Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sterling Flogging

Sterling Classic Road Race, Master's 45+

I reluctantly signed up for the Sterling road race since most of my team was going to be there. The organizers also created a separate Masters 45+ field this year. Looking at Bikereg pre-reg before the race, it seemed most of the combined masters 35+ field in year's past were 45+ rides, as our field was much bigger than the younger field this year. Sterling is raced more like a crit, as the hill is not steep enough for long enough to break things up. Successful breakaways are tough to pull off on this course. The finish usually comes down to a bunch sprint, albeit not a high speed one going up the short rise to the finish line. This was my first time racing Sterling.

Lining up, our field of 75 riders was asked if we wanted to do 6 laps instead of 5. Apparently many 45+ riders felt cheated from year's past riding in a combined masters field for 6 laps. Nobody objected, so moments before the start of our race, another 8 miles was tacked on. I was cool with that.

The 35's were staged 20 minutes ahead of us. A lap takes about 20 minutes. The race has a 2.5 mile neutral roll-out to the actual course. We no more than went live than a two-man break from the 35+ field came flying past. Then we were told to neutralize for the rest of the field to come by. Paul Curley (Gearworks) had a better idea. He got the field and our officials to completely stop our field for about 2 minutes to give the 35+ field a little gap ahead of us before we started racing again. It was the right thing to do, although Curley speculated that with all the fire power in our field, we'd catch them soon again anyway. It never happened, but looking at the results, they finished with about the same 2 minutes on us we gave them when stopping. The Bikereg results show elapsed time for each field and do not reflect that we were not moving for at least two minutes in the 45+ field. Bikereg also shows we did only 40mi, which is incorrect. We did 48 miles.

Our race stayed quite fast. The first time up the hill finishing lap 1 was quite hard. But many flat parts that intersperse the climb to the high point of the course gave the "gravity challenged" opportunities to stay on. The hill simply wasn't enough to be a "selector" as they say. Our field stayed largely intact to the finish.

I think it was on lap 4, Eric Pearce (Bethel Cycle), Dave Kellog (Arc en Ciel), myself, I think Tom Butler (CCC/Keltic), and one other rider got away at the top of the hill. We actively worked this, growing a sizable gap for a couple minutes. But it didn't stick. Strangely, after the race another rider thought one of Kellog's teammates chased us down. I couldn't confirm this. If true, why? Too many guys? Wrong mix of guys?

A few minutes later on the descent, Pearce, Kellog, and Mark Sumner (Battenkill-United) saunter off the front again. For a minute, it didn't look serious, and I made conscious choice to stay in field. I was right there and could have gone if I wanted. I just figured they'd be ruthlessly reeled in again. Nope. They put the hammer down and were gone, game over. Sumner was dropped a short while later and commented after the race that he couldn't hang on. Apparently Pearce was motoring something fierce. For much of a lap, the break was only 30 seconds up the road. We could have shut it down quickly, but nobody wanted to work. Gearworks? Mystic? BOB? Nope. IBC (my team) gave chase for a while, expending two of the riders in the process. In hindsight, I was mad with myself for not pursuing this one. But it very well could have been the case that had I joined, the threat would have been too big and not let away. You never know.

I continued to hang out in the front 10 guys for the rest of the race. Sometimes I was hung out off the very front to flounder. I was quickly draining my matchbook by doing so. Teammate Brett Rutledge commented that I was spending way too much time up there. But I am as non-sprinter as they come. In a bunch finish, I'm lucky to get 20th place. On a fast course like Sterling, my only hope is to create or join a break. Usually the types that are successful in breaks are more like myself, in that they can time-trial but not sprint well. This levels the playing field when coming in to the finish and I have a shot for a win. Otherwise, forget about it. Staying out front and draining myself at worse was going to knock me down a few places in a bunch finish, and who's counting at 20th place anyway? There were numerous attacks and counter attacks in laps 4-6. I tried to participate in many of these but was pretty much fried by the last lap. Anything that went off the front was viciously snuffed out. Butler, Joe Rano (Bike Alley), and Tyler Munroe (CCB) were mixing it up at the front a lot too.

I was in another unsuccessful break attempt near end of lap 5. Butler, myself and two other riders got away on Rt 12 as we overtook groups of Cat 4 riders. But on the initial climb to the finish, we were caught. That was the last couple matches I had left in my book.

Coming into the home stretch on Rt 12, we had a nice tail wind going up slight grade. Pace initially was 34mph, which ironically wasn't that hard. It did string things out good though. We still had over 40 guys in main field with Pearce/Kellog a minute up the road. I tried rolling off the front a couple times. If I got more than 1-2 seconds off the front, the gap would get slammed shut. Several attacks ensued, with two riders getting a few seconds on us at turn to the finish. I believe they were caught, as there were no time splits other than for Pearce/Kellog. I was in front few guys rounding the corner to the finish but was completely gassed from my futile efforts to get a gap. I kind of just stayed out of the way as what seemed like the whole field came by in the last 200m to the line. At least this isn't a 40mph sprint finish. It's more like a 20mph finish for the fastest guys, and they give us the whole road once rounding the corner. I finished in 18th place, mid pack-ish, which is typical for me in a sprint finish. Had I raced conservatively, I might have made the cash cutoff for top 6. To do so on a course like this, however, is to give up any chance for a podium finish.

So it was a frustrating race for the team and for me. I killed myself pretty much during the whole race and have nothing to show for it. Such is bicycle racing. Ironically, the races I place best in are ones where I didn't feel like I worked very hard. These tend to be big climbing races or where I get away and TT to the finish. Sterling was either 500W for a minute or nothing. Give me 350W for 30 minutes or more, maybe I can do something.

I debuted the new Ridley at this race. It performed flawlessly. One final tweak I still plan to make is change bar from 44cm to 42cm. I feel like I'm steering a school bus. The frame/wheels are ultra stiff. Energy transfer is immediate. The bike also rides harshly compared to my Dean Ti bikes. But the Ridley is race bred. It is supposed to be responsive, not a touring comfort bike. The steering is very quick. I feel a little less secure in tight pack than I do on my Dean. I'm sure I will adapt to this quickness as I ride and race it more.

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