It’s been a week since the Velocity Stage race… the stories seem to have already been told enough times that they’re getting old. They’re good stories though so I will recount them one more time. Details shall be spared where they verge on being redundant to what’s already been recorded in the Fiera Blog. If you want to hear about how the race unfolded that’s your best bet, this should be a glimpse of how the race was viewed from inside my helmet.
Physically my performance was up to par, mentally it was not. That about sums up the weekend for me. The week prior to the race I was taking a bit of time to get physically and emotionally rebalanced after a rather draining performance at the Calgary Police Half Marathon. I felt like it took a couple days to let myself get my adrenaline rebalanced after that run, physically I was pretty good, I was pretty happy and hardly stiff or sore following the race, but mentally I was pretty stressed out with lots of things fighting for my attention. I cruised into the race weekend with zero expectations, I wanted to chalk up some peloton riding experience, do some playing around with group dynamics and learn to move through the pack as well as try to keep it rubber side down during my first criterium.
We started off with a 10km TT, which would be my absolute first riding of my TT bike since August of last summer. I didn’t even need to mount up my carbon disc wheel for the bike as it hadn’t even come off yet. I took 20 minutes to warm up, bringing my HR up into zone three and doing some leg speed drills on the rollers, but otherwise keeping it light. I figured I was gunning to hit threshold within maybe 2 minutes and then hold it a few beats above that for the duration of the ride, thinking that would be somewhere between 12.5 and 13.5 minutes in duration (averaging between 48 and 44.5 kph). I was trying to stay calm and probably did too good of a job staying calm instead of really getting fired up and excited to go. I rolled up to the start with 10 seconds to spare, trying to avoid spending time standing around getting nervous and then suddenly I was supposed to be racing. I went through the motions for maybe the first 3 minutes before I checked my speed, it was alright not stellar the road was bumpier than I would have liked. I caught Joe but couldn’t really see myself catching John Clark, my one minute man in such a short TT. I hit halfway and my HR was just up to 172 bpm, far from sufficient. My legs were tired, I tried slowing the cadence down a bit but wasn’t finding a groove around 85 rpm where I could feel really strong, I sped up the cadence to 110 and couldn’t find anything there either that would really let me feel like I was working hard. I was getting frustrated and wondered if my seat height was high enough. Perhaps I just wasn’t getting the coordination right in the TT position to put out the big watts. I should have been doing TT intervals at Hawrelak like Matt Krahn when I saw him out there on the aerobars. I wondered if I just wasn’t warmed up enough but had done a very similar warmup to the Race-the-Ring ITT in Calgary last year. I thought a bit about the Spring Thaw Triathlon. I wondered what we were going to do about people who weren’t going to be strong enough to climb out of the pool… would they have to swim across another lane and use the ladder to get out? Then I crested a little rise and could see the finish line. Oh shit. I’ve lost focus. My HR is down even further. I shout at myself a bit, and recruit a bit more effort the finish line is still a long ways away. I manage to at least start to feel my muscles and I’m settling with a cadence around 95rpm. I insist on going faster and gear up and then raise the cadence back to 95rpm. I’m frustrated but not able to really work hard.
I scoot across the finish line in 13:20 and snag first place by less than a second. It’s nothing too impressive if you ask me. I wouldn’t find out the result until much later that afternoon but was content to have finished probably middle of the pack and not have much of a target on my back for the ensuing criterium and road race. Luckily the target didn’t appear until the road race and I got to race the crit in relative anonymity (or at least this was my perception as we lined up).
Following the race I’m initially convinced that I wasn’t warmed up properly to ask myself to gun for threshold heart-rate right out of the gates. For such short TTs I have nothing to loose by even starting to use a bit of fitness in the warmup. There is absolutely no endurance involved in such a test, or at least nutritional endurance… I guess there’s acid buffering endurance and muscular fatigue that you need to worry about but I should have brought my effort levels up much much higher during the warmup than just nudging into the bottom of HR zone three. As the post-race week progressed re-analysis led me to believe that not getting mentally prepared to race was probably just as big of a limiter. I wasn’t excited standing on the start line. I was very calm all weekend actually, I didn’t get my excitement juices flowing. Why? Well I wanted to race to chalk up some experience and that was about it, I didn’t want to drain my adrenal glands for a second weekend in a row, and I was probably fighting back internally against the nervous energy of the Czech Racehorse, and the Krazy Kaiser who was fueling his fire. If you want to perform well you do need to tell yourself to bring your A-game and that’s all there is to it. I firmly believe that it is impossible to perform at your highest levels accidentally, if you want a chance of performing your best the first step is to mentally get ready to do your best. I didn’t do that for the ITT and that’s why I wasn’t prepped for it. 13 minutes is too short a duration to change your mind about something like that, especially when those 13 minutes are spend riding a bike that feels pretty weird for the first ride of the year.
The criterium is absolutely amazing fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had in any bike race to date. The group dynamics play out more during this race than in any other race I’ve ever done. There’s a ton of thinking, watching, trusting and testing that goes on. I’m absolutely soaking it up as we tear around the lap and way sooner than I would have liked we were supposed to be sprinting for the finish. I suppose we couldn’t have gone on forever at that pace but I certainly feel that the race was far more tactical than physical. I certainly didn’t make all the right choices with regards to planning where I used my energy, but I did stay out of danger’s way for the majority of the race and didn’t use up all that much energy doing so.
John Clark took off on the start like a bat out of hell. We did three laps at a pretty serious clip. It was probably the best way to get acquainted with the course, not because it was the safest but because it was the least safe. Everyone was working hard right off the gun and so couldn’t pay that much attention to feeling out the corners a bit easy on the first couple laps. There was such an effort to make my way up through the group (which I invariably started at the back of despite my hopes of getting a good position right from the start) that by the time I could think about how fast I could take certain corners or should take certain corners I had already done the entire course four times. The peloton slowed eventually from the rocket-ship pace set on the first laps and people took a relative breather. We went through a load of corners multiple bikes wide instead of strung out in one giant chain and the close-riding comfort was now getting tested. I stuck myself inside the group about 8 people deep, it felt safe enough that I could see most of the people ahead of me instead of just “a group” ahead of me which is a bit un-nerving. It felt like the sweet spot in the pack and I enjoyed a bunch of laps here. I took out a few attacks not really wanting to get off in a break-away but forcing other people to put in some similar efforts to reel me in. The intermediate sprint came up way sooner than I anticipated and I cruised across in second. I was very happy with this result and it gave me a bit of confidence going into the second half of the race that I was doing the right things. I stuck in there, tried to ride smart stay out of the wind and when I decided to work hard I was making sure that the rest of the group was also going to have to put in their fair share of effort to come with me. I tested out the inside of every corner on the course and the outside. I let people past me and then re-passed them, learning where it was easy to make up time and where it was hard. I made all sorts of mistakes and found myself all the way to the back of the pack on occasion when I got caught slowing too much into a corner and finding myself in a bad gear. Learn Learn Learn.
Two laps left and as we cross the start/finish line I feel a little nudge on my bum. I check under my arm and see the forks of Mr. Eddie Merckx. I take this to mean that Stefan is feeling good and thinks he’s got a good shot at the final sprint and wants some help. I light up the penultimate lap of the course with Stefan on my wheel, I don’t think we shed that many people but but both of us are clear of the pack and able to apex every corner and maintain our speed. I bring him to the line with one lap to go and then dive for the cover of the peloton as I let 5 guys past. We run down the back-stretch and pull out back onto the wider road. I’m staking a claim on an outside shot at the final corner and secure myself that position. I’m not sure that this is the best bet but it means I don’t have to accelerate as hard out of the corner. Matt Krahn is there and I quickly pick up his wheel as there’s a gap there. I figure this has got to be a good strategy even though I hadn’t really thought about how far it would take me to come around someone and pass them. We’re screaming towards the line and I just try to spin my legs as fast as I can, I pull out of Matt’s draft and boom, we’re across the line. I did the whole bike throw thing like a real sprinter-finish and it really counted, I snag third in the field sprint by about 3 inches.
The road race finds me in first place in category four and a position I totally didn’t expect to be in. The pressure is on to do my best defense of the lead. Team-mates and company are not content to see me fart around, they want a win. We pour over the start list and I write down the race numbers of everyone who is within 1 minute of my time on the general classification (on my forearm… where else would I write it?) so I can identify the main threats in the field as we get going. I am assured by John Clark that he’s going to pull in the breakaways and I just need to stay out of the wind. I do my duty and stay out of the wind. We cruise along without much event for the first couple laps, wind is from the west and we finish each lap with a long slightly uphill sidewind and a final 2kms after the corner rocket-ride-with-a-slight-tailwind-in-to-the-finish. I try and get the peloton to stop for a pee-break. I really try. Travis is not going to have any of it as he’s convinced someone might be tired and he doesn’t want them to rest-up. I hold it in for another lap and a half. That’s the extent of my excitement. Some breaks go off the front early but they’re doomed and none last very long, maybe 20 minutes at the longest. I do zero work for the peloton, and ride super deep in the gutter on the sidewind section so that no-one can possibly draft me without going off-roading. It’s a pretty selfish set of tactics and not terribly fun. A break goes off on the sidewind as we finish the penultimate lap that gets some people worried. I’ve made sure I’m riding fifth wheel down the gutter in the sidewind and am not going to wind up in trouble if the pack splits. The effort level comes up a ways for the first time and we pull them in again but in the process have shed a decent amount of the field.
The final lap starts and I’ve keenly noted a tailwind downhill section where I pull over to the side and pee downwind as we coast along. No-one attacks the group as I’m watering the ditch grass and John Clark, the fantastic domestique that he is, also drops off the back of the pack to make sure that I’m not going to wind up in trouble. What a guy. We head into the headwind and everyone is resting, I’m tucked in as deep in the peloton and do no work until we head into the final sidewind. I take the corner first to once again make sure that I don’t get stuck in a split group. My acceleration has got the aggression going and the pace winds up just as I’m starting to feel like my quads are going to start cramping. This is not fun. I’m hesitant to try anything, they clench up whenever I stop pedaling so that’s the end of free-wheeling for the rest of the race for me. I don’t want to try to get up out of the saddle, I’m sure that’s a recipe for an instant cramp. This is not what the doctor ordered. There are a few attacks but no-one is allowed to get away. Then when I find myself on the front of the group I see Stefan solo-ing up the other side of the lane. I can’t stand up to sprint and get him and I don’t want to sit there and work hard because I’ll inevitably drag a big bunch of the peloton with me. I’ve got a split second decision here, do I want Stefan to win the road-race or do I want to risk finding myself in the ditch with totally non-functioning legs? I let him go. In retrospect this is totally the wrong decision. I could have pulled Stefan in on behalf of the peloton this time and made him attack again. The next time there’s a good chance that someone else will have the onus on them to reel him in. Stefan puts in a good gap, definitely more than 100m up the road. Then there’s finally some co-operation on the part of the peloton and we start to reel him in. We get to the corner and the gap is falling fast. Our group comes close to pulling him back and then the whole pack slows up as I guess there’s a collective agreement that we will probably catch him. I’m trapped in behind and would have preferred to force everyone to start the sprint from 800m out instead of re-grouping and sprinting but I’m trapped behind a bunch of people and contrary to the desire of every fiber in my body, I have to hit the brakes. Stefan’s gap goes out again a ways and then our sprint ramps up. I catch a couple wheels on the way through the pack, passing about 10 people and making my way up the road, we come within 2 seconds of Stefan on the finish-line and I take second in the field sprint (third overall). The way the time bonuses have worked over the course of the weekend, Stefan wins the general classification as well as the road-race by about the same time as the gap he had remaining on the peloton at the finish line. Well executed strategy by Stefan, no doubt, poorly executed strategy by myself over the course of the weekend, also no doubt. The lack of cool-down and stretching after the criterium and the lack of electrolytes during the road race probably did me in, luckily all of the times I was making strategic errors during the criterium I was able to solve the problem before it became a big issue. (I was testing a new protocol based on demerera sugar with lower sodium, something I figured would let me put more calories in a bottle than lots of other alternatives while maintaining palatability. This project is going to be worked on furtherand once deemed successful I’ll elaborate on the details.)
In retrospect I had a fun weekend, got in some acceptable training, not great training but the two times I ran really did help boost the weekend from a miserably inefficient use of training time into two pretty good days. A 40min run following a road race where you dealt with cramping where I’m able to manage a 3:20 marathon pace while still feeling like I’m running easy is promising that I am indeed developing some good run durability. I also netted $80 towards MSF on behalf of Fiera. While I’m racing for Hardcore on the bike this year, my membership with the Fiera team does mean that I am in on the fundraising effort with any earnings despite only being loosely associated while sporting the Hardcore colors.
Big thanks to Lenka, Sanja, Masa and Bill for snapping photos over the course of the weekend, especially Masa for the really touching portrait of Stefan and myself.