Upcoming This Week…

Last race I did Cat 4/5, the lowest category in the ChiCrossCup.

This Sunday, I’m racing 1/2/3s, the highest category in the ChiCrossCup.

Good luck, eh?

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CYCLOCROSS!!! Racing for Team UPB/www.ultimateprobikes.com:

I suppose today is as good a day as any to announce that I’m racing for Team UPB/www.ultimateprobikes.com this cyclocross season.  The owner of Ultimate Pro Bikes, Joe, is my road team’s (Tower Racing) bike shop affiliation and I got my 2014 Felt AR5 there.  I plan to get a power meter next spring so I didn’t have any funds for a cross bike.  I was going to race anyways, on a 26″ rigid fork MTB that we have that weighs +/- 30 lbs, but Joe heard about my predicament and is letting me borrow a bike for the season.  How awesome is that?  It’s such an honor because this is my first cyclocross season and he’s putting a lot of trust/faith in me.  Here’s a picture of the sweet Felt F65x that I’m riding, blinged out with some Clement MXP Clinchers (I’ll probably do a full photo shoot w/out the battle scars at some point, similar to my Felt AR5 shoot):

A picture of a 2014 Felt F65x

A super-solid CX rig. I’ve already pushed it through its paces through my poor riding skills (ha!) and it’s still riding awesome!

Maybe I’m sponsor-plugging, maybe I’m not, but I really like that Felt specs all their CX bikes with disc brakes.  The F65x is specced with Avid BB5s and they’re a lot better than most cantis I’ve ridden (and I’ve ridden the Shorty Ultimates on aluminum rims).  Although I haven’t raced, I’ve been following cyclocross (BTB, svenness, World Cups, etc) for over a year and it seems like disc brakes give a big advantage.  If you have the money to get into Felt’s hydraulic disc models, even better.  My dream build would be a Force CX1 w/ Hydraulic Disc Brakes on Felt’s F1x Frameset.

This year, Joe is trying to invest in juniors like other people invested in him when he was a junior.  He’s always looking for other juniors who want to compete and have fun, so contact me (comment, e-mail, etc) if you’re interested!  We have clinics/practices pretty much every week either on a Wed/Thurs morning or on Saturday, which are really helpful b/c Joe has tons of experience.  It’s a ton of fun and a great team.

At the beginning of this post, I say “as good a day as any” because today I got my first win!  The season has started in absolutely fine style: First race of the season was out in DeKalb, where I raced Category 4 and Category 4/5.  I got 5th in the 4s, and 3rd in the 4/5s.  Podium in my second (sort of, I raced the 26″ MTB at Afterglow juniors last year) CX race?  I’ll take it.  We’ll ignore an embarrassing Juniors race yesterday (Saturday, 15-18 Juniors) and skip to today, where I got 7th in the 4s after getting stuck behind another racer on the singletrack climb and 1st in the 4/5s after a 1st-row stage and an overall great race (fastest lap of all participants, fastest average, 29 second gap, etc).  Here’s the money shot:

 

 

A picture of the podium of the Men's Cat 4/5 race at Dan Ryan Woods

Team UPB takes 1st AND 3rd!

This win is AWESOME, but there’s still tons of work to do.  Gaining experience with different pressures, continually practicing corneringz, dismountz, and runningz, gaining fitness, etc, etc, etc.  Let’s not forget what happened just a few weeks ago, and get too caught up in what’s happened thusfar.  I’m going to upgrade to Category 3, but I don’t know how that will work with church.

Until next time,
Zach Wong

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Filed under Motivation, News, Personal

Today, this happened:

Today I had a race.
Today I had my ass handed to me.
Today I learned that there’s no substitute for hard work. I can follow Charon Smith, read Dan Chabanov’s blog, and buy a Bear Dev Team shirt, but until I start really killing myself during workouts, I’m not going to be fast.
Today I learned that stuff doesn’t equal speed, it equals money that you don’t have any more. I can plan out which 900 dollar power meter I’m going to buy next February, look for carbon bars that will suit my exact ergo preferences, and read reviews upon reviews of the newest aero wheels, but it’s not going to put me into 1st place.

Here’s to getting my ass kicked. Here’s to kicking ass in the future.

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Specialized 2014 S-Works Road Shoe Review

Practical Reviews focuses on how well the product works and my personal experiences with the product.  Practical Reviews tries to rise above the poetic nature of many bike review sites and instead give real-person thoughts.

From an economic perspective, S-Works equipment doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Riders can gain more utility per dollar with other upgrades (or losing weight or riding more, etc).  In fact, the Specialized engineers recognize this and loudly proclaim that S-Works is 100% about racing, no cost spared.  The equipment does get expensive, in general sitting at the most expensive price point in the category (i.e. $400 shoes, $10,000 bikes, $250 helmets).  That said, all of it is damn good.

The two products I’m reviewing today are the S-Works Road Shoes (matte black, size 42 – what, you don’t know your euro shoe size?) with limited edition blue BOA dials and blue (++_) footbeds and the S-Works Turbo clinchers.  Let’s start with the footwear.

A view of the outer side and rear heel cup of the 2014 S-Works Road Shoes

Sleek lines and subtle design characterize the matte black shoes.

First things first: sex appeal.  Very high.  The matte black shoes are slick, with a very low, narrow, and sleek profile that screams speed (to me).  The all-carbon sole has a marble finish and a stark white S-Works logo stamped onto the middle of the thin sole (the sole doesn’t match the shape of the foot to save weight and only provide support where it’s needed).  The shoe itself has no seams.  Apparently, thread is too heavy, so the S-Works guys decided to thermobond everything, which means they use black magic to hold the shoe together.  Or something.

I don’t know if I’m the biggest fan of this process.  The thermobonds end up being a little sloppy, or at least not exact.  By no means are they a mess, but the intersection of the upper and the sole is not uniform and that bugs me a little, especially given how sleek the entire shoe is.  When one small detail is off, it throws off the whole shoe.  But then again, I ride so fast that no one could ever notice.

A picture of the Boa dials of the 2014 S-Works Road Shoes

The blue BOA dials of the S-Works Road Shoes are strong and micro-adjustable. They’re a great, convenient feature to have on the road.

The shoe has (and has used) two Boa S2 dials, S2 meaning 2nd generation.  The older S-Works used Boa dials that were a pain in the butt to service (I know because I’ve done it for other people, all while gagging over their footsweat invading my nose, sorry for that image).  These are pretty simple: Pop the entire dial out and replace it with a new one.  No messing with knots, or threading, or anything like that.  Simple and pretty quick.  When I switched the stock Boas to the blue ones on my shoes, it took me only about 10 minutes.  Although I’m not a Grand Tour contender who races down mountains at 70k+ and then goes on to win the Vuelta, I’ve never had any problems with the Boas getting stuck.  I think the ubiquity of the Boa dial across multiple brands speaks to how much the industry trusts them.  Overall, the retention system is fine, although the Velcro strap leaves some to be desired.  My toe never feels tight, which might be a fit issue, but could be a design flaw, given how well the rest of the shoe tightens down.  Each click of the Boa dial is 1mm, which really allows you to dial it in (and quickly, versus something like a ratcheting clip).

One complaint I do have about the shoes is that the carbon sole scratches very easily.  I’m not the most gentle with my shoes (heck, I walked through a field with them on the very first time out), but I wasn’t impressed with how much they scratched in the first week (when these pictures were taken).

A view of the carbon sole of the S-Works Road Shoe

The carbon sole has been crafted heavily to reduce weight but maintain stiffness, although it is prone to scratching.

The greatest thing about these shoes is the stiffness of the sole.  I didn’t know if I would notice the stiffness (which is supposed to save you 6 watts…), but I truly did, right out the door.  It’s hard to describe how it feels, but it gives you that wonderful feeling that everything you’re putting into the bike is making it go forward.  I’ve felt that when riding ultra-stiff bikes like the S-Works Roubaix and I feel it every time with these shoes.

Of course, these shoes are light.  I think each shoe is 200g and when you pick them up, you can tell right away.  I won’t woo you with stories of how you need to save 100g per shoe, but it brings a smile to everyone’s face the first time they feel them.  I don’t care about whether I need it – I like having it!

As for the S-Works clinchers… I can’t tell you rolling resistance numbers (which are reported very high), I can’t tell you that I feel the 220 tpi over my $12/ea Nashbar training tires, but I can tell you that I feel confident on them, that the tread is pretty sleek, and that I really do believe that there have been times when my bike was leaned over a bit too much (looking at you, turn two of Willow Springs RR) but I didn’t hit the deck.  Knock on wood, I haven’t crashed yet nor had a flat with these tires.  They just came out with the S-Works Cotton tires, which are 320 tpi!  Yummmmmm.

Overall, very happy with the S-Works road shoes and tires.  The shoes might not be economically “worth” it, but they’re sooooo nice and are a fantastic upgrade, especially after I got fitted for the correct Specialized footbeds.  Verdict: 5 stars.

TL;DR: Expensive, but rightfully so.  100% performance shoes that are optimized for speed.

5 Star Product

Practical Reviews: 5 Stars – Would have year round tanlines.

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ABR State Championships Race Reports

ABR State Road Race Report (Two Rivers Road Race)

End result: I won. Yay!  I first heard about the race through the team email group, and I decided to race because A) I need to race more for experience and B) I figured the Juniors field wouldn’t be very competitive and I could perhaps get my first win ever.

The course is in rural Illinois and consists of a 18-ish mile course with pretty good pavement (although a bit rough/high-frequency vibration-y) and a set of railroad tracks that absolutely suck to go over.  Unfortunately, the race wasn’t very well run.  It was ABR and registration took 30+ minutes, the finish line was 3.5 mi away from registration and parking, making it suck for my mom since she had to walk over, and there weren’t that many people.  But then again, ABR doesn’t have a lot of staff and at least they’re doing stuff, which is better than I can say.  I figured the race would end up being a split; there weren’t any course features that would split the field and, although it was all cornfields and flat farmland, the wind wasn’t very strong (maybe 5 mph), so crosswinds weren’t going to be a deciding factor (maybe in a larger group, but my field started with 10 people.

I set pace during a neutral 3mi rollout to the start/finish and then I fell into about 3rd position.  Then, the race sort of fell apart.  The other junior, 17-year-old Isaac Drew from Bike Heaven, sort of rolled off the front at maybe 26/27mph.  The first few times, the race stayed together, but after the fourth effort, I ended up in a 3-man group with Isaac, and another rider racing Cat 5s, “Steve” (quotes to mean I only know his first name).  I wasn’t having any problem holding the pace, but I didn’t want to tire myself out taking pulls.  I feel like when you’re in a breakaway, there’s a sub-competition to pull the least possible.  So, Voeckler-level facemugging, loud complaining, and innocent guttering occurred.  This race was one of the places where knowing the direction of the wind is vital.  The wind was pretty much directly West->East and on the North/South stretches, I would always “pull” along the very right side of the road, guttering my companions without a draft.  They didn’t realize this or didn’t care, and neither said anything nor pulled anywhere except in the middle of the road.  I still think I had the best sprint, but every extra watt mattes when you’re going for the win.

Anyways, the race was kind of weird.  There wasn’t really a threat from the guys chasing, who neither had the firepower to chase or the numbers (they were in small groups of 2 or 3).  In the last few miles, we literally sat up on the tops and had a chat about the race.

Skip to 1k to go and I positioned myself in last position.  I watch a lot of pro cycling and my sprinting style lends itself to being last or at least behind someone in the sprint.  For some reason, I attacked with about 400 meters to go.  I was pretty confident in my ability and thought I had the win after my initial burst.  Unfortunately, though, I heard Isaac coming up on the left.  At this point, I was afraid that I was going to lose.  Those doubts that always come when the race gets hard started to bombard my thoughts and I was scared of losing.  I tucked in on the left of Isaac, who had come around, and got ready to kick again.  I had no idea where Steve was, and was a little scared of him coming around both of us with enough speed that I wouldn’t be able to close it in 200 meters.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen; I got into Isaac’s slipstream and laid it down for the last 170 meters, finishing at least 4 bike lengths ahead of a charging Steve.  I even got to post up, which was cool.

Yes!

Yes!

Woodale Criterium Juniors Race Report

Not much to say about Woodale.  The course is super fast.  There aren’t any tight corners, there are significant downhill stretches, and the hard sections, a tough headwind on the day for about 400 meters and a small, 3% grade, did little to limit the speeds.  The field in juniors was me, another 17 year old who didn’t race a lot, Alex Timperman, a 12 year old, Carlos something, and two ten year olds.  I felt pretty confident I could pull out my second W of the year.

The race ended up evolving pretty much like the Two Rivers Road Race.  Essentially, Carlos, Alex, and I dropped the two 10 year olds and rotated at the front.  It was pretty mellow until the last lap.  I expected the final lap to go like this: I would strand Alex or Carlos on the front, or sit on in third wheel like during the race.  I figured Carlos would attack up the small incline into the last corner, and then I would follow him and sprint around him at the end.  It pretty much turned out like that, except Alex did the attack.  I covered it immediately, coming around Carlos to do so.  I expected, then, for Carlos to come around and counterattack and I kept watch for that.  Alex’s attack was good, but short, so I figured Carlos could kick around it.  I didn’t know how fast his sprint was, so in my anticipation of anything from him, I left a pretty significant gap to Alex with 200 meters to go, probably 2 or 3 bike lengths.  When I realized I needed to get going or get second, I shifted into my last tooth and fired up the pistons, coming by with a bike throw at the end and winning by a half wheel.

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Willow Springs Road Race Race Report

2014 Category 4/5 Willow Springs Road Race Race Report

The 2014 Willow Springs Road Race took place on a weekday and no one from Tower had pre-registered, so I didn’t think I would have any teammates in the field.  The course is a triangle b/w Flavin Road, 107th St, and Archer Ave.  It’s 9.5mi long and consists of all flat except on Flavin, which starts with a “kicker” and another rise about halfway down the road.  I’m hesitant to call it a hill because it’s not nearly hard enough nor long enough nor significant enough.  It starts about 6% for 5 seconds then flattens out to 2-3%.  In reality, it’s pretty much a flat race.  Here’s the segment for the course.

Strategy going into the race was to sit on as long as possible and then sprint at the end.  I was confident I could be at the front the last lap and at the finish.  The last incline to the finish is waaaaaay longer than it looks and takes at least 25 seconds from bottom to top.  A lot of people start their sprint at the bottom, but it goes on forever and if you don’t sniff the wind until about 100 meters to go, you can pull it off.

Tower was hosting the race along with the organization that runs the PSCS, so I volunteered to course marshal an apartment complex.  Races started late and I was close to the finish, so I barely had time to run back to the car, stow my backpack, and sprint into staging.  In fact, if I hadn’t had the foresight to get dressed and do a small warmup (without cooldown) at my course marshal location, I wouldn’t have made it into the race.

Anyways, when I got to the field, I saw that Tommy Will (would take 1st place Cat 5s) and Tony Kassel (club president) were both in my race.  It was too late to make a strategy so we said a couple of words, desperately tried to find out where rollout would be (much to the confusion of my non-under 18 racers), downed 4 ounces of maple syrup, and dumped water onto my brake lever after it got sticky.

I managed to get to the front of staging and in the neutral rollout I started the race in second position.  The last straight before entering the hill was a 10mph+ headwind, so it would be important to stay tucked away in that.  Also, it would be a great place to move up as everyone hunkers down and singles up in headwinds.

The race went like this: 75 people in the field (the smallest field limit, actually).  In the hill: fast at the beginning, lull, back swarms the front, if you don’t respond, you’re at the back.  Too narrow (centerline rule) to move up in either of the back stretches, and then the headwind stretch.  After the second lap, I learned this, so on the final lap, I finally secured a good position going into the end of Flavin and the turn onto 107th st.  Side note: The Flavin/107th and Flavin/Archer turns are really sketchy.  If you get a chance before a future race, check them out and look for a good line!  I felt that the safest line into the last turn (Flavin/Archer) was on the very inside and the safest line into 107th was the outside line.  Also, everyone slowed down a ton going into 107th and going into Archer so if you don’t brake into either turn, you can pass 10 people+ on the outsides.  That is, if you don’t spin out at 34mph on the downhills (spoiler alert: I did).

Anyways, before the race, I noticed someone warming up: Rick Lapinski of the Zoot Triathlon team.  He’s raced at Ironman worlds the past few years, and I’ve seen him blow past our Tower paceline at least once, so I definitely saw him as a threat.  If he got just a little separation, he could ride away from the entire field.  I talked to him before the race, and he said that, yes, he was going to attack.  I told him I’d be on his wheel.

The focus for the first lap, then, was to stick to Rick like maple syrup to my brake lever.  Unfortunately, he moved directions that I didn’t and I lost him over the hill.  I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at moving people off of wheels, but the road was so narrow and people are so unreceptive to contact at 30 mph (I know, right?) that I could only watch him from 5 feet away and look for a way to move up in frustration.  Rick never did get away, never getting the separation he needed to lay down the watts (different fitness skillset), but I did get to the front and we traded a few pulls while everyone sat on.  While you should never pull unless it’s advantageous, I’ve found that pulling secures you a spot in the front, which is why I’ll pull at least a few times.  I don’t think it’s hurt me as of yet.

Skip to the finale; An attack into 107th sent the field into skitters.  I was at the front at the time, probably 5 meters behind the leaders, but I didn’t think anything would get away so I just sat in and saved energy.  The break consisted of a guy from Manitoba (a Canadian devo team that drives 13 hours to race weeks/weekends.  Sheesh) and someone else.  They, somehow, stayed away.  It was seriously impressive because it was into a headwind against a 73-rider peloton.  Down Archer, there was a lot of yelling, mostly from the back (OK, mini-rant: The yelling was really starting to annoy me.  There were a ton of people yelling at everyone to rotate and chase, which I’m fine with.  It’s a great tactic that often gets people working.  However, most of the people yelling were at the back!  Which actually is a good idea if you get someone to fall for it, but it kind of annoyed me at the time.  There were more than 5 instances in which I heard “pull through or get out of the way” when there was at least 2 meters of space on the sides to pass. Sigh).  People tried to get a chase going and a Spidermonkey guy on a sweet S-Works Tarmac that was orange and black (unfortunately not the new MacLaren Tarmac) got stranded on the front, but in the end the break wasn’t pulled back.  It just wasn’t organized enough.

Anyways, I wanted to save energy so I stopped fighting for position going into the final turn.  Bad idea; I don’t really know what I was thinking.  I think, now, that, in the heat of the moment, I wasn’t cognizant of my race strategy.  I should have found the Illini guy who had won the past few days, stuck to his wheel, and come around him in the end.  Or, I should have kept fighting for position and stayed at the front.  My thought at the time was that I would just catch some guy’s wheel to the front.  Which sort of ended up happening, I just caught a guy’s wheel… to the wrong side of a 4 meter split.  I finished first in that bunch, outsprinting everyone else, but was overall disappointed with my result.  I really thought I had the legs and the strategy to take first in the bunch, but unfortunately I wasn’t positioned well enough to even have that opportunity.

I got to meet a reader, though, who weighs 115 (!!!!) pounds and is, like, doing really well this season (it seems, by his results).  Hopefully racing the ABR State Championship this Sunday.  Maybe I’ll film that.

Thanks for taking the time to read these 1300 words.  As always, I would heartily recommend subscribing via email a el right-o or following me on Strava to stay up-to-date with my journey.

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On Development

About a week ago, I mentioned that it was “really cool to see myself develop”.  I wanted to expand on that a little.

There are a few ways I can see myself developing:

  1. Heart Rate and RPE for a certain speed - This is the most unreliable metric for development.  Essentially, and this is what I was referring to in the Strava title, if I’m going faster while maintaining a lower heart rate and not feeling as much physical exertion (RPE = Rating of Perceived Exertion), presumably I’m getting stronger.  Last Friday, I was holding 19 mph at 120bpm without much exertion (12/20, moderate exertion).  I know it’s not due to wind b/c I was able to ride at that speed southbound and northbound.  Last year, I wasn’t able to get on my bike without going above 145bpm.  A 19mph effort would have made my heart beat at about 170 bpm.  Like I said, however, this is unreliable.  Maybe my perception of wind was wrong.  I’ve upgraded my equipment since last year significantly.  My position on the bike is different as well.  For more, see the arguments for power meter reliability.
  2. Group Ride Comfort/Success – Again, not super reliable.  As was pointed out by a friend from the team, you never know when others are trying super hard or holding back a little.  However, I’m definitely more capable of riding with fast rides.  For me, that’s Wed/Fri/Sat, if I go.  Last year, I was just hanging on over the hills on the Wed/Fri route (Usually 178+).  This year, even in the springtime, fast rides have only gotten up to 165bpm while sitting in the bunch and pulling through as normal (i.e. no attacking).
  3. Seeing Parallels and Advancing – Last year, I rode our Saturday “B” ride and was an animator in that.  One of my goals that I looked forward to was riding the “A” ride, which is significantly faster.  Now, I’m an animator in the “A” ride.  There are two rides in the area that I want to do: the Waterfall Glen Wed Night ride and the Cafe Ride out of St. Charles.  Those are supposed to be really fast and I’ll hopefully see the same development that I’ve seen in Tower’s Saturday rides.

One thing I hope I don’t get sucked into is the “OK Plateau.”  I’m by no means dominating any of the rides I go on, but I’m definitely sticking in each one, including all of my races this year (except the Memorial Day Races).  The “OK Plateau” is a phenomenon where people don’t improve although they continue to practice/train.  I’ve read up on it and found strategies to combat this, so hopefully I’ll be all right.

Here’s to growth, for you and me.
~Zach

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Breakfast of Champions; Creamy Oatmeal Plus

Cyclist’s Oatmeal

Ingredients Needed:

  1. Real oats (I use Quaker Old Fashioned Oats; NOT the individual packets)
  2. Water
  3. Peanut Butter
  4. Honey
  5. Whatever else you want

Directions:

  1. Cook the oats as normal (if you don’t have oatmeal a lot, the directions are on the box).  Consistency doesn’t matter, although I’d err on the watery side vs. thick
  2. Use the spoon you’re going to eat with to put about a tablespoon/0.5 cup oats of peanut butter into the oatmeal.  If you do this right away, the peanut butter will melt off your spoon as you stir and gradually blend into the oatmeal.  Using your spoon eliminates mess.
  3. Add a healthy squirt of honey from the bottle to the oatmeal.  Mix thoroughly.  After the peanut butter, the oatmeal will be pretty thick; the honey will smooth it out.
  4. Add your additives (I’m adding raisins and sunflower seeds right now, but any good additives like banana, nuts, granola, etc will work great!  Also, try substituting maple syrup for honey and Nutella for Peanut Butter at times.)

The effect of this recipe is a fantastic oatmeal that is really creamy.  The peanut butter melts into the oatmeal making a smooth, tasty meal.  Peanut butter also adds some protein to the meal, making it a full meal: complex carbs (oats), simple carbs (honey), protein (peanut butter), and some fats as well.  If you add nuts or granola or raisins, you’ll also get some great texture into the oatmeal as well, which always makes it fun to eat.

One note: This oatmeal can be really rich (I’m particularly adverse to rich food), so eating the oatmeal while drinking chocolate soy or almond milk will make it a lot better.  Also, chocolate+peanut butter, am I right?

Enjoy!

 

Top secret tip (TST): The bigger the peanut butter jar, the more peanut butter you end up scooping b/c it’s easier to scoop more.  Be careful (or take advantage of it!)

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Power Testing Results

I did 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute, and 20 minute power tests last week.  But you’d know that already if you follow me on Strava.

My current weight is 147 lbs, or 66.7 kg.

For 5 seconds: 1043W or 15.64 W/kg
For 1 minute: 528W or 7.92 W/kg
For 5 minutes: 293W or 4.39 W/kg
For 20 minutes: 242W or 3.63 W/kg

According to this chart from CyclingTips (I think it’s actually from Hunter Allen’s book), that puts me at the top of the Category 4 expected power (in W/kg).  Which is good.

It’s a long process; I’ve got a lot of miles, tests, pedaling, and WORK to go.  Reminder: My Double Power in 7 Years goal.

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Quad Cities Criterium Race Report

Category 5 Quad Cities Criterium 2014 Race Report

The old Quad Cities Criterium was a mile-long, eight-turn affair, dead flat, and almost invariably a sprint.  After crawling up the 25% grades of Snake Alley and bunny-hopping the Melon City speed-bump at 36 MPH, I was looking forward to a flat course.  Not how I said the old course was flat.  This year’s course was not.

Under the direction of a new race promoter, someone from the same company that runs ToAD and the Prairie State Cycling Series, a new course was drawn up, located in downtown East Davenport.  The course featured narrow roads, a 2-block 4% climb into a 1-block 11% climb, a screaming but straight descent into two narrow, super fast corners.  Normally, this would have been a really cool course.  After Snake Alley and Melon City, it wasn’t a race I was looking forwards too.

Luckily, my dad and I were staying overnight just outside Davenport so we headed over to the course the night before to preride and check out the climb and lines through the corners.  As soon as I saw the course, I groaned – although wide, the climb was really steep and even going up it easy was difficult.  The descent is super-fast.  I reached 38/39 mph each time down.  The best tactic, especially on junior gears, is just to tuck and fly down – spinning out your gears will only waste energy and won’t make up any ground.  The descent comes down at pretty much the same grade and spits you out of the trees onto a long straight, probably about 400m long.  Along the straight, you’ll still be going 32/33 mph so pedaling can be efficient, but still probably not worth it.  The corners are tight and over sealed brick – the kind of faux-brick pathway that turns banana-peel slippery in the rain.  If it’s a rainy day, have caution going through the corners.

After pre-riding the course and discussing with my father, I decided not to race the juniors race.  I knew it would be really fast and going down the descent and into those two corners at the end of the back straight would be dangerous and I didn’t think I would be able to be safe with such an aggressive, more advanced field.  Bike racing isn’t exactly about safety, but you have to know your limits and when you’re taking unnecessary risk.  If I had three more years of experience and Cat 2 fitness and could think clearly the entire race, I probably would have stayed in.  First year racing, it wasn’t worth it.  As it was, my first lap, I overcooked the first corner and almost locked the rear wheel up, which would have been pretty bad.  Even then, for the rest of the laps, the last corner was always super fast (b/w the two corners, it’s downhill).

Lining up for Cat 5, it was hot and muggy.  85 degrees but more humid than a dog’s breath.  I warmed up on a great bike path along the Mississippi, jersey unzipped, trying to stay cool.  Strategy going into the race was to go into the last two corners second, ideally, or first with a gap.  From the last corner to the finish was probably 350m, making it better to be second wheel, but I figured the speed coming out of the corner would be so high that any farther back and it’d be too many people to come around.  First or second into the last two corners meant some sort of attack, probably onto the climb as it was almost impossible to pass people on the descent and flat (spinning out).  I could attack into the corners, but that’s sort of a jerk move and not entirely necessary to win.

30 people lined up at the start but I sorely overestimated how competitive the field was.  After the first lap, there were only eight of us in the front group.  Huh.

Anyways, second lap, the eventual winner of the race attacked on the climb and dangled about 20 seconds off the front for 3 laps.  It turns out he had won Snake Alley and Melon City the two days before.  When he attacked, I didn’t follow because I didn’t think it would get away.  I should have known that, with a group of only seven, no one would chase him down.  After about 4 laps, the eventual second place racer got a small gap over the top of the climb inadvertently, looked back, figured it was better to be off the front than on the front and held his gap to the finish line.  By that time, there were only 4 others left and the next time up the climb, it was just me and one other racer.

I’d like to tell a story about how we went back and forth, tossing attacks at each other, each time clawing back the time advantage to the chaser.  But alas, it wasn’t to be.  I pretty much sat on his wheel while he led the remaining 5 laps.  He tried to accelerate a few times, on the 4% or the 11% grades, but he didn’t have a lot of pop and I was able to stay with him.  Also, it was hot, hard, and humid, so that probably contributed to it to.  Last lap, I tried to attack at the bottom of the climb and was giving it everything, but when I looked back, he was only a few seconds off my wheel and I knew he would catch on the descent, so I sat up.

Here’s when the race was won (for third): On the descent, he came around me.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I had conditioned him to be in front.  Regardless, I immediately got on his wheel and stayed there until about 180m to the finish.  He started the sprint and I came around him and took third by about 2/3 a bike.

I’m really happy that I finally got a good result.  Like I said on Strava, I’ve felt like I’ve had the fitness to grab a good result, but I just… haven’t.  Getting on the podium also gives me confidence for my 4 upgrade.  I’m excited to race Glencoe Cat 5s with my teammate, Tommy Will, next week and also excited to see real power numbers the week after that.

As always, thanks for reading my race report/blog.  The best way to keep up is to follow me on Strava.  Second best would be to follow this blog (in the sidebar).

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