Thursday, March 8, 2012

yet another Walburg Classic & Pace Bend Road Race

Historically, the Walburg Classic and Pace Bend Road Race in the Austin area have been the season opener for road racing in Texas. Deep fields in the Pro/1 race with a good bunch of riders from Texas and out-of-state make for a challenging weekend in late February. Besides a smaller “training” race in Dallas the other weekend, it’s also the first time we get to race together as a team in the new season.

Walburg, a small rural town just 45 min North of Austin, has some unique characteristics when it comes to bike racing. The town supports the event year after year and the race is held on open farm land where the winds are usually 20+mph and make for a very hard race – in the P/1′s as well as the Cat 5 race. Riders getting dropped in the “gutter” or simply lose contact to the peloton because of the strong cross winds. None of the this year, though as the big American flag was not moving an inch when I rolled into town at 7am (why do we have to race so early?). It would make for a fast race I thought, and more tactical than usual as the wind usually made a natural selection of its own by the time the P/1 peloton completed 3 laps of a rolling 24 mile circuit.

The plan was simple: get into any break which looks promising and in case it really comes down to a field sprint – rather unlikely on this course – be ready to lead out Chad and Jason who can do well in that long false flat uphill drag to the finish line. Besides those two sprinters, we had Mat, Jay, and myself in the race. Before I got serious about moving up and seeing the front of the race I had a little “moment” where I looked down and saw that my rear wheel was not sitting 100% straight in the frame. Almost rubbing my tubular on the chainstay. I thought: “No, not now!”. I had Mat check it while he rode behind me and he just said, “yeah, it’s close.” Not wanting to risk any mechanical failure down the road, I decided to use a lull moment in the peloton (we were only going 17-18mph) to ride to the front of the field, just to abruptly stop on the right side in a driveway. I checked my rear wheel, aligned quickly straight, hopped back on my steed and carried on…chasing the field for 30-45 seconds but they weren’t going fast and Jay was sitting at the back of the field “watching” me, making sure someone is there to help in case I need it. That got my heart rate up a bit and I put in a nice effort. I was warmed-up now. Sure enough, a bit after the last right turn towards the S/F line (about 8 miles out) some of the “serious” attacks came and the 2nd one I jumped with ended up being “the move” of the day. Elbowz Racing, who seemed to have a dozen (ok, only 10) guys in the race were there with 2004 Olympian Heath Blackgrove and Joseph Schmalz, then Austin’s Dave Wenger, David Arteaga from Dallas, and myself. And we just started rotating. Everyone. Pushing down the pedals, not saying much, trying to stay away from a field which was slowly, slowly disappearing in our rear. We were going fast. No wind meant we were able to take longer pulls, maintaining 27 mph for most of the ride. It sure felt fast. I knew I had to pace myself if I wanted to stay where I was, since I know my form is not nowhere near to my top that time of the year. 80 mile road races are rough on me in mid-February. I started to be more conservative and just rolled through rather than really pull. Heath and Joseph were riding super strong, so did Wenger. I thought that my teammates might push a bit in the field because for a while we were hovering at just 40 seconds ahead of the peloton and I knew that we had a better chance of winning with our two sprinters Chad & Jason in the field. It was a tough want to have 1 out of 5 or roll the dice and have the whole field sprint for it and hope your sprinters “take care” of it. Turns out we kept gaining and gaining on the field and – as I expected – Heath + Joseph took matters in their own hand and simply rode away from Dave Wenger, me & David. I couldn’t jump, that “snap” wasn’t there – yet. I rode the last 3 miles together with David all the way to the finish while Dave was able to sneak away and rolled in 3rd. I was next over the line for 4th place and the field came in just a minute later. Jason & Chad went a little bit early in the sprint for the lower places and probably were not as motivated sprinting for a 6th place rather than a win and finished in the main field. Overall, we came away with a hard-fought 4th place and I sure was tired after that one. From the years I’ve done Walburg (6 or 7 times) this was one of the harder ones – maybe not in the field, but being in the break for 50 miles sure was a “rough day at the office”. But it was enjoyable at the same time and our race time was the fastest I remember – 2hrs 46min for the 72 miles. Note: Youngster Jacob White ended up 6th after winning the field sprint in the Cat 2 race.
Walburg P/1 break-away (photo: Michael Harris)
Sunday’s Pace Bend Road Race has been traditionally a “sprinters paradise”: a rolling, 6 mile loop on super smooth roads in a beautiful Park just off Lake Travis West of Austin. The “climbs” are more hills and don’t last more than 10-15 seconds when you go up them in your big ring. So, unless you’re totally out of shape (which Cat 1 racers usually are not) it’s hard to get dropped on that course. That makes for some interesting race dynamics as the teams with sprinters (i.e. Elbowz: Marcotte, Super Squadra: Wikoff, our Tulsa Tough: Chad & Jason, and others) are hoping for a field sprint and the rest of the peloton is trying to “shake things up”. Mat and Jay took turns early in the race to “animate” things a bit and Mat made it into the most promising break of the day while Jason, Chad, and myself rode within our limits in the field, conserving energy and waiting for the last two laps which were going to be  faster/harder than the previous 13. Team Elbowz was throwing everything for a field sprint  so they rode their race, on the front, controlling things and slowly reeling in the break of 3 or 4 guys. Mat came back from that move with 3 laps to go and I could sense this is going to be nail biter…the remaining break of 3 had 50 seconds with 1 lap/6 miles to go but Elbowz was riding solid tempo on the front, stringing out the field single-file. Chad and Jason were siting 20-25th wheel while I “surfed” behind the blue & white train of Elbowz right next to Chann McRae who decided it was time to do a bike race again. With 3 miles to go we could see the remains of the break. I was working a bit harder but was still in control of things. The little “stinger” hill with 1 mile to go was going to be a decisive place I thought and I figured I’ll give it a try because A) I could derail the blue & white lead-out train and B) maybe draw out a few strong “finisseurs”  for the last kilometer or so. When I looked back 10 seconds later I saw Chann was on my wheel but we had no real gap and Marcotte still had two guys left “to burn” before we entered the final right turn to the finish. As I had hoped, Jason & Chad made the small split, too and while I was slowly going backwards both of them came around me and Chad settled into 3rd or 4th wheel. That’s all I saw. Nobody behind me but a dozen guys ahead of me in the last 200 meters. Chad came close, but not close enough and ended up 3rd. After 80 miles of racing and a few hard laps at the end we got on the podium…just two steps short.  Jason Waddell rolled in 10th and me 13th. Still, we raced our bikes today and everyone did their share of the work and we can’t complain to walk away with a 3rd and 4th place in the first big race weekend here in Texas. 8 month of racing yet to come!
Mat Ankney Pace Bend break-away (photo: J.A. Hicks)

Chad Cagle (center) finishing 3rd in tight Pace Bend sprint finish (photo: Lee McDaniel)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Frost Yer Fanny Du at Texas Motor Speedway

Coming off a solid off-season which also included a bit of running I decided to take Jack Weiss invitation to do the Frost Yer Fanny Duathlon February 19th. Like the name implies, it was a chilly 40 something degrees on race day but - comparing to the conditions back in November when I won the Duathlon hosted at Texas Motor Speedway - there was almost zero wind on Sunday morning.

The race was also the USAT SWM Region's Championship so the entry list featured a few more heavy hitters (obviously, great runners!) and I knew it would be tough to try to "repeat" on that course. Run #1 (2miles) was painful as usual and I just tried to pace myself and follow a good "draft" around the inner track of Texas Motor Speedway. I thought I was about a minute behind entering T1 and felt somewhat comfortable getting on the bike, which was going to be my 2nd ride on it. Big thanks to Austin Tri-Cyclist which is my bike sponsor for this year with some sweet Cervelo gear. Since there was barely any wind I felt fast and kept catching and passing guys who started ahead of me, including the 40+ wave athletes who started 2min ahead my age group (30+). The only thing I "kind of forgot" was the fact that the young guns (29 and under) started 2min behind us. So coming first into T2 I was just a little bit worried about a strong runner, Patrick Schuster, who came into T2 just 30seconds later than me. Little did I know that he actually started 2minutes ahead of me and was no threat for the Overall. SO I thought: "Oh sh#%, that guy is going to run me down"! My legs felt jello and my feet were cold & numb I could barely feel them hitting the tarmac with every step. It was painful. Somehow I managed to hold him off and came in at 1:00:45 which was more than 2minutes faster than back in November at Brenda's Du. Turns out, it wasn't enough to actually win the Overall as two guys (William Huffman and Michael Wilkinson) who started 2minutes behind me did MUCH faster runs (10:03 vs. my two equal 11:52 splits). Pretty amazing. While I still got my AG win it was a bit of a bummer to miss out on the USAT Regional Championships by less than 40seconds in an hour event.

Again, special thanks to Jack Weiss of Iron Head Productions for a great race and Austin Tri-Cyclist for equipping this roadie with the fastest TT rig out there - Cervelo's P4!

 The P4 claims fastest bike of the day! weird number placement, I know. I make fun of it, too...

a bit pre-mature celebration here, since the "young guns" who started 2min behind me got me by 40seconds in the Overall. Lesson learned.