Saturday 12 May 2007

Special Guest Post: Steve Z. Goes Racing!

Steve Z. on the wrong road in the Black Forest, 2006

My friend Steve Z. lives in the other Washington, in Seattle, and joined Dr. Chef and myself in the Black Forest for our cycling adventure trip last year (don't worry--that will all get posted too in due time!). He was about to discover racing and Dr. Chef coached him through some preparation for his first time trial. He has since discovered that not only does he like time trialling, he is keen on racing. He upgraded to an excellent Orbea bike but after a crash it had to be repaired. Rather than having to endure any downtime, Steve Z. took the components off and put them on a Leader road racing frame. He has been delighted with the results, and sent me the story of his most recent racing experience. I enjoyed it so much that he is allowing me to share it with you: the first guest blog on Travels with a Tin Donkey.

I got my Leader bike and raced it for the first time Saturday. It was a tough race called Tahuya-Seabeck-Tahuya, modeled after Leige-Bastogne-Leige. It was 65 miles & 4000+ feet of climbing. It was my first race back after my crash, and on the new bike which I had just picked up on Friday. I was pretty nervous. I was so worried that it was a mistake to race a bike I hadn't really tweaked, but it just seemed like such a better race bike than my steel travel bike.

My legs were shaking before I even started. The weather turned out to be perfect. I was expecting rain.

I was a little further back in the pack than I usually like to be, about 25 from the front, but still in the front 1/3. I was watching 2 guys who have won several races, trying to keep them right around me. I was expecting the field to splinter on the first or second climb, but one of the big teams was up front keeping things mellow. Well, they actually kept sending this big crit racer off the front at every corner, but this week no one decided to chase him. Last week's race where I crashed, the other teams kept chasing him. Every time I had to chase too because any one of could have been a successful break. (And in that race there finally was a break that stuck).

The bike is great. They say it is their aluminum racing bike designed for races longer than 50 miles. It has some interesting curves. It seems much stiffer than my Orbea. it doesn't have that silky carbon feel, but it still felt pretty smooth. I even had thin bar tape, and I didn't really notice the vibration that folks complain about from aluminum bikes. I did use a carbon seatpost, which may be helping. It corners like a dream. It is very aggressive. It is so much zippier than my steel bike. I really like the feel of it. It is a little more twitchy than my other bikes, which I'm getting used to. It was interesting to be shoveling in food and water in the pack at 25 mph with a big cross wind. It is a perfect race bike and the frame and fork were only $480. I used the Ultegra parts from my Orbea. When that gets repaired, I'm going to have to invest in a new group - I'm thinking SRAM Force, but I'm not totally sure yet. My Powertap hub is Shimano, so I don't think I'm going to go record. And I can't decide about compact cranks either.

The race was so painful. I kept close to the 2 guys who had won previously, waiting for a move. Then finally on the 4th climb at mile 45, guys started going. It was total chaos, folks started sprinting up the hill - some of them blowing up soon and slowing down which meant I had to get around them. I gave it everything, and found myself getting gapped from the break about 3/4 of the way up. The proverbial hammer was down. I poured on the steam. Then at the top was the feeding zone, and my teammate standing on the side of the road yelled at me and I barely looked up in time to grab the extra water bottle. I was then in a 3 man chase trying to catch the dozen or so guys who got off in the break about 100 meters in front of us. we gained some, then lost some, then gained some. ultimately we weren't successful. our chase blew up and we got into another larger group of about 10 that wasn't really interested in chasing. Then the next hill came and that group blew up, and I was on my own for a while pushing hard. (the chase group was not motivated b/c I'm sure they all had teammates in the front group). I did join up with another guy, and we chased down a small group that must have splintered from the front breakaway on the last hill. We caught them and passed them and then the 1km sign was there and the race was over. I finished about 15th of 75. It was a 4/5 race.

My legs were screaming at me. My calves were in total pain. It sounded like that was the case for everyone, but I may need to tweak my seat adjustment a little. During the chase when I first got gapped I was putting out everything I had. My quads were about to explode. I really felt like a bike racer. I looked at my Powertap file later. During that section my average power for 10 minutes was 380 watts. My previous 10 min best was 353. So I was putting out everything I had, but it just wasn't enough. I love/hate my Powertap.

I really felt pretty off that day. I had just taken a red-eye getting in Friday morning, and Friday was a very hectic day that included picking up my bike at 7pm. I had a pretty good night sleep Friday night but it probably wasn't enough. My legs were vibrating from the very start, which I noticed every time I was coasting. And I'm sure I spent way too much energy being nervous. I was very pleased with myself for making it through to the end. As I felt worse physically, I started feeling better mentally. I was descending like a fiend trying during the chase and it felt great. the bike descends beautifully. I think I regained some of my confidence. It was one of the most draining (emotionally and physically) things I have ever done. I can't wait to do it again. I think I'm sick in the head.

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