Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting one under the belt.

The Greenville Spring Training Series comprises three back-to-back weekends of racing near Greenville, SC.  The series is put on by Hincapie Sports, and well, you know who that is.

Today was race #1 in the series, held at the Donaldson Center.  This is basically a small airport / industrial park with a 7-mile perimeter road that suits itself for a calm road race.  The terrain is essentially flat, apart from a few rollers on the back side and one semi-lengthy drag at about the 5 mile mark.  Today's weather was P-E-R-F-E-C-T apart from a headwind coming into the finish.  70-some degrees in February.  And I have a sunburn.

The race itself was anti-climactic.  That's just the best way to describe it.  Don't get me wrong, the race started on time, the officials were professional, and the fans were loud (for a Cat 4 race).  With the yellow-line rule in effect and 60+ guys on a relatively flat course, it came off like a fast group ride. 

I had a few flashbacks to my race here a few years ago as a Cat 5.  With guys running 3-4 wide and not working together, we surged to and fro endlessly.  I actually managed to get off the front on the first lap, simply by riding at 18mph.  That's how slowly we were going at times.  By the way, that little flyer came right back as not a soul went with me. 

Fast-forward to the real action of the day.  Big George Hincapie himself was there and racing in the PRO 1,2 field.  The PROs started just ahead of us, so essentially we had a 7 mile head start and 35 miles to finish before they lapped us.  Well, we all knew that Mr. Hincapie would smash it from the gun and we were dead ducks. 

On lap 3 of 5, the inevitable happened:  The motorcycle ref neutralized us as an escape group of 5-7 PROs went by with Big G leading the way.  Smoothness in action and actually nose-breathing.  One of the coolest moments on a bike for me.  Ever. 

It was all downhill from there.  Just as we got going again, the PRO peloton caught us and we were again neutralized.  Astonishingly, they passed us and then just sat there.  There was a 10 yard gap between the PROs and us for few miles.  One guy shouted, "neutralize the PROs!"  Right.

At this point, we had fewer than two laps to go and were running out of time for anything exciting to happen.  A group of 5-6 slipped off the front in vain, as the peloton gave a good chase.  Closing that down was the last real excitement of the day.  Barry and I were pinned in about 3/4 of the way back and essentially stuck without breaking some rules or taking some chances.  We elected to play it cool.

Rolling into the finish, our haphazard group got moving but it really felt like a surge more than a sprint.  That ol' headwind tamed things on the finishing straight, I believe.  I landed in 40th place.

On the inside, I'm wondering if I copped out by not trying harder to maintain position and mix it up in this race.  All along, I set it up in my mind as a training race designed to reacclimate my body (and mind) to racing.  Well, we did that but 40th place just never feels good.  Here's some data:

Distance:  35 miles
Avg HR:  160
Max HR:  180
Avg speed:  23.2mph

Those numbers just don't seem to represent a very hard race.  Look at that Avg HR...for a race this short I really expected a harder ride. I felt pretty good, with no cramping, never really being in a difficult spot.  I agree with Barry, that today reminded us as to the importance of positioning in a race and knowing the character of the race course.  The Battenkill route provides plenty of natural selectivity, something the Donaldson course does not. 

I think I know what it is:  Today's race was a really long criterium.  That's the ticket.

Next up:  Some training and then River Falls RR in two weeks, the last weekend of the series.  Now that course has some action on it:  A steep 1k long climb at the end of each 6 mile lap.  I think even Big George would like that.


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