Saturday, May 27, 2006

Final Night @ the 'Drome for the Half-Season

Alkek Velodrome has a split season, which means they race in the Spring, and then again in the Fall, but skip mid-Summer when temperatures and humidity create sweltering conditions (a smart move, though I'd like more track races!). Last night was the last night of the first half of the Friday Night Racing season. A fair amount of people showed up to race, especially considering this is a big weekend for crits elsewhere (i.e. not in Houston), and I had a huge fan club. It seemed like every time I got back from riding around or finished a race, another friend would have shown up. So, the races...

We started out with an 18-lap tempo. Again, I just set my goal to stay with the leaders/pack as long as possible. I did for a few laps, but they eventually lapped me. I tried to grab on to the back as they came around, and succeeded for a few more laps, then lost them again. I beat both the Juinior girls (one of whom was also racing W4 - Brittany), and one Junior boy. And Mike said I looked pretty good, hanging on to the pack when I could. The sprint races always tear the field apart, and this was no exception.

The next race was a 10-lap scratch. The Juniors were totally goofing off - when the whistle blew, no one pushed the speed, and I was really getting nervous. Both Brittany and I were on edge, but everyone else seemed to be having a grand old time just tooling along at the top of the track. They finally started to pick up the pace, and I managed to hang on for quite a while. I caught a few different pacelines, and pulled for more than my share of time (my fault, something I'm still learning), and finally lost everyone I was pacing with and did what I could on my own. I think I beat the same crowd as in the tempo race. Nothing spectacular, but again, it felt good.

Finally we had a miss-and-out. I thought I had it figured out this time. I knew I needed to be at the top of the track, and I worked hard to get there and stay there. They rang the bell, so we knew the next time we came around they'd pull a rider. I was maintaining my position, but as we came around turn 4 into the homestraight, more and more people were coming down and around me! I kept counting riders ahead of me, and the number kept growing...and then I heard my race number called. First one pulled. Again. Oh well...still have a lot to learn. I talked to Leigh about that afterwards, and he gave me some advice on miss-and-out races, adding that they are difficult, and that I raced well tonight. Whether or not that was true, words of encouragement are always nice to hear.

I also talked to Mark (Doc) about riding with his team. I'll probably go out there next Sunday, since I've got company this weekend, and it's a 100-mile round-trip to Katy to ride with them. And now I've got his phone number, too. Plus, the totally DIESEL woman who's on that team gave me all sorts of help and advice last night. She helped me with my malfunctioning bike, and then mentioned that I should really keep certain measurements with me all the time (seat post height, etc.) and offered to let me borrow her tape measure any time. What a gal!

As I was rolling around the warmup circle for my last race, a guy from one of the other teams rolled up to me and said, "You should get a prime for bringing the biggest crowd every week!" I just kind of laughed, and he emphasized, "I think you're the only female racer who gets non-cyclist guys to come out here." I thought that was hilarious (and true). He wished me luck in my last race, and I rolled up to the rail. I was so tickled! I don't know why I get all these people to come out and watch the races, but I'm glad they do. Last night was a record-setting night, definitely - Felicity, Justin, Shalin, Will, and Mike. And Will even called Felicity earlier in the day to tell her to make some signs they could hold up as I went by. They kept it a complete secret until I started racing and saw them holding a sign that said, "CHRISTINE ROCKS!" with a little cyclist drawn on the side. It was the sweetest thing in the world! Later, all 5 of them wrote a message on it and signed their names, so they can prove they knew me "before I was famous." (: I showed it to Kathy and Leigh afterwards. I'll have to get a frame for it...

Definitely a 5-star night. Thanks go to everyone - Leigh and Kathy, DIESEL Cindy, Doc Bing, funny guy whose name I don't know, and all my friends. What a great way to finish the track half-season!

One more thing - it seems that everyone at the track (racers, coaches, staff, and Juniors' parents) knows my name now, because I'm pretty much out there on my own and unattached, but I REALLY don't know other people's names. That should be my goal next season: to learn who people ARE...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Adult Cycling League Finals

Tonight were the Alkek Velodrome "Adult Cycling League Finals." Anyone who took the velodrome's adult track cycling class over the past few months was invited to come and compete. I was one of 3 women, and there were about 5 men, but we all raced together. It was a good group, really friendly, and we were all just out there to have a good time (and get a decent workout...). We had 3 races: 5-lap scratch, unknown distance, and 12-lap scratch.

The 5-lap scratch race started off with a neutral lap, and I was reminded that people who just took the class and haven't raced much don't understand the logistics of a neutral lap. We finally got everyone to get more or less into a group, Cindy blew the whistle, and we were racing! compared to the Juniors! With the Juniors, at my Friday Night Races, they jump right when they whistle blows, but this group didn't seem to see a reason. So I went along with it for a while, and we took a few turns pulling, and it finally started to speed up. When we came through turn 4 for the final lap, I got boxed out, and Darren (a major sprinter) whizzed by me. I ended up 3rd or 4th, I think.

Next was the unknown distance, and the start went the same way -- no one really felt the need to act like we were racing. So after a few short laps, I decided to try to make it interesting, and broke away. My attempt worked, but I knew if I tried to keep it going, I'd run out of fuel before they rang the bell, and end up last (or nearly). There was already a chase group of 3 forming, so I waited for them, and we shuffled around up and down the track until the bell rang signaling the last lap. I jumped on it, and managed to hold the lead all through the finish!

The 12-lap scratch race was last, and I knew that if I played it right, I could probably win. (With the 5-lap, I think I knew the sprinters would eke me out, but on the longer races, I figured I had a few racing tactics and endurance on my side.) I took it easy for a while, keeping a good paceline, but also staying alert for any guys who thought they could break away. I kept to the outside for a while, and sure enough, with about 3 laps to go, one guy took off (Logan?), and I jumped on his wheel. He thought he was on his own, and he pulled me around for about 3/4 of a lap, and I didn't let him draft me too much once he pulled off. A few other riders caught up with us, and we were in a tight group for a lap or so, and as we came into turn 3 on the bell lap, another guy tried to break away. I was on the outside, so at a distinct disadvantage as we went around the turn, but I stuck with him, and as we pulled out of turn 4, I was gaining on him. I won the race by about half a wheel.

It was a fun night, and I got to stand on the top of the podium, even though it was essentially meaningless (I did get a nice framed certificate). I like racing against people who are more at my level, but it doesn't push me as hard as racing with the Juniors. I'm looking forward to Friday night!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A team?? And showing off the new wheels...

Friday night at the velodrome we had a chariot race (wohoo!), an 18-lap points race (eh...), and an unknown distance (ugh), in that order. Kim, a woman from my "intro to the track" class, showed up for some races, so I at least had someone to compete against in the W4 category. The only other female was Shelby (a Junior and also W2 or 3 on Southern Elite, she's always there). So the chariot race was the 3 of us. In a chariot race, the riders line up in a standing start for the 500m race (about a lap and a half). The whistle blew, and we all took off. Shelby followed me about halfway around, then I pulled off and grabbed her wheel for about 3/4 of a lap. I pulled out and started sprinting down the homestraight, but she beat me across the line by about half a wheel. Kim apparently wasn't clipped in at the start. ): Live and learn, I guess.

The points race wasn't too bad, and I ended up lapping both other women, and even hung in with the Junior Boys for quite a while. As we came around for the first round of points (6 laps into the race), I was in 4th position, but one of the boys came around me about 1/4 lap from the line, and I couldn't react in time. So I made my goal for the unknown distance race to stay with the pack. I was having a good time reacting and staying with them, but eventually the really fast kids took off. I worked for a while with the boy who lapped me in the points race, but he eventually picked up the pace when I pulled off, and I didn't catch him. It ended up being about 16 laps or so, and I was pushing pretty hard the entire time. Leigh and Jaime were again very encouraging, saying I looked good. I felt pretty good too. I think I'm getting better at keeping up with the Juniors, and I'm learning how to react faster. I also made sure I didn't get a bike (rental) with too small a gear, and Leigh switched out a stem for me so my reach wasn't crazy. And I made my $20 back again! (:

But one of the coolest parts of the night, by far, was being "recruited" by the SpinCycle team! Apparently Kim (who's on the team) was chatting with Doc (the team coach), and he told her that I needed some recruiting. (: So she came over and gave me the lowdown. It was pretty awesome, especially considering one of the best Women racers at the track (a Pro?) is on SpinCycle. I told her I'd talk to Doc after the racing, but was so exhausted at the end of the night that I forgot! The only downside to joining the team would be that it's all the way on the other side of town (over an hour drive in good traffic). I've got invites from 2 other (closer) teams, too, so I'll just have to think about this for a bit. But this is the first team that's proactively asked me to join them, without my mentioning I'm looking for a team. Doc's a big proponent of women's racing, so I'm sure that's why he's interested. Something to chew on...

Then Saturday morning I decided to kick myself out of bed early and take my new Madone 5.2 for a ride with the Bike Barn group. One guy recognized me, and I got myself up front into the faster group of riders. I can't say how fast we were going, because I have yet to mount a computer on the new bike, but we were definitely cruising. The fast group stayed together until about Alvin, and then the REALLY fast guys took off. I was still in a substantial pack of riders, and kept getting double-takes from all these guys. I think it's because I was the only female in the group. I got the feeling they didn't think I should be there, but that could just be me being paranoid. I kept up their pace for a good hour, at least (again, not sure, since I didn't have my computer to glance down at), but finally dropped off the back, couldn't sprint back on, and got picked up by some other guys who'd done the same thing. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, and had no idea how to get home, they offered to let me stick with them (thank goodness). We caught up with the group at the Wee Mart (a planned stop), but let them leave. While we were there, another group pulled in, with a few women in it, and we all chatted about my spiffy new bike for a minute. (I made sure to mention my gripe about the stupid triple!) Then my little group took off again. There were 3 of us rotating through, with me taking noticeably shorter pulls, and we finally stopped at a Chevron on FM517 and 646. I had reached my prescribed 3-hour mark, so I called Mike to come pick me up, and told the guys I was with that I was out.

I'd call that a success - my first time out with that group, and I stuck with them for a fair amount of time. I liked taking the big boys by surprise. I liked playing in the pack. And I liked knowing that I can go pretty fast! I'm sore today, but it was worth it, and tomorrow's a rest day anyways. I'll have to try that again... (: One of these days I'll be able to stick with them the whole time. And 53 miles in 3 hours, including stops, isn't bad for me!

Maybe next time I write in here I'll have made a decision about a team... And hopefully my PowerTap will have arrived! This is gonna be a big week - 2 nights of racing, and 10 hours of riding - a max for me so far doing CTS!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Houston Grand Criterium

The Race: 2.8-mile criterium course. Long and windy. Out-and-back on a section of Allen Parkway (a divided road in downtown Houston), with 4 not-too-technical right turns (nice wide 90-degree corners). Start/finish line was maybe 100m or so from the first of the 2 turnarounds. The wind really hit you on the way back. Women's Open category. 5 primes, which translates to a prime each lap for this 45-minute crit.

I stayed with the pack the first lap. I kept getting pushed to the inside for the turns, which was a little frustrating, and I couldn't figure out how to get on the outside. When I tried to move over, I just got passed by more riders each time.

I stayed with the pack the second lap. I caught the wind on the outside coming back up the other side of the course, but was starting to figure out how to get over without getting passed (or at least how to gain my position back). Because I got stuck out in the wind, I was in no position to sprint for the prime, and about 8 riders (out of the field of 18) passed me across the start/finish line. I stayed with the pack around the turns, and then we headed back out again.

As we came in for the 3rd lap, and third prime, I was feeling good, and had a great position - a few riders back, out of the wind, with lots of road space to my left. I started sprinting, and was passing all the girls ahead of me! Well...almost all. It came down to me and one other rider, and I just didn't get into my big ring soon enough. I didn't have it in me, and she inched me out for the prime. But by that point, I was spent. I don't have that kind of recovery yet; the two right turns came immediately after that sprint, and then they accelerated again. I lost the pack, and never caught back on.

There were 3 of us who got left behind right after that turnaround, and we tried working together for a while, but we didn't have the rhythm we needed. Two of us ended up working with each other for the rest of the race (her name was Shannon; the third girl DNF'ed), but we never caught back up to the group. On the last lap, we passed a girl who had fallen off the back about a lap after we did, whom we'd been chasing the whole time. In trying to catch her, Shannon got away from me, and the finish line came too soon - she outsprinted me by about a bike length.

So this was another learning experience. Once Shannon and I started working together, we didn't really lose any distance on the pack. I know that if I hadn't sprinted for that prime, I would have been able to stay with the better riders the entire race. There was even a point, on the home stretch of the last lap, where Shannon and I thought we might almost catch them. But I also learned that I'm only inches (and some strategy, and maybe some teammates, too) away from beating a better rider in a sprint. That prime sprint was rough, but I know I was thisclose to beating her, and I definitely gave it my all. The best part is that I'm still in the beginnings of my training -- I've got lots of improvements yet to make, and I see only good things in my future.

Thanks to Bryan, Felicity, Paul, and of course Mike for all coming out to cheer me on -- I do hear when y'all scream my name, and it gives me a little more reason to work *just* a bit harder. (:

Now I can't wait for the weekly Memorial Park Crits to start so I can really hone my criterium skills!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Velo 4

Last night was my fourth time racing at the track. Man, it was a ROUGH NIGHT. There were no other W4 competitiors, but those juniors pushed the pace every single race (W4 and JM/W race together), and it didn't help that my gear was much to small.

We started with a 6-lap handicap. I, of course, was the rabbit, placed at 120m, and gave it my all. Leigh gave me a nice push to start out with, and I just sprinted my heart out until someone caught up with me...and passed me. Oh well. I think everyone caught me, but I don't think I got lapped by everyone - maybe only half the field. The worst part was that my legs were spinning so hard! I just needed a bigger gear, and I could have at least grabbed on to a wheel a bit sooner. That's what you get for renting a bike at the track. I mentioned my gear issue to someone as I was leaving - they saw that I was walking to my car without a bike and inquired if I rode a rental. When I replied "yes," I added that the gearing was way too small, and they told me they bring extra gears every time, and I should never hesitate to ask them to borrow one. Sweet! Cyclists are pretty nice people. (:

Next race was a miss-and-out. This means that the person whose back wheel crosses the start-finish line LAST each lap gets pulled from the race. They pull one rider per lap until there are 3 left, and then they have one lap to go and they sprint for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I knew I needed to get up high on the track so I wouldn't get stuck in a position I couldn't get out of, but somehow everyone got over me, and I was the first one pulled. Oh well, live and learn. I was already coughing up a storm from the handicap race, and I needed the extra rest.

Finally we had an 18-lap points race. Points go to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (13, 7, and 1 are the points values, I believe) every 6 laps. I knew I wouldn't be sprinting for points, so I just tried to hang on as best I could. All I know is I lapped one person, but so did the rest of the field. I grabbed a few wheels and worked with them for a while, and that was all I could do. It's hard to push yourself too much when you know you don't really have any competition, but I definitely gave it all I had on that last lap.

All in all, I'd call it a successful night. I didn't perfom all that well by any stretch of the imagination, but I learned a ton. I learned that I needed a bigger gear for those races. I learned that I need to figure out how NOT to get stuck on the inside in a miss-and-out. And I learned that even if there are no other competitors in my category, I still get $20 at the end of the night! This only pays for next week's road tolls ($3.75 total to get out there during rush hour using the Beltway), bike rental ($3), and entry fee ($12), but in the end I make a buck, and it feels good to be handed an envelope with money in it! (: I really pushed myself to my limit last night - I really worked my butt off. And it felt good. Now I get to spend today recovering (2hrs of endurance miles with a few power intervals thrown in for fun), and hope to keep up in tomorrow's crit. It's a Women's Open category (i.e. I'm racing with Cat1's), so it should be interesting and another learning experience, if nothing else. Wohoo!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

First Post!

I'm starting this blog for those interested in my cycling training and racing. Enjoy!