Albert Einstein once said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” A learning experience would be a good way to describe this past weekend’s Two Days of Buffalo Stage Race. There was a lot to learn, and that was the beauty of it all.
The event started with a short time trial of 4.5 miles followed by a 30-minute circuit race a few hours later. Day two was a relatively flat 26-mile road race. These distances and times are for the men’s cat 5, obviously "higher" categories had longer circuit and road races. This is always a fun event, and this year I was all in for another go.
I was pleased with the numbers after the race, as I have said my training has not been over the top this year, but rather based on quality rides and more fun. For the TT, I averaged 249 watts and 21.2 mph for a little over 12 minutes. Last year, I had done the same exact 249 watts and 20.6 mph.
For the circuit race, I averaged 22.3 mph for 30:41 and 211 watts, while last year only achieved 20.9 mph in 28:16 but had achieved an incredibly high (for me) 258 watts average largely because I rode solo after getting dropped. My road race was about 3 minutes slower this year as the big group left me behind much sooner than last year. There was a lot to learn, and I think I know exactly why each race went as it did…. let me explain….
Pacing the TT-
My strategy was twofold. In a time trial, you need to pace yourself but use your efforts wisely, as a steady effort is not the fastest effort in the “race of truth.” I am happy that the results were about the same as last year. The pacing part was rather easy. I feel like time trialing is something I am getting better at especially with riding to the power meter.
For pace, I simply looked at my power curve in Strava and took my best 12-13 minutes in the last year and tried to match that. The target was 250 watts plus or minus. After a good warm up, I lined up and set off at a steady pace. I tried NOT to go flying out of the starting corral just to blow up too early. I pushed myself to discomforting levels throughout, and I kept checking occasionally on my wattage. If I saw high 100’s I picked it up, and if I saw low 300s I kept it up a little but tried to get dialed in at 250 for the flattish course.
Now the thing I had learned in my research leading up to the event was that efforts are best spent on the harder sections of the course. In short, you are better off pushing on the hills and being steadier on the flats and downhills. Expending 40 extra watts will have a greater effect on the hill where aerodynamics is negligible than to on the flats where it will not make as big a difference on total speed. Read for yourself here, as David Millar explains it better than I can.
So, this course has two bumps, and I made sure to hit them hard and then tried to maintain a little going over the top. I think these harder efforts uphill really helped me to come close to last year’s results even though I know I am not as trained as I had been then. Lesson learned: Pace yourself but spend energy on the hard stuff; it will pay big dividends.
Don’t follow a bad wheel, and work with what you’re dealt-
The weird thing about CAT 5 racing is that there are often some strong men in the field. This year was no difference. Bottom line is that if you don’t race USAC events, you can be a 5 for a long time. New riders, sometimes young and super strong, all must start there as well, so these two scenarios offer the possibility that you are going to get your ass kicked by guys who seem to be ready for CAT 3 racing!
The circuit race field took off like a bat outta hell. My first lap was 3:10 and the second one very close to that. In last year’s race, I got my PR….3:34! The first lap of 2018’s race knocked 24 seconds off that in only 1 ½ miles. That is huge in my book. Unlike the previous crit, I only managed to hang on for about three laps. So, I was doing better in crits this year, what the heck happened?
Be careful whose wheel you follow. I was on a wheel and out of nowhere the rider just ever so slightly touched his brakes. The rubber band effect this caused not only stopped my momentum, but then I was blocked out. I was unable to swing around and lost the group that was just flying. There is little that hurts more than putting in a lot of efforts just to be stymied by someone who gets in your way. This is CAT 5 racing, some folks just aren’t quite ready, and so that’s okay. I guess I wasn’t ready either. Lesson learned: Watch who you follow.
The circuit race ended with lots of strong laps with two fellows who jumped onto my wheel after a few solo laps in no man’s land. One of these fellows was the one who stymied me earlier. He was obviously young and a little shaky at high speeds, so I kept a closer eye on him. I appreciate having gone to the high-speed track nights so much more now, as I feel comfortable in those situations. We stayed together, took short pulls, and I sprinted ahead to the finish. The third gentleman was an experienced older racer, and he coached the younger gent the rest of the way. We didn’t quite catch the main group, but we distanced ourselves from the rest by working together and we lapped a few men and more women, whose race started a minute after ours. Lesson learned: There is strength in numbers. For new proof of the power of the peleton click HERE.
We’re all in this together-
The road race was another drag race out of the starting gate. We rolled out of a gravel parking lot and the front immediately went off like their hair was on fire! In retrospect, I really think the race organizers should have neutralized the start at least until after the first turn 500 meters or so away, as the driveway really messed people up jostling for position. Yeah, I got stuck again, and really my race was over shortly, somewhere between turn one and turn two.
I learned long ago that braking in turns is really frowned upon, so I vowed to embrace my fears and dive into turn after turn. Well, some people may have not read that memo yet. Turn one was a clusterf*&k of braking and bad lines. The front quickly went bye bye. I was not in the front. I tried to ride back on, but I just couldn’t and no one with me was able to help much.
So, when bad things happen, you make the most of it. I found a teammate and another rider who was nearby, and we quickly organized a chase. I figured that even if the lead group was gone, we could pick off a few riders along the way. The three of us rode down a few riders ahead, briefly formed a group of five, dropped the two additions, and then we carried on.
Unfortunately, my teammate fell off too, but the other rider and I had a good thing going. We worked hard and kept a nice steady and hard pace. We were never quite able to get the main group, but we worked great together and took pulls evenly. We rolled through turns and regrouped every time without dropping each other. I was so happy to have someone to work with that I even shared some gel shots.
The alliance lasted well into lap four when I finally lost my co-worker. I never got that rider ahead, but I rode some fast laps, all through the help of the riders nearby. Lesson learned: Evaluate your mistakes in race and make the most of it.
So, another road season is coming to a close, and I hope that one more chance is out there for putting these lessons to use. Unfortunately, I cannot get to the BBC's Arcade Road Race on August 26th, but you should. I would like one more chance at learning because this season isn't quite dead yet.