Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Want It Wednesday: Giant Omnium

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It's hard to deny that my taste in what constitutes a good time on a bike has changed in the last couple of years.  From traveling the country to do endurance mountain bike races to recently uttering, "This whole racing for longer than an hour stuff is for the birds" upon finishing the XC race Muscatatuck.  Of course, I was half joking when I said that, but only half.

Whether or not my genes made me built for power, I'm finding that I much prefer to train for it over slogging through big chunks of steady state.  Lets face it, if 2004-2010 is any indication, it's not as if my genes really made me built for endurance, either.  The main difference is that I spent a lot fewer hours training last season, but doing so finally reach some tangible level of cycling success, even if it was just in Cat 4. Eight hour weeks and winning beats the hell out of 12+ hour weeks and losing.

As I've expressed multiple times lately, I'm worried about how (uh-mmm, mumble mumble) hours a week will stand up at the Cat 3 level, but there's very little I can do about that in the next six and a half weeks, so I suppose if I fail, I fail, and I'll learn a lesson for next year.  I do rest little easier knowing that I had the exact same thoughts this time last season and it all worked out fine.  I guess we'll find out soon enough the strength of my dark cyclocross sorcery.

Anyway, since I keep leaning toward the sprint-ier side of cycling, I think it may be time I went all the way, at least for the "off season".  For less than the price of a pretty full-suspension 29er that needs a fork upgrade, I could become a member of the growing sorority of the region's premiere girl-quads that call the newly revitalized and rebranded Major Taylor Velodrome home on summer evenings.

It may just be something stirring in Indiana now that Marion University has MTV under new and better management, but it sort of seems like we're on the verge of a track renaissance in the US.  A couple of weeks ago, a friend who lives in Nashville, TN said that she knows a lot people getting into track racing right now, and the closest velodromes for them are four-ish hours either north or south, Indianapolis or Atlanta.  That makes an hour and fifteen minute drive on a Friday night seem pretty small.  I guess people just really need a new way to drink beer and heckle when it's not 'cross season.  I need a new way to stomp pedals and *be* heckled when it's not 'cross season.  I also really want to write a "Last Friday Night" parody blog post next summer.

So I'm setting my plan in action.  I'm going to sign up for the last Saturday "Track 101/102" class of the season on August 25 and rent a bike.  Then, if it's all I'd hoped it would be, I can start saving up to get my own bike by next April.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Indy Crit: An Easier Way to Ride Zipp Wheels

The Ohio Valley Cyclocross Series races are superior to all other forms of amateur cycling in the region, save one aspect:  If you want to spend an OVCX race on a borrowed set of Zipp wheels, you have to have the best race of your life and then hope the OVCX athlete of the week committee notices and deems your best race ever proportionally better than that of anyone else of your gender across all categories who also had a good race that week.  Even then, it's more about the glory than the wheels, otherwise you'd just hope your name is drawn to take them home permanently at the end of the season.

Saturday I found an easier way.  Rather than giving a little piece of your soul to ride some Zipp wheels, at the Indy Crit, all you have to give is a little piece of your elbow.

One of these wheels is not like the other.  It also highlights the fact that my road wheels are apparently sub-par, even for the Cat 4 women's field.  
Photo Credit: Scott Brooks

I had planned on not racing for the month of July in favor of a Hail Mary attempt at getting my sh*t together in time for CX.  However, as the premiere event of the Indiana road season (to paraphrase our team director in some guilt inducing emails) loomed, I first relented and signed up to volunteer.  Then two days before the race, I saw that the Cat 4 women's field was relatively huge and that I had two teammates in the race.  Despite the Wheel(wo)men's rapid team growth on paper, we hadn't had more than two girls in the same race at the same time outside of the Death March, so I relented and signed up to make it a Cat 4 Wheel(wo)men trio. (We still never got more than two of us in the same picture.)

Things started off as well as could be expected.  I went straight to the front in hopes of getting and keeping a good position.  It worked pretty well, although I was having to to work pretty hard to keep moving back to the front as we cycled through something like a backwards pace line. A few laps in I found myself cycling towards the back again as we hit the pavement-to-brick transition entering "the circle" for which The Circle City is named.

I heard a scream followed by the slow motion pause before one girl started to tumble and the others began to pile on top of her.  I was a few wheels back, but still too close to avoid, so I basically slammed into the pile straight-on and then somehow flipped or flopped to the side.  I expected some major road rashy pain, but a few seconds later I found myself lying on my back feeling pretty okay except for a couple of random cuts and an elbow that was more "strawberry" than full-on road rash (it's still strangely swollen, though, while not especially painful).

My bike initially seemed okay, except a dropped chain, but as I started riding to the pit, I found the chain was rubbing the spokes.  Luckily, the mechanic in the pit got it functional and replaced my stock Giant brand front wheel with a loaner Zipp one, which was pretty exciting, and gave me a push as the pack came around.  

At this point, I was pretty well recovered from the efforts of the early part of the race and we were probably over half-way through the 30 minute race.  With my "free lap" having stretched into several laps, I had the opportunity to manage my first finish with the pack if I could just handle 10-15 minutes of pain.  And I mostly succeeded.  I survived all but the final attack going into the beginning of the last lap, and didn't quite manage to outsprint the other straggler who peeled off at the same time I did.  I still managed 15th out of 28 starters, so I was pretty happy.

So I'm still not particularly awesome at crits, but I get a little better every time.  At least this weekend reminded me that I want to learn how to be good at them. I'm also pretty excited about our Cat 4 women's team finally seeming to come together a bit.  With a little more experience, and possible reappearance by Sarah Bauer on the road scene next season, I think we might be able to pull on some real organized team efforts.  Of course, 'cross is nigh, so all that silliness will have to wait until spring.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Crash-man Cometh

I've been in a bit of a work-related depression lately, so I've barely been interested in riding bikes, much less blogging about them.  In the last month, I've honed my skills at the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike clinic, blew off the French Lick DINO race when Adam hurt his back, and finally participated in my first Bloomington Crit after several years of spectating.  I guess it took a good ol' roasty hot double race weekend to get me back on the bloggy train.

Anyway, this weekend was the annual "DINO AMBC Challenge" weekend, which includes short track and downhill races on Saturday in addition to the normal cross country race on Sunday.  The one time I actually got up the courage to sign up for the downhill, it started pouring rain right before the race and wimped out, but the short track is always one of my favorite races of the year.  Even when I was still bad at cyclocross, I always faired better in the short track than I did cross country.

So despite showing up feeling flat and crappy, I still took the front-row starting spot that none of the Cat 2 men that we were starting with seemed to want.  At the BCSP DINO race, I had a horrible start (several pedal strokes to get clipped in) followed by completely unsnappy legs on the opening climb.  Standing on the short track starting line, I hoped that I hadn't lost the hole shot magic that served me so well all through last CX season.  Apparently I still had it.  I got a perfect clip-in and good positioning when the field came together.  I wanted to get out in front of the other women, without chopping any dudes who would ultimately be faster than me just to get the hole shot.  I think I hit a pretty good balance, because I only had a couple really itching to get around at the end of the first lap.  I definitely felt fast, and when I came through Adam was screaming about how good I was doing.  Apparently, I gained about 10 seconds during the first two minutes of the race.

Unfortunately, it didn't last.  I took a weird line through the first turn of the second lap since we were all still pretty bunched up and rammed into a little stump that I didn't see until it was too late.  A decently hard crash was followed by rushed panic, trying to ride with my bars turned around backwards, and a dropped chain.  First to last, just like that.  There were only three of us, so I worked my way up to second pretty easily, but the first place girl was never to be seen again.  She put some additional time into me besides what I lost in the crash, but I still feel like I would have done really well if I hadn't lost my mojo at the beginning.

It was super dusty.  Compare with the 2009 version below.

The XC was another beast entirely. Muscatatuck is one of my least-favorite courses, and Sunday was just another day in a streak of triple-digit temperatures.  That combination was compounded by a 4-6 weeks long drought coming to an end with a big downpour a few hours before the race start.  I was excited to have a day off from watering my garden, and I thought the rain would improve the dusty conditions from my Saturday pre-ride, but I guess it just didn't have enough time to soak in.  It was slick.

I once again attempted the hole shot, which is particularly difficult on this course, which has about 150 meters of slight downhill before the singletrack, and even that space is strewn with trees, fences, and outbuildings which must be avoided while also trying not to ram into the competition.  I hit the woods in third, and felt good enough to work my way to first.  However, I managed to get the lead right before my most hated section of the course.  A slick, rocky hill that I had to run up, followed by another creek crossing and "the switchbacks from hell" as I like to call them.  I maintained my lead through most of that section, but the switchbacks took their toll and I found myself in third again.  I was making ground up, until we got to my second most hated second of the course: the "bomb down, grind up, over and over" section, where I lost contact with the leaders and burned enough matches that I couldn't hold off fourth place when we finally made it to some swoopy goodness.  Then I managed another high-speed crash so that my left knee matched the my right from the day before, with another dropped chain to boot.  This cost me 4th-6th place.  After that, I just sort of rode it in, managing to lose another place and suffer another crash.  I normally only have one in-race crash per year, but somehow I managed three in one weekend.

So the way it ends sounds kind of awful, but I'm focusing on the fact that I rode *really* well for the first half-hour or so.  It was freakin' hot and I haven't been doing anything like proper XC training in forever.  With the work stuff that I mentioned earlier, I really never got going again properly after cyclcross ended, so I've been really afraid that I'd lost what I'd had last season.  The good news is that don't really seem to have lost anything; I just haven't gained what I need to be a successful Cat 3.

I've got 10 weeks to turn that around, but as I've been discussing with Jamie the past few days, I need to get my "health base" built back up before I can properly tune my motor.  In that vein, here's a picture of me eating wild Alaskan sockeye salmon from a BPA-free can post-race.  Don't I look excited?

Okay, it's just the only picture anyone took of me at the race that I know of, so it will have to do for now.