Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Week 5: Army quadruple-race, triple-victory weekend!

Happy Triple-Victory Birthday, Erik!
Inhaling the cake after the road race, so fast we fear he might eat the candle.

ITT Hill Climb
The Army weekend started with the Stony Lonesome, quad-gelatinizing hill climb ITT on Saturday morning, featuring switchbacks punctuated by grades steep enough to make you wonder why you have so few teeth on your biggest cassette cog. And, then make you wonder why you ever started this ITT. And, then why you came to this race weekend. And then, why you bicycle at all. And then, why anything really matters at all because your life hurts so much at this very moment. And… then, it’s over. And, you’re at the top clutching your cramping stomach and trying not to topple over sideways. And, then you’re trying to catch your breath in a hurry and be cool about it when you ask the racer behind you in still stilted speech, “Hey, how’d it go?”.
First off in the chilly, river-side, morning temperatures, the D men cranked out some serious wattage with Danny taking 6th (ahem, upgrade time?), with Siyuan and Matthew B not far behind in 15th and 17th. After donning their fresh C numbers, Michael Grome and John Wen cooked some serious quad meat, made a few grown men cry, and finished 8th and 12th respectively, further validating their fresh upgrades. Nice job, C men!
Shortly into her climb in Women’s D, Elif caught the UNH girl in front of her, and the two were thereupon directed by a helpful and attentive Army marshall down a turn that took them on a 3 mile, scenic tour of the army base, in the opposite direction of the ITT. As Joe Kopena, our conference director said, “It is the racer’s responsibility to know the course. No matter what anyone else tells you, always study and know the course.”
Saddlewitches: fuel of champions.
In Men’s A, Erik, as always, showed that hill who's boss and won his race with a beastly time of just over 10 minutes! We actually don’t fully understand how this is possible, and thus cannot further describe this effort. Sorry, it was too fast to see.
Our Women's B team convinced the conference that Yale is actually on the Appalachian Mountains, and not in New Haven: Kelly finished 3rd, missing 2nd by just 0.01 seconds to a McGill woman who apparently bike-threw at the top as a joke. We really aren’t sure about bike throwing as a hill climb ITT finish strategy, but hey, Dominique (McGill rider) is a friend, so we’ll take it. Colleen put in the work to finish a rock solid 6th place, staying true to her triathlete background and stating, “This is my race! I love time trials and climbing!”
In Women’s A, Travis continued to provide pre-TT comic relief with a wardrobe malfunction, nearly flashing a squad of cadets with 5 seconds till his start time when his jersey zipper burst open, before proceeding to take 10th in the field, putting nearly a minute on the next finishers. “Why me?!”

Circuit Race
After the ITT, the team relocated to a part of the base that appeared to be a bit too close to a target range for comfort, complete with troops of men in tanks with guns, for the circuit race. The circuit race, a vast improvement from previous circuit races, featured a lumpy but entirely ridable start-finish stretch complete with a gentle chicane, into a slight downhill 90 degree bend over a small stone bridge that served as a pinch point, up a 10 foot rise with gravel on each side, into a swooping slight downhill leading to a short and gentle uphill, into an off-cant corner onto the side of a blocked off minor highway like a wind-tunnel, through another 90 degree corner with rough surface on the inside and outside, and back into the finishing stretch.
In addition to real corners, even off-cant corners, this course also had the added fun of a few choose-your-own adventure “A lines” for those willing/insane enough to optionally hop grass and gravel for some off-road action to move up in the pack. (Can you guess which of our racers was engaging in this nuttiness? Seriously. Guess, then read on.)
First up, the ECCC canaries in the metaphorical coal mine, the combined, 75-man, Men's D field rammed itself into the bottleneck of the off-cant turn onto the highway. Skidding out and plowing through the turn cones and each other, the turn was promptly widened. Luckily, Danny, Siyuan and Matthew avoided cone-bike collisions. Danny hung in the front pack, racing smartly and looking comfortable (cough. upgrade. cough.), to finish top of the field in 3rd place! Matthew B and Siyuan finished 12th and 13th, rotating through the pacelines of their chase group until the sprint.
In the Men's C field, John Wen and Michael Grome hung in with the front pack, until Michael was taken over by stomach cramps (we blame the questionably fresh motel breakfast). John was left alone for a respectable mid-pack, sprint finish for 28th place in is massive new field, now with more strategy and speed to adjust to.  Michael powered through the pain to finish 50th place, and pick up a few more Yale team suffer-muffin award points for the season.
In the combined Women's C/D field, Elif worked together with a UVM racer, who - in classic UVM “merica” style - was sporting stars-and-stripes shoe covers, for a solid 12th place finish.

Travis, Kelly and Colleen set off in the Women's combined A/B field, which was undoubtably the most action-packed and exciting race of the day - with no breakaway attempts succeeding, and a large and cohesive pack attacking every sprint lap.
In the Women's B’s, Kelly hung in with the main pack to finish a respectable 4th place, and took prime points in the repeated blur the B race sprint laps!  Colleen made friends with the wonderful Anna from Columbia, working with her to finish the race in 9th.
In the Women's A’s, Travis finally showed his crit racing fangs on this flat and just-technical-enough course, contesting all prime sprints in a tight front group so furiously fast that nobody was really sure who had taken 3rd and 4th place points till the results were posted; taking points in the second prime and decisively winning the fourth and final (double points!) prime lap. Still not convinced that women’s A races are aggressive? Yes, there was grass and gravel off-roading for the sheer joy of it, and to regain lost positions. Still not convinced about the seriousness of the Women’s A field? At the demise of a breakaway attempt following the third prime lap, our conference’s national crit champion looked under her arm and vomitted backwards onto Travis, who had been working hard to reel the two riders off the front back in. Suprisingly undisturbed by this mid-race shower of GU and gatorade upchuck, Travis thanked Rose for blessing him with her crit champion powers in the form of vomit. Apparently the crit-champ-vomit-power worked for something, because he then proceeded to throw down a whopping sprint for first place in the final prime lap, burning enough matches to be concerning with two laps to go. And, womp womp, what do you know? Coming through the final corner at the front end of the surging field, Travis wound up his sprint far too early - overestimating his remaining legs - and lead out the whole field only to be overtaken and finish mid-pack in 11th. That’s racing. It’s a learning experience.
As a note on crit racing strategy, the reason the first two prime laps are double points for the A field instead of the middle two is because they are the highest risk. By putting out a real effort in either of these sprints, a racer risks being promptly shuttled to the back of the pack with a new surge or out of contention for the finish.
We would also like to thank Black Inc wheels (an ECCC sponsor) for the demo of their sick carbon tubular 50’s that Travis used in this race, which he described riding through the wind-tunnel of a highway stretch as, “like sailing”! We also think it’s pretty cool that this race was the first time ever, in the world, that Black Inc wheels have been raced in a women’s field! Rad!
In the final race of the day, Men’s A, Erik's legs experienced amnesia, bearing no trace of the morning's uphill time trial as he promptly broke away from the main field with a Bucknell rider in tow. Erik and the Bucknell rider (but, mostly Erik) then proceeded to time trial into the wind and through the corners for the remainder of the hour, expanding their gap on the field to 3 minutes and sweeping all of the top prime points. As a new twist, Erik won in a FLAT SPRINT FINISH, with enough of a gap to show off his best on-bike dance moves for the finish photo. Or, was that HULKAMANIA?!?!

That night, the team trekked over to the Neptune Diner (where the manager recognized us from past years!), and discussed strategy for the next day's TTT and hilly road race at Harriman State Park over the unlimited salad bar (literally -- multiple servings of cottage cheese and beets were part of our team strategy).

Team Time Trial
Sunday morning, we drove to Harriman State Park for a second, very full, day of racing. During the Men's D TTT, Siyuan experienced his first and hopefully only wheel-overlap crash, reminding us to schedule some bumping drills into team skills clinics this week!
The Men's C TTT team, made up of Michael, John and Danny put their strenuous 7:00 am weekday training sessions to work and placed 6th in a field with very narrow margins between finishing times.
The Women's A TTT, made up of Travis, Adele and Kelly posted a respectable 3rd place despite getting lost and starting cold, without a warmup. Heartrates from 40’s to 170’s in 60 seconds, anyone?
Women's B TTT consisting of Colleen and Elif rotated gracefully to also take 3rd!

Road Race
In Men’s D, Danny again demonstrated his mastery of the field, finish at the front for yet another top five for the weekend! Shortly behind his 5th place, Matthew B put in the hurt for a mid-pack 16th! Nice work sticking with it, D men!
In Women’s Intro, Alex completed her first road race, finishing in 7th, with a grin, saying, “That was so much fun! I was so nervous, but it was great!”. She even, in an excessively kind gesture for a race situation, got off her bike and helped another racer put her chain back on mid-race.
In the Men’s C race, Michael and John stuck together through the course to finish solidly mid-field in 30th and 32nd. Michael learned some lessons about descending at speed, creeping backwards through the field while braking on the way down the long windy slope, only to catch the field again each lap on the following uphill. In their chase group, Michael and John proclaimed themselves the most tactically sound men in the field, and proceeded to organize a paceline, scooping up or passing other racers on their way upwards through the shattered field - determined by their assessment of the racer’s ability to contribute to the pace. Way to grow into your category overnight, guys!
The Women's A/B field starting the first climb.

In the
Women’s A/B race, Travis put in work on the front and revelled in hitting a scorching 49mph on the fiercly windey descents until the middle of the third lap, when the knee pain returned. In a decision to not end his road season right there and then, he then eased up and drifted backwards for the remainder of the race, soft pedaling the majority of the last lap with the company of a fellow track-racer who found the elevation less than agreeable, and then one-legged pedalling the final two miles for 12th place in A. Kelly and Colleen regrouped with their friend Anna from Columbia after the first screaming descent, which was not to their liking, to stick together for a fun day of riding until the completion of their races for 9th and 11th places in the B’s.
During the 70 mile Men’s A race, Erik thought he wanted some alone time on his birthday (or, maybe he just got bored soft pedaling up the 3 mile climb with the field?) and early on in the race put in a hill attack to launch the solo breakaway that would rip apart the chasing field and win the race well ahead of the collection of fragmented chase groups. At the finish line, he inhaled his suprise birthday cake before the candle was even blown out - more fire power for next time! Happy birthday, Erik! And, for your birthday, you can also celebrate a triple-win weekend!  

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