Monday, April 8, 2013

Hell of the North Salt Lake (channeling Paris Roubaix)

  • Zanconato Racing places a rider in the top 10
  • Close call podium finish missed due to flat on the last lap
  • Roster: Dave Baker (#351), Mark Otterson (#365), Aaron Branham (#365)
  • Click here for race day pictures

Wayne didn't race (home on kid duty) but both Aaron and Dave wrote up some excellent race reports. First we have Aaron's account:
Hell of the North - Circuit Race, with its long gravel section and rough farm roads, it is Northern Utah's nod to the Spring Classics.  The prior day's rain worked to our advantage this year by keeping the dust in check and the leftover puddles were manageable.  The course is an elongated rectangle with the gravel section taking up all of one side.  The wind was out of the South which meant we had it at our backs while in the gravel, which encouraged fast riding through the sketchiest part of the race.  The other added variables are the possibility of flats from the pot-holed farm roads or the nasty goat-head thorns that plague all Utah riders.
Here is how the race played out for us (Mark, Dave, and myself): It began with a neutral start where we all rolled out slowly together for a mile beginning at the registration area through the Start/Finish Line, and then...Game-On!!  After a ¼ mile of straight the first right hand turn introduced the run through the gravel section and the group put the hammer down.  This accelerated early pace worked everyone and created some separation. Two more right hand turns brought us face to face with a brisk headwind that slowed things down and brought the group back together for the remainder of the first lap.
Throughout the ride our team generally rode within the front group of 10+ riders, taking a turn or two pulling the bunch.  The second time through the gravel section was again fairly intense, and this served to break things up further into a couple smaller groups.  I held close to Mark’s wheel as he hammered furiously in step with the two lead riders in front of him.  The bunch did not come together as before on the return trip, and outside of a couple breakaway attempts, we all settled into a moderate rhythm through the next two laps.
The bell lap brought the race to life.  The pace was much faster passing through the start/finish line and the higher speed into the corner leading to the gravel created some nervous chatter.  It also set the stage for a fantastic sustained acceleration that blew apart the lead group.  Rocks were ping-ponging off spokes as we all spun hard to keep up.  But, only 8 riders were able to hang with that pace and they began to form together after about 200 yards. Mark was a solid part of that new lead group.  I felt a sense of desperation as I saw his Belgium Blue jersey pull away with the others; a decision on my part had to be made immediately.
I’m guessing most riders go through this gut-check/self-assessment experience while racing, attempting to determine if they have what it takes to sustain an increase in pace, answering an attack, wondering if they have the reserves to keep from completely blowing up, and calculating future opportunities for recovery.  I cannot quantify the amount of mental gymnastics my mind went through in that instant, but I made the call to attempt to grab the wheel of another guy who was also getting gapped.  This rider had shown strength and consistency throughout the race so far, and I quickly sized him up and his pace as something I could hang with.
The challenge was that he was 50 feet in front of me, and I could tell he was intent on attempting to make his way back to the lead group.  I buried myself and got his wheel, but after a few seconds in his draft I discovered that I was unwelcome company.  He attacked and I responded.  I needed 15 or 20 seconds to get myself together, so I stayed on his wheel, and got the desired rest.  The flick of his elbow that followed indicated that he had done some sizing of his own, and we began to trade pulls.
As we approached the end of the gravel with only ½ a lap remaining to my horror I saw Mark stopped on the side of the road looking down at his tire.  I yelled at him, but no response; it was a race-ending flat.  He was so strong today; I know he would have made top three.My race continued, and I soon realized that the combined pace of my reluctant partner and I was still insufficient to bridge up to the remaining 7 leaders. 
While riding into the headwind our twosome expanded to 5, and so it was time to leverage some learning from my prior two crits.  I don’t have a strong sprint, and I’m better off to break early with hopes they cannot sustain the pace.  With this in mind, at 1/3rd of a mile out, I made my brake away attempt.  It turns out they were not far behind, and my move served more to tow the other 4 for a few hundred yards.  Coming around the final corner three of the five riders soon accelerated around me.  Two with real power, but the other could not hang with them.  I squeezed out the remaining gas in my tank and pulled pass this guy for a 10th place finish.  Dave rolled up shortly thereafter, finishing strong with his usual big smile.
It was a great day with two lessons learned.  More interval training is needed to help match accelerations, and we need to invest in some bullet proof tires for Mark our strong man.

Race Report on The Hell of the North Salt Lake 2013...or...My View from the Back of the Race
 As homage to the true Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix, today's race certainly lived up to its name.  And although the weather conditions weren't severe enough to produce Flanders Facials or Flemish Tan Lines (, there was still plenty of agony to be dispensed.  The course for Cat 5s was 25 miles on a 5-mile circuit situated northeast of the Salt Lake Airport.  The west side of the circuit had a 1.5 mile section of gravel and dirt for an approximation of the cobblestones of northern France. 
 Aside: Properly 40.23km with 5 sections of gravĂ© (as opposed to pavĂ©).
 Mark, Aaron, I and 26 other riders had a neutral rollout on the east side of the circuit, and a rolling start across the start/finish line on the south side.  The pace was brisk, yet comfortable.  Once we turned the corner to the gravel section, the pace immediately went full-out.  I think the look of panic on most riders' faces was the realization they and/or the person in front of them had no discernible control of their bicycle.  Three times I felt my front tire nearly wash out, and my rear tire wasn't faring much better. 
 I remembered hearing how the pro riders push a big gear along the cobbles in order to keep enough pressure on the pedals.  I was already in the big ring, so I clicked over two cogs and immediately felt the bike settle down.  I had followed Mark and Aaron to about the middle of the peloton when the reality of what I had done began to take hold.  Normally I spin a high cadence, and although pushing a bigger gear gave me more traction, it was like bounding up a flight of stairs two or three steps at a time, when being accustomed to taking one step at a time.
 By the end of the gravel section, my lungs were burning and I had fallen back a bit.  As we rounded the corner onto the pavement of the north section, we got hit with a crosswind.  I wasn't positioned well, missed the echelon and found myself fighting against the wind, lungs still on fire.  I latched onto two other riders and we made it back to the main group about half way through the east section.  As far as I could tell, Mark and Aaron were staying close to the front.
 When we came around for a second pass at the gravel, it was more of the same torture.  It was too big of a gear for a sustained effort, while anything less meant slowing down to maintain stability, but I kept trudging forward.  At the end of the section, the main group was still in sight, but pulling away.  I tried staying with a couple of other stragglers, but despite my best Jens Voigt, the legs were winning the shouting match.  Even though I had fueled sufficiently, I thought I had bonked. 
 On the east side of lap 2, a rider passed me and suggested I jump on his wheel.  I was doubtful but willing.  He pulled me through the rest of that lap and the entirety of lap 3. At one point I thought I was pedaling squares, but given the name of this event, I may have been pedaling pentagrams.  By lap 4 I felt better and stopped the wheel sucking.  My legs were back and I could breathe steadily.  I pulled for the first half of lap 4 and most of 5.  Gravel, crosswind, headwind: I was taking it all on by this point.
 By the time we rolled across the finish line, Aaron had been kicking back for 7 minutes, having finished in the top 10.  Mark's race was the most agonizing.  He was positioned for a podium finish when he flatted with half a lap to go.  Argh!  In fact, of the 29 starters, there were 7 DNFs.  For such a short race, it took its vengeance.
1. Build leg power to push a bigger gear when needed.
2. More practice riding at tempo.
3. Be sure to get into the echelon.
4. Already looking forward to next year.
5. The pro riders are not normal
Ride on.

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