Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick Note on Torrey Pines

The good old SDBC group ride always ends with a slog up Torrey Pines. Torrey isn't any sort of mountain or anything, but it is a pretty good climb, especially at the end of a hard group ride. By my calculations its about 1.6 miles of distance and a very steady 420 feet of vertical gain (420/8,448*100 ~ 5% gain).

This last week I did it in 7 minutes, 11 seconds, which I believe is a new best time for me. Average speed of 13.3 mph at an average of 345 watts. It's even nicer to know that I can definitely do it faster. With the Ontario race coming up the next day I didn't want to kill myself, so I kept my heart rate under 180.

I'm definitely starting to feel pretty good about how I've recovered from my leg injury. If I didn't have my foot drop to contend with on a daily basis I might even have forgotten that I'd ever hurt myself.

Ontario 4

Yesterday (7/21) I headed up to Ontario with the rest of the SDBC 4/5 team to race in the 4th instalment of this year's Ontario Crit Series.

If you've been reading the blog since the beginning you know that Ontario is as flat as it gets, wide roads and fast. This course also seems to have a way of leading to accidents when you'd least expect them. Last year this was the course where a junior decided to veer out of the middle of the pack taking me and others out, resulting in a separated shoulder for yours truly. I've also seen a few strange crashes on this course where the field is rolling along a straight piece of road and all of a sudden 15 guys are on the ground.

My goals for this race were pretty simple:

1. Ride with the field the entire race.
2. Play a role that would help one of my teamates succeed. Our club is trying to pick up as many SoCal Series points as we can right now, so top results matter more than ever.
3. Stay safe.

Talking with the team before the race we agreed that my job was going to be to get on the front with a couple laps to go and try to keep the pace as fast as possible. While I don't think any of them believed I'd actually be able to get this job done, I was happy to take it on. First, being at the front keeps you away from all the craziness that can happen towards the end of one of these races. Second, I really wanted to test myself in this race. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to sprint with the really fast guys at the end, so getting on the front and hammering it with a couple laps to go would be a good alternative. Finally, keeping the pace high would disuade others from attacking early and allow our sprinters the chance to do their thing.

The course at this event is a pretty good sized lap, 1.2 miles. It wasn't too hot yesterday, maybe 85 or something. The wind on the otherhand was pretty strong, which makes riding on the front of the field a very tough job. When we were headed into the wind we were typically down to about 22 mph, which is pretty slow for a course as fast as this one. No wind and the pace would have been closer to 27 mph.

The race went pretty well for me. After the first couple of laps I was beginning to feel like my old self again. I was able to move up through the field when I wanted to. I was pretty comfortable riding in the middle of the group. I pretty much settled in on the rear of one of the wide bodies, held his wheel and took it as easy as I could.

About a third of the way in I found myself near the front, so I pulled all the way through and led the field around a lap. I definitely spent some energy doing this, but it was valuable to get on the front and get a good read on whether I was really fast enough to expect to pull the field with 2 laps to go. Sometime soon after the requisite stupid accident happened. Some junior decided that it would be a good idea to have a drink while riding around a corner at 25 miles per hour surrounded by other riders. Sure enough a guy went over his rear wheel breaking his collar bone in the process. I still don't understand why the guy who was injured didn't get up, walk his bike back to his car, and drive to the hospital; instead someone called 911 and the race was neutralized for 10 minutes while the paramedics got on the course and carted him off.

When we finally got back to racing there were maybe 10 minutes to go. This situation made me pretty nervous. Giving 50 or so guys 10 minutes to pedal slowly and get their breath back only means that some of the weaker guys were now on the front thinking to themselves that they felt remarkably fresh and wondering if they could indeed win this thing. Generally this only leads to trouble as guys who normally are spit off the back by now are instead mixing it up at the front.

With two laps to go I hauled ass up to the front and did my job. I was secretly hoping that I might even be able to pull away from the field, never mind just keep the pace high. However, each time I looked back to see if I was pulling away there was a guy right on my wheel. So no dice on the break away. What I wished I'd known when I was on the front was that the SDBC rider who was on my wheel was Alcino, one of our better finishers. If I knew it was him I would have tried harder to hold my position right to the end. With 1 lap to go I was really starting to run out of steam, I pulled off thinking that one of our other grinders was the guy behind me, unfortunately what really happened was that Alcino was now on the front with the wind in his face.

Just to keep things real, as I was dropping back and heading through turn 1, some clown went racing right across my front wheel and headed straight for the curb/dirt on the outside of the corner. He cratered pretty hard, but luckily for him, he didn't get to pile into a giant piece of cement like I did when I broke my leg. By the time I came back around for a warm-up lap there was no sign of him, so I guess he came out of it okay.

As for the finish, Alcino finished somewhere in the top 20. Kely Campbell, probably our best sprinter, took fourth. All in all a great day.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Laying the Smack Down

I rode the SDBC Saturday "B" ride this past Saturday. One of the things I really noticed when I did the Green Trolley race was that my pack riding skills have seriously diminished. Riding by yourself is a very different dynamic than riding in a pack. When you ride in a pack you've got so much more to deal with; you've got riders of all different abilities, the pace can be fast, then it gets slow, then accelerates quickly, then you've got some turkey who is beside you but can't seem to ride in a straight line, etc. These are the sorts of situations that you can't simulate when you ride by yourself.

Based upon my lack of recent pack riding experience I wanted to get into the middle of things, see if I could push the pace at the front, ride in close proximity to others and see what I could do to match the accelerations of the group. Things went really well. Prior to hurting myself I used to ride with the SDBC "A" ride, which is faster than the "B" ride. It's been a long, long time since I've ridden with the B group. Things have definitely gotten pretty complacent with the B crowd.

About 5 minutes into Saturday's ride I was feeling like the B ride had become a ride for the elderly. Things were moving along at a leisurely pace with no one interested in getting on the front and moving things along. Once we started to climb out of Sorrento Valley I decided it was time to get on the front and push the pace a bit. Initially this resulted in me being a few hundred feet up the road on my own, rather than having the desired effect of getting people to get on my rear wheel and speed things up. So I dialed things back a bit and gave the group a chance to catch up.

As we left our meet-up point in Fairbanks Ranch I again found things to be ridiculously slow. Fortunately Duane Noel, one of the guys on the category 4/5 team was at the front with me, so I had someone to trade pulls with this time as we again pulled away from the group. The pack finally caught me near the top of the climb up to stud loop, but it was great to see that I could pull away from people (at least on the flats). I was able to stay with the lead group around stud loop, which is a stretch of rolling road that really tests your cardiovascular system.

In Rancho Sante Fe I accidentally dropped my sunglasses, had to turn back to pick them up and spent a couple miles riding by myself trying to catch back on to the group. A little frustrating, but it provided a great opportunity to work hard and catch back on.

As we turned west onto La Costa, the elderly were again on the front moving the ride along at a snail's pace, so I headed to the front, pulling the group into the wind at 25 mph or so. It was the same situation as we turned south onto the 101, everyone was soft pedaling waiting for someone to do all the work, so I obliged and again worked my tail off at the front. It felt great to be back on the front pushing the pace and making others suffer as they tried to keep up. Frankly I'll never understand the mentality of people who join a group ride simply for the purposes of sitting in and drafting. The whole point of this sort of ride is supposed to be to get an anaerobic workout, i.e. pushing yourself past the point of your lactate threshold. If you're doing these rides right, you should have snot running down the side of your face, be breathing heavily, and wishing the pain could come to and end; not riding at a level of effort that allows you to carry on a conversation with a friend.

A couple observations on my current fitness:

1. My cardiovascular system is in great shape. Whenever I dropped back into the field for a breather I was able to quickly get my heart rate back into an aerobic range. When I needed to ride at maximum effort I was able to hold my power at a steady state for minutes at a time.
2. My power is definitely my limiting factor right now. I still struggle to keep up with the group when we head up steeper hills. At times of maximal effort I find that my heart is capable of giving me more than what my body is able to use. So there's definitely some room for improvement here.

Based on the success of this last week's ride, I'm hopeful that I might ride the "A" ride in a couple of weeks. I plan to do the "B" ride again next week. If I can really put the hammer down next weekend I'll look to do the "A" ride the following week.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Green Trolley vs. Red Trolley

I thought it would be interesting to compare the power data from last year's Red Trolley with this year's Green Trolley. There's good info to be gotten from this. Not only because both races took place on the same course, but because when I did both these races I was in a similar phase of my training plan.

Here's the Red Trolley data (Feb. 4, 2007):

Here's the Green Trolley data (June 28, 2008):

Note that the power peaks that happen each couple of minutes correspond to the short climb right before the finish.

For those who don't have a good perspective of how power (watts) translates to cycling performance, it's pretty simple, the more wattage the faster you're going to go. This is especially true on a hill where the speed up a hill is directly proportional the power to weight ratio of the rider.

One can see that in the 2007 race I put in 800, 750 and 650 watts the first three times up the hill. In 2008, the first three times up the hill I managed 650, 550 and 500 watts. So, I'm at least 25% off where I was near the beginning of the season last year. This can also be seen in the speed I carried up the hill. In 2007 I was closer to 20 mph up the hill. In 2008 it was closer to 15 mph. It's not too hard to understand how someone would get dropped pretty quickly if they were 25% slower than the rest of the field.

In 2007 my average power was 267 watts. 2008 225 watts.

The other big difference I see in the graphs, is that in 2007 I was able to increase my power on the hill back up to 575 watts during the last few laps of the race. In 2008 my power did increase on the last couple laps I did; however, it only went up to somewhere around 450 watts.

So, clearly I still have a ways to go to getting back to being ready to hold my own in a race. Hopefully over the next year or so my foot drop will continue to recover to the point that I can completely raise my foot. I think a big part of the difference in these power numbers is that I lose a fair bit of power in my stroke when I can't effectively pull up with my left leg.