Saturday, May 31, 2014

Two Weekends of Racing By Matthew Sloan

Sunday, May 25th, Mt. Hamilton Classic

In my opinion, this is a brutal race! The biggest lesson I learned is: make sure you are warm for the start! I started like I was ready for our first interval on a Wednesday, the Elite 3 young bucks went off like it was our 3rd. My legs just weren't ready. I got dropped early on and only warmed up after 20 mins. I caught quite a few riders on the way to Livermore. But the long climb to begin just wasn't suited to a bigger rider like myself.

I worked with Eddie's friend from the UCSC team - Reggie, until he tired, leaving me to time trial most of the way on my own. Definitely a day to put down to experience. Would I do it again? Mmm...

Monday, May 26th, Memorial Day Criterium, Morgan Hill

This was a fun day of crit racing. I did the 35+ 3/4s at 10:45. It was a pretty inconsistent pace. Lots of slowing into the wind. There were a couple of attempts at breakaways but nothing stuck. I was pretty well placed going into the second to last turn but got boxed in going toward the final turn. Unfortunately, I rider clipped his pedal and went down. Another rider took the corner too fast on the dusty inner part and went down, also. The crashes pushed cyclists to the outside curb and more cyclists went down. It was really dicey for a moment or two. I sat up and cruised in safely and still managed a decent eighth place.

Saturday, May 31st, Dash for Cash, Pleasanton

I drove up with my friend David Allen of Mike's Bikes. It was a very easy race to get to, straight off 580. A basic four corner business park crit with nice wide roads and one small chicane. I started the day with the 35+ 1/2/3s. I wanted to do well in the race and hang in there with the "big boys!" With $10 primes on every lap it was a fast race with plenty of attacks. With five Mike's Bikes riders in the race they were the ones to watch.

David attacked early trying to bridge up to a rider who had gone solo for a couple of laps building up his prime dollars. I jumped straight on his wheel. We worked together to try and bridge up to the solo breakaway rider. Just before we made it, a couple from the pack bridged to us. I was hoping we would become a five man breakaway but unfortunately the pack was close behind and swallowed us up.

I hung back for a few laps, sitting in and recovering for another go at it. With about four to go, I began moving up. A Mike's Bike rider went to the front bridging up to a solo prime rider who was working hard to get away. I came through the final bend hard and won a prime lap. I turned to see I was way off the front. I sat down and gave it all I had to try and stay away. Coming again into the second to last lap, I was caught by the field. I held on in the peloton and came in with the main bunch but off the sprint. Still, a great race.

At 3:35 p.m. I took part in the 35+3/4s. Due to the prime laps it was quite a good pace with riders going off the front to win their $10 primes. I was sitting back thinking about resting to hopefully win the race. About four laps in, I got a bit impatient with the erratic pace and took off in the straight before the final corner. I was quite a way out in front. One rider, James Yuan, came hot on my tail and snuck the prime. But there we were, way ahead of the peloton. We spoke to each other and took it on. For eight laps we were out in front taking turns on pulls and primes. James started to tire a bit so I pulled a little more. With 3 laps to go, unfortunately, we were caught. I sat in as best I could trying to muster up some energy for a sprint.

It was a bit of a jumble going into the last turn because the pace hadn't been fast enough leading into it. I was pretty well placed. I got out of the saddle and went for it. Unfortunately, my legs were aching so I had to sit back down. I sprinted seated for ten to twenty meters or so, got back out of the saddle, and came in a decent sixth.

My winnings for the day: $50 (cash) $15 gift certificate, water bottle, hammer nutrition, and best and most rewarding of all - a Cycles Gladiator cap with the flying woman with long golden hair with bike image on it - for most aggressive rider in  the 3/4s. Now that prize is something I will treasure, at least my wife will, I think she already has her eye on it.

Tomorrow, the RedKite Bump race in Livermore - "Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more!!!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Best Weekend of Cycling - Bicycling Magazine Spring Classic & Red Kite Criterium by Matthew Sloan

Saturday, May 10th - Bicycling Spring Classic

On Saturday my wife and I drove over to Morgan Hill for the Bicycling Magazine/Specialized Spring Classic. It was a great event. They had a choice of three distances: 90 miles, 60 miles, & 25 miles. I chose the 90 miles, my wife, Colette, the 60. The whole event was well attended with close to 700 riders. The rides circled the hills and flats around Morgan Hill. They included segments of the infamous Specialized Lunch Time Rides.

I entered the fondo because I had felt a little run down and burnt from racing. I thought the change of pace and scenery would do me good. Plus, it was an event my wife could enjoy too. Fortunately, on the day I was feeling up for a fast pace. Due to the number of good riders it was probably as fast, if not faster than a race because everyone was willing to work together. It was the best training ride I have ever been on. Overall it took us 4 1/4 hours. Riding time was probably around four. The 90 miler included 3 timed KOMs at 30m, 69m, & 80m.

We started at 8 o'clock at a cracking pace. The group started to split up as we powered into the first timed climb. I did pretty well but felt inhibited not knowing the climb and the finish. This was also true for the latter climbs. They were still fun. I did my best to stay with the fastest climbers which included the legendary, Ned Overend. I was a bit behind as we descended but we regrouped at the first feeding station. A group of ten of us left together and pretty much stayed together for most of the ride.

We formed a pace line on the flats. Taking it in turns, we grinded out a good speed against and with the powerful wind. At one point, I could see myself and the rider in front of me leaning, at quite an angle, into the cross wind. My friend, Andrew, told me at one point whilst in the pack, he looked down to see that he was generating 400 watts at a speed of 35 mph, it was fast! On the decent after the second climb, we turned onto a long stretch of road with the wind at our backs. Ned Overend put in a good burst and gapped the group. Nobody seemed to want to chase him down. I went to the front and slowly edged toward him. I didn't want to completely blow it because the final climb was coming up. A couple of other younger guys helped out and we bridged up to him. It was so impressive - 58 years old and still blowing the young guys away!

Unfortunately, on the last and longest climb, I got dropped by a few seconds. I did my best to get them back on the downhill but I couldn't do it. I had about eight miles to go on my own. I surprised myself with how good I felt. I got down as low as I could and powered hard, willing myself to catch up. Fortunately, with less than a mile to go a red light intervened and gave me what I needed. I caught up and finished just behind Sean Estes and Ned Overend.

After my wife and I had finished our rides, we enjoyed the festivities. We had two meal tickets, a soft drink ticket, and two tickets for a pint of Lagunitas IPA, each! There were four food carts to choose from, and a yogurt stand. The Specialized Museum and wind tunnel were open. The museum included two of Ned Overend's winning mountain bikes. There was a fitting exhibition and exhibitions from local vendors. It was a marvelous day!

The biggest surprise came on Monday when the results for the KOMs were posted online. I was 6th overall. Specialized employees aren't allowed to accept prizes from the event so I got the 2nd place prize of an S-works Prevail helmet.

Sunday, May 21st - Red Kite Criterium, Livermore

David Allen, whom some of you have met on Wednesday, invited me to join him in the Masters 35+ 1/2/3s. Fortunately, I replied yes before I had done the 90 miles. He advised me to enter the Open 2/3s too - "It's great speed training to do two crits back to back!" Amen to that, David!

We arrived in Livermore got our numbers and warmed up. My legs felt okay, warming up! This was to be my first race as a 3. I was exited and a little anxious. About 30 of us lined up for the start. David had advised me to sit in between 10th and 15th place. He added that if I felt good with 5 to go I should make a move then. "Fat chance of that," I thought.

The whistle blew, away we went! The pace was fast, consistently faster than my dear old fours, much faster! A break of about six got away after a few laps. The biggest teams in the race were well represented so didn't want to work. However, the pace was kept very fast with David and another couple of riders working to pull them back. The pace was strong enough that people were dropping off the back. We ended up being a group of 9. I would have helped out trying to pull the breakaway back but didn't know if I would have the energy to stay in it. With six laps to go, I realized I was feeling pretty good. As we went into the back stretch, the pace slowed. I made a hard effort and powered to the front. I dropped everyone but only stayed ahead for about half a lap. I had the strength for a bit of a go, but not enough to really make something stick.

The breakaway stuck. I ended up finishing with the main group. Although I didn't have the finish in the last 400 meters, I felt really happy with the result. I had hung in their with the big boys and even had a go. Our average speed was 27mph. This gave me a lot of confidence for my next venture with the big boys!

The Open 2/3s was slower - an average of 25mph. I sat in at the back drafting and resting until about 8 laps to go. I then moved up and made a few attacks, I felt good. The only mistake I made was not going with a guy who I saw gearing up for a move. He ended up finishing in the top five and I could so easily have been with him. In the final surge, I got boxed-in. I ended up finishing with the pack but I felt content with the race and confident for my future races in this category.

No podiums, not much glory, but what a great weekend of cycling. I really enjoyed it. It was a kind of prologue into the next stage of my racing career.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cat's Hill Classic: Last Race as a 35+ 4 by Matthew Sloan

Oh, how I wanted to win this one. Go out with a "bang" so to speak. Unfortunately, I didn't get my wish but I had a great time, on a great course, in a great race.

Having watched my friend race in the 35+ 1/2/3s last year, I felt trepidation about confronting the dreaded Cat's Hill. It loomed large in my imagination like some dreaded beast from a fable. However, I am discovering that each rider faces the same obstacles in a race. So even though Cat's Hill is hard, it is hard on everyone. Being a power rider could even be an advantage because the hill is not long enough for the pure climbers to get going.

The course is wonderful, really fun. The start/finish is on a long, straight segment of road. The race gently rises from the start with a 90˚ right turn after about 150m. Another 90˚ right turn after 75m takes you toward Cat's Hill. A 90˚ left takes you into the paws of the beast. The best approach for the hill is to come from the right side of the street, making sure of a clear line, and keeping as much momentum going into the hill as possible. The best place to attack is through the top of Cat's Hill and the gentle rise that comes 20/30m after cresting its top. This is where the eventual winner of our race made his triumphant attack.

After cresting the top of the hill, the road rises, falls, and gently drifts right. Here, there is another slight hill on a 90˚ turn. Once cresting this rise there is a gentle decent on one side of a park. After about 150m you come to a 90˚ turn that takes you into a steeper, but still gentle decent towards the final 90˚ right turn back to the finish. The finish is slightly down hill.

The race started with a bang! Well, a whistle, but the front line of riders reacted aggressively. I was in the last third of the peloton because the rider in front of me slowed dramatically as he struggled to get his shoe clipped in. I allowed myself to be patient. Cat's Hill worked its magic and the group settled after about three laps, allowing me to move up towards the front. I felt good, surprised at how easily I could move past people on the hill.

The pace was kept fast at all points of the race. It only slowed after a couple of the prime laps and with four laps to go. Frustratingly, a few riders would drift out of their line on the hill and some corners. My voice blew hard when confronted by these dangerous riders. As riders got fatigued their attention lagged. Fortunately, we had no casualties.

On the first of four primes, I found myself feeling really strong, two or three back from the front. On the downhill section before the final turn, I put the pedal down. I was clear in front and easily won the prime. This is what I need to do at the finish I thought, push hard down the hill and take my momentum into the final sprint. If only I had remembered this thought more clearly at the finish.

I pushed on a bit after the finish, hoping to gap the peloton, but a couple of riders were immediately onto me. This was a strong group. On the eighth lap prime, I found myself in a similar position. Sean Estes, he beat me for second at Wente, was on the front. I bridged up to his wheel and pipped him for the prime. Two primes, this was fun! Sean was urging me to go hard, to try and string the group out. I went for a couple of turns, looked back and saw everyone just being pulled in my draft. I sat up and let him take over. I wanted to conserve and regain some energy - two primes and the hill was hard on the legs. After the hill, I settled into the pack. Time to relax for a few laps.

I realized that you could go easier up Cat's Hill, lose a couple or few spots, but gain them on the rest of the lap. Cat's Hill is also a good place to move up through the peloton. It's like a hitting a wall and ten yards can be reduced to five in an instant.

With three laps to go the pace really started to hot up. I made sure I was in the top ten. With two to go, Kevin, a Wente rider I raced in Copperopolis and the Wente crit, went hard on the front. I made sure to keep close and made way into the top five. I felt I should hold this position on the last lap and make my move into the last corner. This was my mistake. A Roaring Mouse rider led up Cat's Hill. He went really hard over the top. I was too far back to respond directly. He gapped us all, powering down the hill to first place. This was his first move of the race. Tactically, he timed it to perfection. I found myself responding to the 2nd and 3rd place riders.

This was where I made the mistake that cost me a podium place. After our final ascent of Cat's Hill, we were all chasing the Roaring Mouse - playing a good game of cat and mouse! My legs were tired but I was gaining on 3rd place rider Sean Estes. On the final decent before the final turn, the 2nd and 3rd guys slowed a bit. I slowed too thinking I should recover a touch and out sprint them after the final turn. What I should have done at that moment, was use my momentum to go past them instead of slowing in behind them. Basically, we held our positions from the corner across the finish line despite my well timed and executed lunge. I missed 3rd by a couple of inches, very frustrating! However, for placing fourth and winning two primes, I won three bottles of wine, a t-shirt, and a fifteen dollar gift certificate to a sports store - not bad! If you had told me last year that in one year's time I would place fourth in the fours at Cat's Hill and win two primes, I would have responded: "Fourth place? No way! And what's a prime?!"

In my last race as a cat. 4, I came 4th. Seems like a fitting conclusion. My next endeavor will be the Bicycling Spring Classic fondo organized with Specialized on May 10th.