Thursday, March 15, 2007

Winter Rerun: 2005 Human Power Challenge

The first time the road race at PIR didn't devolve into a time trial. -ed.

OHPV’s 2005 Human Power Challenge started with the stock/superstock time trial, 5 laps (roughly 9.6 miles). Joe Kochanowski, rehabilitating from a bad accident and major leg surgery, was actually nuts enough to do this event on his home-brew lowracer, and didn't do half bad, either. Well, about half bad, I guess. Understandable, as he had half as many legs to use as the rest of us. I had the best time overall, 21:02, which was my best time ever for anything close to 10 miles. Works out to around 27.25 mph, which I'm quite pleased with (and which I may improve upon if I get a disc rear wheel). I knew I had done well when I nearly caught Chris Sandmel (who took 3rd at Wasco) at the finish. To be fair, he started a few minutes behind me, but the point was that I clearly made up some time on him. Chris was on his Aero, while I rode my M5 CLR through the whole weekend.

We did the drag race on the infield this year, which worked out well, because it let us keep having events the whole day, and gave us Monday off. The field was about 14 or so racers, double elimination. I got beat by John Climaldi on his Bacchetta Corsa in the first round. It's hard drag racing with a 12-21 cassette, because it's so much better to be able to just stay in one ring up front, and the 12-21 simply doesn't have the breadth you need to be useful from both a standing start and at the top end. Chris Sandmel walked away from everyone he was matched with. John and Keith Kohan had an incredibly tight finish later on, with Keith just barely edging John. Chris steamrolled over Keith. That set up a loser's bracket final between me and John, with him edging me again. Then it was Chris and John C in the final, and Chris got him pretty decisively.

For the streamer/superstreet road race, we only had 4 entrants. With Joe allegedly sidelined, and Todd and Lonnie riding across the country, we didn't have the mojo to entice the Rotator crew to come up this year. We hope to be restored to full streamliner glory again next year. So the streamer race was a group of folks on socked bikes. The winner was tbonesk8, up from Medford, on a very handsome Volae Club with a sock. He did the whole hour at an impressive 23-24 mph rate. Bruce Parker and Dave "Slug" Van Gundy came across the line together hand in hand as the spectators booed and screamed for blood (just kidding about the booing). Rick Valbuena made a valiant go of it, but succumbed to cramps about halfway in.

The next morning we started with the 200. I don't know what my deal was; if I was sick, or was putting on the juice too early, or putting on the juice too late, or what, but I did 2 runs and got a mediocre mid 33 mph both times. I saw that my main competition, Chris S., did a 32 on his first try, and figured it was just a breezy day, so everyone would be slow, and decided to let it lie. I watched John Williams get within a breath of 40 mph on his Quest and John Climaldi get up to 38.5 in his second run ever in the Varnowski, and then went over to sit down and relax. I was chatting with my dad when Keith and Alex Kohan came over on their tandem-linked Kettweisels and told me Sandmel had just put together a 36 mph run. Crap. I sighed heavily and figured I had to give it a third go -- for honor's sake, this aggression would not stand. I gave it my all even though I wanted to save something for the road race that afternoon, but still only managed to push my score up to 34.4. Meanwhile Chris put in another 36 mph run.

Then we had the fully faired TT. John Williams joined us for that one, along with Joe K in the Varnowski. For a guy who isn't supposed to be riding he sure does a lot of riding. Edna Van Gundy and Rick Valbuena rounded out the field. Joe K had another gutty performance, and pulled out the win, though there was a moment when we thought John Williams had bested him by a second. Then we realized Joe and John were 30 seconds apart at the start, not 60 -- Joe's time was actually 29 seconds faster than John's. Simply amazing for a guy with a bunch of screws in his knee. Well, I guess they are titanium, and everyone knows titanium is fast.

Bill S. set up the autocross, and it looked like a really fun course. I sat out, being equiped with naught but my completely inappropriate for the event lowracer, but it was sure great to watch. Keith and Alex Kohan were incredibly competitive, and went head-to-head several times. Kelsey Wood from Seattle handled Joe K's weird articulated trike quite skillfully to capture the men's multitrack title. But there was also a certain amount of carnage, as you might expect when folks are pushing the limits of adhesion. Chris S. nicked his knee on his chainring, and Cindy Licuanian agravated an old leg or thigh injury. I hope everyone who took a fall feels better soon. In the end, young Alex was strong and skillful enough to have the best time overall in an incredibly tight field.

Finally, we got to what in my opinion was the main event (at least, this year): the unfaired road race. At this point, Chris S had 2 firsts and a second to my 1 first, 1 second, and 1 show. If I won here, I'd have a pretty good claim on the overall title. If Chris won, his claim would be pretty indisputable. Also, Joe K, lowracer partisan that he is, would personally kill me if I lost to a guy on a highracer. I'd had low-level butterflies about this race all day.

So, the stage was set, when at the last minute Rand Milam agreed to join the field on his newly rehabilitated VK2. That made me feel a bit better, as I felt that made me a little safer from getting Kochanowskilled.

We lined up, and at the gun, I took off. I knew I'd TT'd at around 1.5 mph faster than Chris, and I wanted to see if I could open up enough of a gap to turn it back into a TT. I didn't work too hard to do so, however, because I figured Rand, John, and Chris would be able to put together paceline and reel me in. Plus, I wasn't really all that enthusiastic about the prospect of a 1 hour TT. So it didn't take too long for the three of them to catch me. Dave Neilson latched on before too long, too, on his tailfaired Optima Baron.

We settled into a nice, 24 mph groove in the paceline. Now in that situation, I had to balance a couple of conflicting goals. I wanted to sit on someone else's wheel as much as possible, but at the same time, I had to make sure that the pace didn't flag too much. Chris Sandmel's obvious strength in sprint events was quite fresh in my mind. So I was agressive in attacking, but also opportunistic about it. I attacked on the right, as most people had mirrors on the left sides of their bikes, and I figured I might get an extra half second of surprise on that side. I attacked when the wind was behind us, and got back on a wheel when the wind was in front. I attacked on the turns, when we already had a natural tendency to get a little more spaced out. And when they were reeling me back in, I weaved around the long notches in the crappy pavement on PIR's straightaway. Dave Neilson fell off the back after about 4 laps of this.

Chris was also aggressive. Once, I let John C. into the paceline to sit on Chris's wheel, and when Chris made a break later that lap, I admonished John, "If you're gonna be on his wheel, you've gotta keep on it!" But really, I must say, John C. had the gutsiest, bravest strategy in the race. He spent more time than any of us out in front, which I thought was odd, because he didn't have as much of an aero advantage as Rand or I, and Wasco showed that Chris had the edge in strength. When I called him on it later, he said that he basically had to stay up there because there wasn't enough of a draft from Rand or I for him to hang on at the speeds we did, so unless he was on Chris's wheel, he had to be up front so that he could dictate a pace that was manageable for him, and hope he could hang around until the end when it was anyone's game.

That succeeded in keeping him in the race until the last lap. I managed to get enough information out of Jeff Wills as we zoomed by to figure out when we had 2 laps to go, and started turning up the heat with 1.5 laps left. We came around and got the white flag with me leading the paceline, and at that point I really turned on the afterburners. Our little pack stretched way out, and I saw that the two highracers had dropped well back by around turn 3 or so. But Rand was about halfway back there and closing as we got into the back stretch. Before we got to turn 7, he was on my wheel again.

I took turns 7, 8, and 9 as close to the redline as I could, and stuck them pretty well. I think I threw Rand off my wheel a little bit as we came through turn 9. Heading down the straight, Rand got out of my draft and started putting the hammer down. It was deja vu all over again. I could see his cranks in my peripheral vision as he started to pull alongside me. I reached down deep for more, and shifted into 9th gear. I pulled a little bit ahead. He found more power and started inching up on me again. I found what I had left and gave the pedals everything. His cranks were even with my thigh. Then they were at my shoulder. Then my rear wheel. Then, with maybe two dozen feet to the finish line, I couldn't see him anymore. I punched the air as Jeff gave me the first checkered flag of the race. Rand, Chris, John and I did a cooldown lap and blew kisses as we came across the finish line one last time, 4 abreast, together.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Winter Rerun: 2005 Wasco Wild West 75

Here is the third report in my series of old ride narratives that I'm re-posting here. This one concerns the second edition of the Wasco Wild West 75, which featured top-shelf international competition. That, plus my experience the previous year led me to work hard training all spring to give myself the best possible chance out there. As you'll see, the bad-luck bug bit me again this year, but you'll also see if I let all my hard work be for naught. -ed

they are on their way
We set ourselves up on the starting line at around noon. I was riding my Challenge Seiran SL, so I wanted to be sure and stay close to the other high racers. The gun went off, and away we went.

Hans Wessels (a former world-champion HPV racer, over for the race from the Netherlands) was aggressive from the get-go, which wasn't really a surprise. The strong high racer riders, including J. Schlitter, J. Climaldi, Chris Sandmel from OSU, and myself, plus Rand Milam on his socked GRR were getting ourselves sorted out and getting into a rhythm. I figured we'd sort out a paceline and see what we could do to reel in Wessels in when we were good and warmed up.

This process had only just begun when I hit a rock.

My first thought was, oh dear god.
My second was, oh please no pinch flat.
My third was obscured by the loud BANG that followed as my front tire blew out.

I hadn't pinched, but apparently I hadn't seated the bead of my tire quite perfectly, and the rock caused the tube to squirm out around the tire. And then blammo. I pulled off to the side, and cursed my terrible luck as the whole pack sailed by, offering their sympathy. I was disconsolate.

I have to say, I nearly bagged it right there. But I decided that I was made of sterner stuff, and the wheels in my head started turning, even while the wheel on my bicycle would not.

I did not have a tube, pump, or patch kit. But I did have three resources.

The first was the motorcycle escort that was bringing up the back of the recumbent heat. She pulled over and offered to help.

My second resource was the spare wheel that I had left back at the start/finish line, in case of wheel trouble. I asked her to be so good as to go back and retrieve it for me. She agreed.

My third resource came from a new wrinkle that the race organizer, Clay Smith, added this year. Last year Wasco was a recumbent race. This year, Wasco was a recumbent and tandem race. And the tandems were scheduled to start exactly 10 minutes after the recumbents.

Well, I sat on pins and needles for those ten minutes, waiting for the race escort to show up with my wheel. Then, the phalanx of four tandems came around the bend. Behind them came the tandem heat escort, and then the motorcyclist with my salvation. The tandemers offered their condolences. I just replied, "I'll see you soon."

The escort handed me my spare wheel, and I gave her my old one. I threw the new one on as quickly as I could. It was agonizing, trying to work with haste and accuracy at the same time -- lining up the wheel with the brakes and the dropouts, and keeping everything out of the spokes is incredibly difficult when you're shaking from adrenaline.

I was rolling 2 or 3 minutes later, pushing as hard as I could maintain. I do a flat, 10 mile time trial on the Seiran at 25.5 mph, and I feel like puking afterward. I wasn't going that hard, but I wasn't too far from it. I had to catch the tandems, or I was sunk.

The Wasco race course is mostly gentle rollers and creek grade for the north half of the loop, with a huge 3 mile climb (and one false summit) and a 4 mile drop on the south half of the loop. I pushed through 3 or 4 rollers when I came up over a crest and saw my quarry climbing up the other side, about half a mile away.

I proceeded to reel in that tandem paceline, oh so agonizingly slowly. In doing so, I passed a few of the stragglers from the recumbent race. I felt a brief glimmer of gladness to be back in it, but I knew that I had come out to compete, and that meant finding some way to get back up to the leaders, and that meant catching those tandems.

It was touch and go for the rest of the north half of the lap. Finally, I made it to the base of the hill and saw the tandems about 200 yards ahead. I figured I would make up some time on them on the climb; I'm light and strong, and I've been doing hills 3 times a week since January. These were obviously 4 very athletic tandem teams, but they're almost as legendary for lack of climbing performance as bents are, right?

Well, that's another legend to put to bed -- these guys were strong, and strong climbers. I made up some time on them before the top, and in fact got within a softball pitch of their paceline's rear wheel before they rolled over the crest and out of sight. That feeling was like being a castaway on a rubber raft in the middle of the ocean and watching a ship pass by without noticing you.

But I wasn't done yet. Coming over the top of the hill, I was greeted by a face full of wind, which I hoped would dampen their downhill advantage. I threw my chain into 3 and 9, and plowed full bore down that hill. I had no hope of catching them on the descent, but I was going to do everything I could to minimize the damage. It worked -- they took it easy on that first drop, and I didn't lose more than a couple seconds.

I made up some more time on them on the winding flat part before the start/finish line, and came around the 180 degree turn that comes right before it to find myself almost in their lap. I finished my first lap to rousing cheers from the spectators and only a couple seconds behind the tandems.

I got on their wheel at almost the exact same point where I had flatted, meaning it had taken me a full lap of intense exertion to reel them in, but merciful heaven, was it worth it. Being behind those guys was like drafting a freight train. We were barreling along at 23, no problem. I figured I'd hang out with them for a couple laps and see how far that got me.

We started reeling in more bent riders at this point, and the ones we passed were getting stronger and stronger. I took a couple turns towing, and I took a few flyers off the front, but realized that while I could do bursts that outran the tandem train, I couldn't sustain a faster pace than theirs without some serious pain.

One of the stokers asked me what place I thought I was in. I realized that we had passed enough riders that all of a sudden I was in the thick of it again. I did a quick mental calculation, and figured out that unless there was someone out there that I hadn't noticed, I was in 7th place. Then, on the 3rd lap in the middle of the hill, we passed my friend Chris Alling, who was riding my Vision Sabre. Chris is a very strong rider -- Cat 3 and Masters -- but this was his first ride on a bent of any real distance. I told him to hook on, but he just didn't have the reserves. So then I found myself in 6th place as we started the fourth and final lap.

A quarter of the way into the lap, we met my friend John Climaldi, who greeted me cheerily, and said, "I'm tired of riding alone, I'm going to hook on with you guys!" Which was really cool. But he was on my wheel for maybe a mile or so before the tandem team in front made their move. The couple up front pounced, and before any of us knew it, they had opened up a hundred yard lead on us.

I love John like a brother, but there's nobody more competitive than the two of us. So, when I saw my opportunity to turn up the heat on John a little, I leapt at it. If I could catch the lead tandem and hang on, I might be able to make it onto the podium. So I pulled out of the trailing tandems' slipstream, and started putting the hammer down. Then the three tandems still in the paceline saw that I was going to go for it, and they got on my wheel. And John just didn't have enough left to hang on.

I felt pretty good at that point, and I actually outran the tandems who were drafting me. I closed the gap on the breakaway bike to maybe 20 yards. But then, once again, they crested a hill and sailed away. I let the remaining three tandems overtake me, and not long after that, we came up on my friend Rand. Rand rode with us for several miles, but seemed to have used up his reserves, and then I found myself in fourth place.

The remaining three tandems powered up the hill very aggressively, figuring that this was where 2nd place would be decided. I just tried to stay out of the way. I did my best to stay with the leader when it was clear he had broken away, without influencing things by bridging the gap behind him. By the time we got to the top, two tandems had pulled away in front of me, and one had fallen behind, and I set about keeping myself together long enough to hang on to 4th. I pushed down the hill through the wind, and caught the tandems again on the flat at the bottom. I whizzed around the 180 hairpin turn, and crossed the finish line.

So, it certainly wasn't plan A. Plan A was to mix it up with John and John and OSU Chris and maybe close the gap on Hans a little bit, so that we Yanks didn't get skunked quite so bad. I think I would have been a big help with that, and I think we could have been pretty successful. But as Plan B's go, this wasn't too bad. Certainly beat going home and crying in my beer.

Hans Wessels has some great pictures of the race here.