Thursday, February 6, 2014

From Within: Tour of New Braunfels RR

February 2nd, it's early in the year, it's cold (40F), you haven't raced a road race for 4+ month and yet still - it's time to pin on that number and get that first race of the season out of the way and into your legs.

After a good "winter" with a good mix of Cyclocross, strength training, and road riding I took a little (forced) break right after TX State CX Champs. The annual "cold/sinus infection/cedar-fever" hit me the first week of January and gave me a solid 7-10days off the bike. Once I was ready to train again I started getting in some good miles solo and with some of my new teammates on my new Specialized Tarmac SL4 bike and felt better from week to week. By the time January 31st came around I had 1000miles in my legs which is good for me that time of the year, especially given the week off in early January.

My goals for the year are not until late March/early April and the summer so I know that the first few races will always hurt, no matter what (the highest Watts / highest HR I reached in the last month were caused by angry dogs chasing me in Caldwell or Hays County and I had to sprint to get away!) Tour of New Braunfels was no different. I chose to skip the 90min circuit race on Saturday in favor of riding at home and avoiding all the usual-early-season-race-jitters which turns out DID happen "en masse"...

For the 81mile road race we had a small trio of Colin, Justin and myself. It was a decent P12 field with 70+ guys I believe at the start. Besides the Texas "regulars" there were a few heavy hitters from out of town with Joe Schmalz and part-time Texas-training-resident and 2012 Canadian Road Champion Ryan Roth (who won the "Omloop" the day before). The new course (used by race promoter Tobin Behling & crew since last year) - 3x27mile laps - is one of the best in Texas in my opinion. Also used for a Texas tradition - the Tour de Gruene - held in November each year. Riding down River Rd along the Guadalupe River and back up the rollers of FM2722 make for a scenic "ride" if you open your eyes while racing.

The race started off with the usual early attacks and lots of shuffling. I spent the first 20-30minutes in the last third of the pack catching up with a few friends I haven't seen or talked to for a while. It was good. I think the 1/2 espresso I had right before the start got me all "chatty"....and I was just waiting until something "promising/real" goes up the road. There was one move up on FM2722 (25mph head/cross winds) but 787 brought it back as far as I remember. Coming into Sattler we went single file starting to go down River Rd. It was fun & fast. Somewhere after bridge crossing #4 there was a lull moment in the front after a attack was just brought back. Colin & Justin were in the front 1/3 of the pack being attentive. I "smelled" something needs to go NOW. So I went. Not real hard, 1150W kinda hard up one of the tiny ascent on the mainly flat/descending River Road. I drilled it for 20-30seconds and looked around to not really see a reaction. I was solo and we were barely 20miles into the race. I thought: "okay, someone join me so I don't have to be out here solo and be brought back in 3minutes and waste my matches since I only have so many right now." After 5minutes or so I saw Ruarri (787) and Justin (!?) coming from behind, chasing hard. I thought "mhh, okay why not." Sure enough they won't let two guys from same team and 787 get away, though and once Justin and Ruarri made contact I could see Boneshaker and a yellow helmet ride up from behind. It was Heath (who won ToNB 2011 & 2012) and Carlo Villarreal, a kid I used to coach back when he was 14years old and crushed grown-man in the Cat 4's (now riding for Volharden/Williams Racing Academy). We went fast down to the end of River Road and the gap was growing.

We worked well together for the next lap. The gap was at 1:30 but I didn't think this was it; for sure someone else/the teams who missed out on the break would be chasing hard and bring us back or at least we could get company. But no, nobody in sight. I told Carlo to skip some of the downhill/tailwind pulls/turns since he was on junior gears. Amazing that he bridged up w/ Heath on the false-flat of River Road in the first place! He told me he's getting a bit cold towards the end of lap 2 (no leg warmers, it was 40F and 25mph North winds!) and unfortunately flatted right after we finished our 2nd lap. We had a decent gap still at 1:30-2min at that point but no follow-vehicle. So Carlo called it a day. Tough luck.

Going up FM2722 for the last time we checked in with moto-ref-extraordinaire Mike Gladu on the gap: he just signaled us to look back and 'Damn', the field was split and strung out chasing hard maybe 45seconds or so down. I thought, 'yeah, too good to be true I guess'. We were going steady, somewhat hard but not "pinning" it the whole time. Apparently Roth, Pincus and Tristan Uhl (787) were chasing hard (TUhl didn't know his teammate Ruarri was in the break until AFTER the race). I figured we need to up it a notch in order to stay way. I think everyone realized that, too and even though we were in the small ring most of time on the rollers on FM2722 we went a bit harder. I think that gave a blow to the chase as we started to gain time again and by the time we got on River Rd the final time we had a solid 3min gap to the chase/what was left of the field. I started to think about how (edit: we) can win this race. I know I don't have the legs to just ride away. 80miles steady at ~300W is no problem but "kicking it" hard at the end was going to be a bit of problem. Rolling down River Road, ~5miles from the finish I told Justin to attack soon. Well, Heath is smart and he did attack first just before the 2nd bridge/water crossing. I had my "standard" 1100W again but that wasn't enough when Heath went (he's on incredible form right now already and just a level above everyone else; he won Copperas Cove 2 weeks ago solo, too). Justin, Ruarri and I did damage control and we rotated but I knew we were just racing for 2nd place. I put in a small dig in to make sure we get the rest of the two podium spots; Justin came in 3rd, Ruarri 4th.

Well, you might look at the results and think "why didn't they win? they were 2:1 in that break". Well, that's easy said if you were not IN the break. Going ball$ out to the wall in early February is not everybody's game, certainly not mine. And while Justin is riding really well this early season, and my form is coming along Heath is a bloody smart racer and super strong. No matter what part of the year. So credit to him. 2nd and 3rd in the first race of the year is a solid start for our "new" team. I was proud of how the three of us raced.

A few random stats you might be interested in:
  • 4 out of 4 riders in the winning break on clincher wheels/tires
  • the top 3 were Specialized Tarmac SL4's bikes (54, 56, 58cm - in that order)
  • 4 out of 4 guys in the break rode with a Power Meter (one SRM, two Quarq's, one Vector).
  • Numbers: 81m / 3:32hr / 3500kJs / 315W NP / 280W Avg / HR avg. 162 / TSS: 304 / 3900ft climbing / Temp avg: 41F
1 lap to go (photo credit: Philip Shama, Shama Cycles)