway up the field. I ascend bridge 1 after a smooth, swift turn 2, and I put in a dig to keep myself moving as the front riders relax before they can dive into turn 3. Up the bridge to the line for 2 to go, I am sitting near 15th wheel. The penultimate lap is more of the same as I take more risks to put myself in the best place I can.

I am sitting 8th wheel as the peloton crosses the line to the bell lap. The pace is high and I follow a good line through the turn 1. I hold off touching my brakes as the back of my left hand is grazed by another rider's right. We acknowledge the contact by an instinctive twitch away from one another. My line into turn 2 is hindered by a surge from the outside squeezing me in. I accellarate hard through the turn to hold my positioning. Over bridge 1 and into turn 3 I have lost maybe 5 positions as more surge from the outside. My legs pedal through turn 4 and up the final bridge. I give it my all. I dig deep out of the saddle. My legs immediately burn and I feel my strength and acceleration dimming. My arms torque the bike side to side from the drops as I feel my handle bar jabbing my forearms. I sense riders flying past me and I know that my bid for a placing has passed. I keep turning as hard as I can for as long as I can through the finish line.

I finished 22nd out of 70 that crossed the finish line. I roll through one last lap to spin the legs, and I exit the course to go find my beautiful support girl on the sidelines of the course. I didn't register as immediately as she did that even tho I had not finished near the front, I had raced better than all season! This is certainly something to celebrate. I am so happy I had her and our Pittsburgh host cheering me on.

Looking back, I am really glad and honestly relieved to have given her something to actually cheer me on about. Me sitting 8th wheel at the end was, to me, the perfect place to be. I simply didn't have the legs to finish, but that will come with harder work put in. This performance is a step up because of my elevated training, and I know that the races will not be getting any easier.

By the numbers:
  • 21.4 miles
  • 50min 35sec
  • 24.3 mph average

After the race I had the pleasure of meeting the inspiring person that is behind Cycling Inquisition. Klaus is a brilliant writer with a tireless passion for cycling as seen through the Colombian perspective. I had no idea I would ever get a chance to meet him, but he noticed the jersey he designed that I wore for the race and came up to me after the finish to introduce himself and share a chat. His humility and appreciation for me wearing his jersey was truly inspiring. I was more than happy to share that moment with my girlfriend and friend with me there.
The jersey trumped the "13" bad luck

Here are a few more pictures from the weekend...

Another weekend racer

She's my teammate, fan, and soigneur number 1. #lesigh
I am fortunate to have such great support around me!

Thanks for reading. Two races to face this coming weekend. Look for more updates soon.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you back at it. Good luck to you this season.