Why I Do It

I’ve been meaning to write a post describing what I like about the big races, but have had trouble finding the perspective I was looking to describe.  I received this question via Twitter today, and figured I’d post my response here in the form of this post.  Enjoy.

For better or worse, amateur bike racing easily lends itself to delusions of grandeur.  You line up with a field of similarly matched competitors decked out in team gear.  There is an announcer screaming your name and keeping spectators appraised of the race situation.  There will be prize money, but probably not podium girls waiting for you at the finish.

It can be easy to get caught up in this at any level.  Win a few Cat 4 racers and your peers will know who you are.  We all know each other in the relatively small community of a few thousand regional bike racers, and winning a “Pro”/1/2 race may seem like the pinnacle of sport… But it really isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.  I’m lucky enough to have a reasonable expectation of an opportunity to win these local races, but that is the draw of bike racing: most of the starters have a chance at winning.

However, the few big races I enter every year are different.  I have no hope of winning.  This is even more true in cyclocross, where races are more predictable.  There are racers who have slowly clawed their way up the results sheet when the big races come to town (Allen Krughoff) and been noticed on the national stage, but that isn’t really why I race them.

The Big Show

The Big Show

The big race is my opportunity to take my delusions of grandeur one step further.  Every racer dreams of what it must be like to live the life of a pro, and I get my little chance to experience it when the big race comes to town.  To experience the large crowds, professionally designed/marked courses, loud PA systems, and media attention at a big race is my opportunity to get a taste of what it is like to race at that level.  For me it is a highlight of my season, but to the travelling pros, it is just another stop on the calendar.

We also make our own goals when we line up at the back of the Elite field.  Finishing on the lead lap is an honorable goal and I’ve been successful on a few occasions, although I was well off the mark last weekend.

I’ll also mention that it is a major learning opportunity.  The next time you’re at a large race early in the day, you’ll see a handful of riders following the top riders as they warm up.  This is the best chance many riders will get to truly analyze the techniques of highly skilled international level pro racers in the home environment.  It can be hard to get an idea of tire selection and course conditions based on race photos alone, so simply seeing course conditions and the tires selected by top riders in person can be very helpful.

I’ll also make a quick mention of road racing, although the question was posed for Cyclocross. On the road there is always the chance for a lucky result.  Perhaps you’ll make the right move and get your photo or a mention in major cycling media.  There also is much higher risk and there are often serious crashes.  I’m a pretty tough racer and I like exciting, technical courses, but sometimes I can’t quite imagine the lifestyle of back-to-back-to-back National Calendar twilight criteriums with large, agressive fields, big prize lists, screaming fans, loud announcers, and the constant threat of bodily injury.


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USGP Fort Collins

I have to say I had a very disappointing weekend.  I’m feeling rather apathetic about writing it up, and I don’t want to be giving excuses. I’ll be somewhat brief here and summarize my thoughts on the weekend.

Day 1

The forecasters had a rough week here in Colorado, and they were wrong about Saturday for about the third day in a row.  10% chance of showers turned into a few hours of steady rain.  The course was thirsty, and it stopped raining a couple hours before start, so most of the course was simply tacky for the Men’s Elite race.  I stuck with mud tires for the few sections on the course that stayed slippery.

My mud clinchers seemed to work fine since traction was mostly plentiful, and there was nary a rock on the course so I was comfortable at a low (about 30 psi) pressure on my 31c Crosswolfs.  I drew a decent start position and was about mid-field in the first part of the race.

It wasn’t a good day for my legs and I started drifting backwards.  I felt like I was going as hard as I could, but guys that don’t usually get the better of me kept coming past.  I feel like I have a history of under-performing at the big cyclocross races, and I’m not exactly sure why. One of my theories is that the guys I can hang with on a regular weekend are focusing on the big races more than I am, and show up on peak form.  Another is that I may be over-rested: I had great legs on Wednesday, but after two more days off I didn’t have the punch I needed.

Either way, my result was pretty dismal: 67th/90.  I was pulled with four laps to go and only had 316NP for 38 minutes of racing.  I cleaned up my bike (including my normal race wheels which I’d previewed the course with), and mentally prepared for the next day’s race.

Day 2

I felt a little bit like the excitement was lacking overall for me at this race.  Usually I’m totally excited to be racing with the fastest guys in the country.  There is a lot to learn by having the opportunity to preview the course with them.  The level of production/course design, and media attention also add to the excitement.  But this weekend I felt like I wasn’t really that star struck and was simply going through the motions.

I noticed my rear dugast sidewall wasn’t very happy after the previous day’s wet conditions.  The tires really are only good for one season, but I’d broken my collarbone (on the second day of the Fort Collins USGP) and was still riding the same set.  There was a little rot but they’d been holding steady until the prior day’s moisture.  They’re on my lightest set of wheels and the tread was good for the second day’s super fast dry course.  I figured they’d hold for the race.

I was wrong.  After the first lap, we hit the pavement across the finish line and I could feel the tire, ‘whump, whump, whump’, rolling across the pavement irregularly.  I was able to ride to the pit before it exploded, but had to change the wheel as I don’t have a spare bike.  I only lost about 30 seconds, but on the second lap of the race it put me pretty far back.

The course was very fast, but still bumpy.  I tried previewing it with lower tire pressure (low 20s), but I felt like I didn’t have enough stability in the corners.  Higher pressure had me bumping all over the course.  I settled on 24/26 which seemed a good compromise.  The course also was constantly turning, with only a few full throttle sections.  Gone were last year’s long, straight climbs.  I was ‘floating’ (off the saddle / absorbing the bumps) over basically the entire course and pretty soon my back and arms gave out.

I could easily feel that my pedaling strength was limited by the muscles in my lower back.  My legs were better but I wasn’t going much faster than the previous day.  I was pulled at 2 laps to go in 61st place.  According to the lap time report, if I’d been consistent with my fastest two laps, I probably could have finished on the lead lap in 50th.  I would have been reasonably happy with that result, but I still think it is within my ability this season to be closer to the mid-30s.  My power numbers were actually in line with what I’ve been seeing this season with 321 NP for the 52 minutes of racing.

Another factor is that I think the fields were bigger and stronger than last year.  The field was stacked with plenty of travelling pros along with quite a few locally based pro mountain bike racers who can always have a respectable showing.

It is now two weeks until the big show comes back to town.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to redeem myself.  Usually I’m proud to have my name appear on the results in international media, but not as far down the results sheet as it was this weekend.

I’ll be looking for some new tires as my rear Dugast had the latex tube bulging out through the sidewall.  I haven’t decided what I’m going to get but look for a review of my Dugast experience soon.

I’ve had some low back pain over the years, but my triceps felt like I’d done 1000 pushups which isn’t normal for me.  I’m going to attribute this to course conditions and a lack of upper body strength.  I’d done some upper body/core conditioning earlier in the season before I started racing, but I might want to consider continuing this further into the year.


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US Postal / Armstrong / USADA Investigation: My Thoughts

Some folks have been quite surprised with the allegations against Lance Armstrong (and subsequently many others close to him) this summer.  But for those of us who have been listening to the skeptics for the past seven years weren’t too surprised.  In fact, most of this story has been public knowledge for quite some time.

Brief history:

Back in 2005, Le Equipe published its story “The Armstrong Lie”.  Their investigation centered around a scientific study to validate the new EPO test.  The study used individually coded (anonymous) B-samples from the 1999 Tour.  12 samples were positive.  The paper was able to match the codes for six of the sample to Lance Armstrong, using documents leaked from the UCI.

Obviously, this article was far from ‘proof’: The chain of custody was loose, there were no additional samples to test, and all the evidence was centered around leaked documents to match the sample codes.  But for the skeptics, it was the first evidence of rumors they’d heard for quite some time.

In 2006 the New York Times ran a story where Frankie Andreu admitted EPO use in the 1999 tour.  A second anonymous teammate (we now know to be Jonathan Vaughters), also came clean in this story.  The momentum only built with Floyd Landis’ 2010 leaked email to the CEO of USA Cycling detailing the team’s drug use, and Tyler Hamilton’s interview on 60 minutes in 2011.

A little about me:

Google News Badges

Google News Badges

First, a window into my personality: I like to try to understand the position from people on both sides of issues.  I read most of my national/international news on Google News, which tracks the articles I read.  As a political liberal, for the most part I understand the liberal position on things, so I spend most of my time reading the opposing view.  I also love a good conspiracy theory and have spent time reading about 9/11 hoaxes and the Illuminati/New World Order. (Not that I believe in those any more than political conservatism 🙂 )

So I’ve been following this story for quite some time but I haven’t always been a cynical skeptic.  I read Its not About the Bike when I was in high school.  I drooled over USPS carbon Trek bikes.  I was excited for Lance’s comeback, following him on twitter and watching videos of him out training with Allen Lim, even as I read articles about his links to doping.

The tides turn:

I think this will probably happen for everyone at some point, when it comes to Lance Armstrong.  How could anyone in 1999 not be captivated by his story?  But now, with all the evidence showing that he used drugs to win, how could anyone have the same view of things?

For me, it was the realization of the prevalence of EPO use.  I’ve referenced this graph a few times, which shows blood profiles of cyclists changing in response to the introduction of testing methods.  Keep in mind, there was no test for EPO in 1999.  With such an effective way to improve performance and a relatively supportive culture of use, it isn’t surprising that many used it.

How you feel about this is up to you.  Does prevalence of cheating make it acceptable on any level?  Does each rider’s feelings about the situation change your view on an individual basis? (Compare Lance’s complete denial with Landis’ open book confession with Danielson’s matter of fact ‘Necessary to compete’ with Zabriskie’s gut wrenching affidavit).  Obviously, not everyone used EPO simply because there was no test for it.  But I do think that individual rider’s personal feelings about doping are clear from their affidavits.

The truth/facts:

I think many opinons are fair, ranging from “He did a lot for cancer, everyone was doing it, and it was a long time ago” to “Anyone that doped and lied should be gone for good”, but what I really can’t stand are people that don’t understand the facts.  I’m going to do my part to put a few things straight:

“Its a kangaroo court!  This is America! Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law!”

All doping cases are handled the same way, through USADA, USAC, and the UCI.  In America, doping isn’t really against the law, so it must be done outside the courts.  There is a system of court like arbitration that is designed to be as fair as possible to resolve doping cases (of which there are many).  Many athletes have been found guilty of perjury for lying under oath (Marion Jones, Barry Bonds), which I believe is why so many riders gave their stories for this investigation.

Never tested positive!”

Neither have any of the other riders (with the exception of Landis) who gave affidavits in this investigation stating they have used EPO, testosterone, cortisone, and other detectible drugs. Obviously not testing positive is not equivalent to not doping.

They hang Lance and everyone else is off the hook!”

Travis Tygart (head of USADA), said “Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution.”  He potentially could have testified like everyone else and received a reduced ban for cooperating.

The Federal Investigation was closed!”

The FDA investigation was focused on determining if any federal laws were broken.   Doping itself isn’t a federal crime.  The federal investigation was focused on the USPS contract, drug trafficking, and was also subject to different standards of evidence and statutes of limitations than the anti-doping investigation.

What the cynics say now:

I’m still keeping tabs on the cynics and skeptics.  Even today with a 365/24/7 whereabouts system, riders still cannot be tested between 10pm and 6am.  This is enough time for a small dose (micro-dose) of EPO to clear the system by morning.  Perhaps the Bio-passport system of monitoring blood values over time is helping, but there are additional methods of manipulating blood profiles.  Riders can still microdose EPO, mask new blood cells with re-infusion of stored blood, dilute abnormally high red blood cells with saline, drink copious water to dilute urine samples, among other techniques.  HGH is also only detectible for as little as 8 hours.

However, I do believe that things have changed for the better.  The culture in the sport appears greatly changed against doping.  This was also said in 1999 after Festina, and in the mid-2000’s after the development of the EPO test, when doping was still clearly prevalent, but the cultural tide seem to be continuously turning against doping.  Also, the methods available today result in much smaller gains than years ago.

Various reports put gains from EPO use at about 10%, easily enough to turn a Domestic pro into a World Class competitor.  But the cynics say that 500mL of infused blood, a micro-dose of EPO to increase reticulocytes, and 500mL of saline to mask increased Hgb/Hct is undetectable by current methods and would result in a few percent performance improvement, still enough to effect the outcome of a race.

Read for yourself:

USADA Investigation Affidavits – Click Appendices and Supporting Materials
(Here is an armchair quarterback’s list of the redacted names from The Clinic forum at Cyclingnews)

The Science of Sport – Academic discussion of athletic performance and doping.

Cycling Fans Anonymous on Twitter – Hardcore, biased cynicism

more glorious than hookers and blow – This blog deserves an entire paragraph: This is the ultimate cynic / conspiracy theorist site.  I’d assume the blog’s author, captaintbag, writes nearly unintelligibly (no punctuation or capitalization, phonetic spelling) to obscure their identity.  Look beyond the profane and childish writing style, and you’ll see detailed analysis of publicly available data on blood profiles and doping techniques.

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USGP Preview

The US Grand Prix of Cyclocross is the de-facto national championship series.  It is the most important series on the calendar.  All the races are UCI (International) ranked, and each weekend has one C1 ranked race.  The only ranking a race can have higher than a C1 is the World Cup, and there are only nine C1 races in the US.  Also, only one of the four stops on the USGP is a ‘split weekend’, where there are other UCI races on the US calendar on the same day.

Which basically means that this weekend’s cyclocross race is one of the biggest I’ll see all year. Every professional racer travelling the US (and wannabes) will be there to race.

This will be my third year competing, and his has been an interesting run for me at the USGP in Fort Collins.  In 2010, I was racing to win the Cat 2/3 race for Cat 1 upgrade points, but also raced Elite, getting lapped and pulled from the race in 41st place. In 2011, I had my best placing yet in a UCI race (31st) on the first day. I was on track to finish within the top 30 on the second day, until I crashed late in the race breaking my collarbone and ending my season.

This year I should be finishing on the lead lap, but it will still take good legs and good luck.  I won’t be getting a callup for the race, so my start position will be random.  The start list, has 71 racers as of this writing, and start position is critical in a race of this size.  I won’t be getting a callup at the big races until I receive UCI points, which are pretty tough to come by.

The points go 10 deep in a C2 race, and 15 in a C1.  There are only four UCI races nearby, and all of them are too high profile for me to have a chance at points this season, especially without a callup.  There are lower profile races on the calendar (especially on a split weekend), which I can likely score some points, but at this point I’m a bit torn on the decision to travel out of state in search of UCI points this season.

I don’t have any plans to go to Nationals this season, where a callup would be critical, but I will certainly be racing Nationals the following season (2014), when the race will be held across the street (literally) from my house.  It seems that for a lot of guys about as fast as I am, that once you’ve got UCI points, they seem to keep coming more easily from year to year, as start position can be so critical in a cross race.

Anyway, back to the topic of this weekend’s race:  If you’ve never been to a high profile race like this, it is a great event to spectate.  The Elite Women start at 2:45, and the Men at 4pm.  The races are Saturday and Sunday on the south side of Fort Collins at 5757 S College Avenue (Highway 287).  I’ll leave you with a video from 2010’s edition of the race:

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Tour of Vail Criterium

It was a strange feeling to be back on my road bike after it had spent over a month in my shed without as much as a crankset installed. This race had been on the calendar but I had overlooked it for the most part. When I saw the prize list ($10,000 for 20 places), I figured the best use of my weekend would be to try my hand at the big show rather than some local cyclocross races.

Its been over a year since I’ve been at a road event of this caliber. The race was the final of the dozen races in the USA Crits series. (Note: USA Crits is a private series of races, and the second most important criterium series in the US, behind the official, USA Cycling sanctioned National Criterium Calendar).  Regardless of standing or importance, when there is a lot of prize money at stake, the fastest riders from across the country will be sure to show up.

This proved true when I arrived at the venue.  The start list of pre-registered riders was bolstered by quite a few additional pros.  The pro teams with the biggest showing were Team Mountain Khakis and Optum Pro Cycling.  Both had brought top notch sprinters with them and I knew they would probably be working for a sprint finish.

I’d googled the course a bit and knew it would be interesting, to say the least.  I started to hear rumblings from Twitter that the course might be even crazier than I expected.  When I took my first lap, I was quite surprised.  I’ve race a lot of small and technical courses, but this was over the top.  The entire course was only about 12 feet wide, and only 1k in length.  In addition, most of the course was covered in paving stones with manholes, seams, off-camber corners, and rolling bumps that would throw you like a bucking bronco.

I took my final warm up lap as a racer from the women’s race was being attended to by medical staff after a nasty crash a the finish. The marshalls were stopping us just before the last corner.  Racers were anxious to get to the staging area, as we all knew the technical course would favor a good starting position.  A few simply ignored her and passed right by, while others took to the sides of the course and passed their bikes over the fencing near the staging area 50 yards ahead.

I fully understand that some riders have more on the line than I do in this sort of race (perhaps extending as far as their livelihood), but I’m always disappointed when people feel like the rules don’t apply to them.  The marshall is probably just someone who was strong armed into volunteering her time and probably not likely to start giving bib numbers to the commissaries, yet I still feel like there should be more respect for each other and the rules.

I ended up starting pretty close to the back.  The race started pretty quick, but I felt like I was able to hang on easily and I wasn’t ever at risk of being dropped.  Moving up the field was another story.  Riders were spread out across the narrow course and it was very hard to find space when the pace was slower.  This lead to riders squeezing through holes that were barely there and frequently coming underneath in the corners.

On the one hand, races at this level contain dozens of very experienced and talented bike handlers, so the peloton will be much tighter, faster and more aggressive.  On the other hand, riders will get away with as much as they can, and more.  There were multiple serious crashes and a few riders were in a heated shouting match during the race.

At one point I was tied up in a crash myself.  A Clif Bar rider hit the deck hard and I was two riders behind.  The rider directly behind him ran over him and had to half-jump off his bike.  As the crash pushed to the outside of the corner I was squeezed out and had to lock up my rear wheel and came to a stop against the barrier as the end of the peloton went by.

The rules state you must actually crash to take a free lap.  Feel free to call me a hypocrite regarding the rule infractions I mentioned earlier, but I felt like I came very, very close to crashing.   Rather than panicking and riding aggressively through crashed riders without inspecting my rear tire after a long skid, I thought it would me much safer for me to wait until the rider infront of me could disentangle his bike from the barrier so we could take our free lap.

The remainder of the race continued in similar fashion.  The race was either strung out single file at maximum effort or spread completely across the road with nowhere to go.  Obviously other riders had better legs and/or more guts and were able to make their way to the front.  The few times I tried I made some progress but was stymied by riders blocking the road or another near-crash.  In hindsight, I wish I had committed 5-10 minutes to 100% effort to find the front of the race, but I suppose I was hoping an opportunity would come, but by 20 laps to go I knew it was probably too late.

I did fight my way up to the front half of the field, but after again being chopped in a corner and losing a few more places with 10 laps to go, I knew I wouldn’t see the front of the field.  Since I was out of the money I resigned myself to tailgunning the race to finish safely in the field.  I still narrowly avoided a late crash that left a Champion Systems rider sitting in the middle of the road on a straightaway as we flew past at 30 mph.

Overall I wasn’t that thrilled with my performance or the race itself.  My power meter showed that I didn’t have the greatest legs (my power was perhaps 10% below what I’d expect on a good day, and the race was only 3,000′ above my normal altitude, which should only decrease power by about 5%) and I’m mostly just disappointed that I didn’t put a single dent in the race.  Guys that I can usually compete with in local races seemed to be able to make the front, so perhaps I wasn’t aggressive enough along with having a bit of a bad day.

I’ve been doing a lot less volume of training lately (which is typical for me for cyclocross season) and I’ve found that low volume training doesn’t necessarily leave me with poor fitness overall, but that my fitness can be less predictable on any particular day.

Regardless, I did enjoy the opportunity to ride with some of the fastest guys in the country.  It isn’t often that I show up to a race and get my teeth kicked in and its a great way to remember that there are a lot of faster racers out there in the world.  The scenario will be a little different but I’m working on getting a shift trade at work so I can take on some really fast cyclocross racers in two weeks when a cyclocross race of similar stature (The USGP) comes to Ft. Collins.

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Cyclocross Power Analysis

Now that I’ve got a few races under my belt with power data, I wanted to take some time to go over what I’ve learned and how useful I think it is.  Some of the analysis is for power data only, but I’ll also go over what other telemetry (GPS, heart rate) can mean for racers.


The most important data derived from GPS is lap times.  Lap times should be consistent overall for optimal pacing.  Striking a balance between a good start and good pacing is key.  On a technical course with difficult passing, you could easily lose 30 seconds in the first half lap if you’re stuck in traffic.  However, those 30 seconds may only be the difference between a couple places at the end of the race.  A few seconds may be lost waiting to pass each rider as the race progresses, but overall it becomes increasingly easy to pass as the race goes on.

As far as pacing, I’d suggest trying to slot into the place you intend to finish at the start of the race.  Racing too far ahead can lead to poor pacing later in the race due to fatigue.  Cyclocross lap times are surprisingly consistent.  In this example from last year, the leader’s times varied less than 10 seconds over each of 9 laps!

Heart Rate:

Heart rate tracing from Boulder CX Series #2

Heart rate tracing from Boulder CX Series #2

Above is a tracing from a recent race which shows pretty good pacing.  One of this issues I had, which is reflected in the tracing, was death by bobbles.  I was able to stay with the lead group for the first two laps, but I had a few bobbles a near crashes that left me surging to regain the group.  This lead to my heart rate spiking a few times until I eventually lost contact with a large group of about eight riders.

I still rode smart enough to maintain my pace, as can be seen in my consisten heart rate at threshold for the majority of the race.  My lap times were consistent, slowing from 7:35 on the first lap to 7:46 on the second to last.  On the last lap I wasn’t within reach of anyone else so I eased off quite a bit as can also be seen in my heart rate.  Throughout the race as riders fell off the lead pace, I passed about one rider per lap and I managed to finish a respectable fifth place.


Boulder Cyclocross Series #2 - Power Tracing - Lap 1

Boulder Cyclocross Series #2 – Power Tracing – Lap 1

Above is a power tracing from the first lap of the same race.  It looks almost identical to an eight minute segment of a criterium.  The power numbers for the first lap are a bit higher than the subsequent laps by about 10%, but actually average the same if the initial 30 second sprint is taken out.

Easily the most important metric will be Normalized Power (NP).  NP is calculated to account for the increasing physiologic demand of higher power outputs.  In a hard hour long criterium, I expect to have a NP very close to my threshold power.  So far this cyclocross season, I’ve been seeing numbers about 5% lower than threshold (320w for this race).  I believe this to be due to the time off the bike.  Four, six second running sections per lap will take 24 seconds, or 5% of an 8 minute lap, thus decreasing power by 5%.  Of course, the power meter doesn’t measure anything when not pedaling, and the running sections also have high physiologic demand, so a short but critical part of the race isn’t being measured.

Another important metric is Average Power, and how it is compared to Normalized Power, which is sometimes referred to as VI (Variability Index).  This shows how even the effort was.  Some courses will naturally have higher variability than others, so I’d take a look at VI as the race progresses.  In the opening laps of this race, my VI was highest (1.15) and lowest (1.08) in the middle of the race when I was riding smoothly and setting my own pace.  I’d suggest that riding the corners at maximum speed will limit the power required to get back up to speed, lowering VI, NP and reducing physiologic demand without increasing lap times.

Whats missing

The last sentence above alludes to a major point of racing cyclocross: technical skill is a major part of the equation.  Inefficient body mechanics will unnecessarily increase fatigue, slowing excessively in the corners will cause higher power output, but not faster speed.  Higher power may not always be a sign of a good race, also the case in road racing.

I’m not sure how helpful it is, but I made a quick spreadsheet with a few possible metrics for ‘efficiency’, comparing speed, power, NP, and VI.  I’m certain it won’t be comparable across courses (it can’t account for more technical courses or slower course conditions), but I think the data shows which lap I rode most efficiently.

Xilinx Metrics

Xilinx Metrics

I’ve colorized the data at the extremes in each set of data. Clearly, something happened on the fourth lap (Fifth row, above). From memory, I’d say that I’d given up on sprinting to regain the lead group and was riding as fast as I could at my own pace. My average HR was lowest (ever so slightly), but my speed was second fastest despite my second lowest power numbers.  During this lap I likely had the intense yet relaxed focus that is the essential midset of a successful cyclocross race.

The MPH/VI metric seems to select this lap as well, showing the highest value. Interestingly MPH/VI is independent of actual power output and could probably be compared among different riders on the same course and may be an indicator of smoothness and/or carrying speed through the corners.

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The Saga of CrossVegas, Part 2

I arrived on the day of the race with plenty of time to spare.  Overall I was well prepared with the exception of only having time to shave one leg, as I was interrupted during my morning shower by an emergency call at 6am before leaving work for the airport at 7.  I unpacked and rebuilt my bike and took a quick nap.

I knew the Cat 1/2/3 race was going to be hot, but I still under estimated after last year’s cool temperatures and unseasonal rain.  As I was preparing to leave for the race is was pushing 100F.  My plan had been to ride the seven miles to the venue as I had last year, but the route is slightly uphill with heavy traffic, no shade, and no bike lane.  At the last second I used Google Maps public transportation feature to quickly find the nearest public bus route. I don’t race well in the heat and wanted to take every step possible to stay cool.

I went out and bought a 10 pound bag of ice.  I filled each of my three bottles with as much ice as they could take, and then filled a gallon ziploc with as much as it would hold to take with me.

I felt a bit strange riding the bus with an interesting mixture of urban folks and elderly gamblers, but I was happy to not be one of the riders I saw sweating bullets in the heat dodging traffic.  I arrived at the race just in time to pick up my number and take a couple laps of the course.

I had also brought a water bottle cage with me.  I knew the CrossVegas course would be similar to prior years, the bottle wouldn’t get in the way if I didn’t have to shoulder my bike.  I also made a literal “ice sock” with ice stuffed into one of my team socks in the back of my skinsuit.  I’ve seen pantyhose recommended for this but the sock seemed to work well enough.   Next time I may use less ice or safety pin the sock to the top of my skinsuit, as it jostled loose when I was running later in the race.

At the start line I was surprised to see almost no bottle cages.  Taking a feed is now officially allowed in cyclocross, but you must enter the pit area and can only take a feed in the pit.  (Yes, technically a beer handup can get you disqualified from a UCI cyclocross race.) Later in the Elite race when temperatures had dropped 20 degrees and the sun had set, I saw at least half the racers with bottles on their bikes.

During warmup I had selected a pretty high tire pressure, around 32 psi.  High tire pressure can decrease traction on some surfaces, but deep grass tends to be soft on its own and there is plenty for the tires to bite into.  Before the Elite race, I saw a Fidea rider pump his tires (also Dugast Typhoons) to over 35 psi, although he may have been planning on letting out more air as he continued to preview the course.

At the start line I had time to chat with the other racers.  The start order was based on USAC National Rank and I was called to the line first as the highest ranked rider.  A few top riders had applied for upgrades and a few had not.  I understand where both are coming from.  Racing your guts out to not be lapped and pulled from the Elite race doesn’t sound like fun to some people.  Personally, I feel that if I can finish on the lead lap and not get in the way of the truly elite guys racing for a living, then I want to race.

The course uses a short, non-technical parade loop to give riders a chance to position themselves before the course gets twisty enough to force riders single-file.  This makes the race very, very fast at the start.  Since riders potentially can sprint from the back and make up significant ground, the riders at the front need to ride very quickly to prevent being overtaken and losing their good start position.

I stupidly paid attention the the official’s call of “15 seconds” to start (this generally isn’t an accurate statement).  Usually I watch the official with the whistle intently, as you can see when they’re getting ready to blow it.  It can be counter intuitive to be looking over your shoulder at the start of the race, but there isn’t much to see in front of you, if you think about it.  This race used a red and green light rather than a whistle.  The light turned green and I instantly found myself losing position and settled for around sixth wheel.

Luckily there were a couple guys willing to ride really hard at the front, so I didn’t find myself losing any more ground than that.  The grass was fresh, and very deep for our race.  Some of the racing line was a little beaten down, but anything at the edges of the course was amazingly tough to ride through so I was happy to follow wheels and conserve.

The pro race is incredibly fast, and has been referred to as a grass crit.  The speeds are high enough for drafting and make for a tactical race.  I wasn’t sure if our race would play out the same way, but the deep grass and slower speeds were likely to diminish the role of drafting.

By the start of the second lap, I was in the lead group of about six riders.  Our race was to be a short 40 minutes so I started to look for my opportunity to thin the group.  In road racing the optimal position is at the back of a small group, but in cyclocross it is at the front when it is technical, and second wheel if you’re drafting.  I was in second position when the lead rider slowed more than necessary for a tough corner.

I felt the buzz of tire tread as the rider behind me clipped my rear wheel.  I took a moment to asses and decided it was time to attack.  It was early in the race but I’m generally good over longer efforts so I put all my chips on the table.  I made sure to ride as hard as I could to establish my lead and dissuade the chasers behind.

There were four dismounts on course.  One was a set of ‘full’ (yet slightly shorter than some) barriers.  I’m not quite able to bunnyhop a full barrier so I was running these.  The other barriers were the 1/2 height type, with some set too steep or close together to ride, but I had been able to ride the set behind the pit during warmup.  I rolled the dice and rode this section. I was risking a bobble, but now was the opportunity to gain some time.

The third lap went well and I saw my 10 second lead holding steady with a group of three chasers splintering behind.  But I could feel the last lap was going to be tough.  The heat was getting to me and my legs were threatening to cramp when I was off the bike.  My heart rate had been sky high the entire race.  In three years of data from almost every ride and race, this is easily the highest average HR I’ve seen over 30 minutes by a wide margin (probably 5 bpm higher than I’ve ever seen).  I was going into uncharted territory and I just needed to hang on for another eight minutes.

I tried to ride at 95% effort, carefully watching the gap to the rider behind.  That way I could feel like I had a little reserve to increase the pace if he started to close the gap.  Although the gap did close slightly, I never felt threatened and had plenty of time to savor my victory.

Not only had I won the race, but I’d done it in convincing fashion.  Soon after crossing the line I rode past the promotor of the race.  He shook my hand and said “Good Job.  I’ll see that you get into the race next year”.

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