Thursday, June 01, 2017

How I Won the Cheaha Ultra

A couple weeks ago I did the Cheaha Ultra ride in Jacksonville, Alabama. The Cheaha Ultra is a 124 mile ride that gains ~12,000 feet in elevation. The Cheaha Challenge also offered a century ride that was a qualifier for the Gran Fondo World Championships. There were also many other shorter distances down to 25 miles on a rail to trail. Fun and suffering for the whole family... It is very tough just to finish the event. Pacing is important for endurance events like these. If you go too hard too early then you will not have legs to even finish the ride. Cheaha Mountain came about 40 miles into the ride, and there was a timed KOM competition on the climb. My goal was to conserve as much energy as possible on the way out to the mountain. I rode in a group that was riding reasonably fast, but I did not take any pulls. A few century riders went off the front of my group, but their ride was about an hour and a half shorter than the ride I would be doing, so I wanted to keep legs for late in the ride.

For the KOM climb I made sure to start at the back of the group. I knew the effort was going to take 15-20 minutes, so I parked my watts somewhere around my functional threshold power, and I kept my eye on my heart rate. My functional threshold heart rate is somewhere around 168 bpm, so I tried to not let my heart rate hover over 168 bpm most of the way up the climb. As I neared the top of the climb I let the heart rate go over 168 bpm and kicked at the top. I had to catch Michael Sencenbaugh in order to get the KOM prize, so I need to let my heart rate increase. It was important to keep the heart rate low on that climb in order to have legs at the end of the ride.

Cheaha Climb Data

After Cheaha the terrain was rolling, and I had a good partner to pace the ride with in Michael. We stopped to refuel at Adams gap and caught up to a few guys doing the century ride. The terrain was rolling, so it was more beneficial to pace with them instead of drop them because we would only go marginally faster and it would have been a lot more difficult. After we turned off from the century route we exchanged pulls, and I would pull at the top of my endurance zone (around 250-270 watts). We had two difficult climbs in both sides of Banes Gap, and I paced them at around high tempo or sweet spot power (300-320 watts). We refueled after Banes gap, and when we hit the flats we kept that high endurance pace once again.

We hit the final climb of Chimney Peak with about 5 miles to go. From there it is downhill to the finish. I gave it all I had, and that ended up being a 10 minute effort at around my functional threshold power. That effort was enough to leave Michael. I am really happy I had his company for most of the ride. It made the ride very fun. From the top of Chimney Peak I just gave it all I had to the finish.

Chimney Peak Data

The ride ended up being a little over 6 hours long with an average wattage of 218 watts with a normalized power of 262 watts. This gives an intensity factor of .74 of my functional threshold power, so it was paced right on the cusp of high endurance or low tempo power. If I did not pace the ride well, I would not have had legs to give that lactate threshold effort right at the end of the ride. If you employ similar pacing strategies at your next century you will have a great ride.

Cheaha Ultra Podium

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sunny King Criterium and McClellan Road Race

This past weekend I raced the Sunny King Criterium and Fort McClellan Road Race in Anniston, Alabama. Both races are part of the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour, and there was a ton of heat at both events.

For the Sunny King Criterium we did 60 laps on a 4-turn 0.6 mile course that has a slight uphill on the finish straight. As far as Pro Road Tour criteriums go Sunny King is a relatively easy one, so it is a nice way to get the season started. However, this year there was a higher level of competition, so I was interested to see how it would play out. I tried to get a good starting position, but the best I could manage was about mid-pack. The pace started out very fast, and we were strung out from the gun. I did not panic and took opportunities to move up as the pace slowed. About 20 laps into the race a break of 10 riders rolled, and the riders at the front sat up. I used this moment to get all the way to the front, and I was on Michael Hernandez's wheel. On the start/finish straight he jumped, and I did the best I could to jump with him. I hit peak watts for me, but it was not enough. My acceleration could not snap me away from the group nor hold Mike's wheel. This was the move of the day, and I just could not get there. This attempt to go to the break really left me empty, and I floated back in the group. I tried to ride the front or jump away a couple more times, but I had no success. I just spent the rest of the race riding it out and looking for an opportunity. With 9 laps to go I was caught behind a crash and took a free-lap. We were thrown in very far back in the field, so it would not have been possible to make it to the front of the race again. I just rode it out in the group I was with to finish the race. Here is a link to my race on Strava

The McClellan Road Race was a race I had on my mind all winter. It is a 92 mile road race where we do 4 laps on a 23 mile circuit that features a 0.7 mile climb at 11% and a 1.5 mile highway climb at 6%. The lap starts out where we hit the climb immediately. I felt the break may go on the first time up the 0.7 mile climb, so I positioned myself at the front of the peloton. However, a random stick on the course had other designs for my race. During the first kilometer of the race this stick lodged itself in my front wheel. I had to stop to take this stick out of my wheel and pedal back up to the peloton. I made it back to the group before the climb, but I didn't panic to make it up to the front of the peloton. If I used all that energy early I may have had no energy all race, so I did the first climb conservatively. A group of about 25 guys rolled off the front of the peloton over the first climb, but a group of 25 never works well together right? This group was drilling it, but I still did not panic. My legs were good, and it is best to let guys waste energy keeping the split close. There was another split over the highway climb, but I could tell that was coming back too. The second time up Bains Gap I finally decided it was time to start racing and my quest to attempt to make it to the front of the race. My group was working well together and on the highway climb we had the leaders in sight. I didn't account for the fact that now teams use radios, so when they heard we were close the break worked harder. I need to account for this in future races. The third time up Bains Gap I blew and lost contact with some of the guys that were in my 10 rider group. Guys from behind bridged up to me, and I rode hard with them. We were still riding hard and were catching riders that were imploding from the first group on the road. There was a rule in this race that if you were ever 8 minutes behind on the road then your group would be pulled. We got a check that we were 5.5 minutes behind the last time through the start/ finish. However, the race decided to pull us at the top of Bain's Gap. My group of ~10-15 riders was 5 seconds behind the last rider who was not pulled. This was very strange logic, but I listened to the officials. We would have picked up that rider on the descent and he would have finished faster with our group than doing the last 17 miles by himself. Here is a link to my race on Strava

The last weekend did not go too well, but I am confident with my level of fitness. I just need a little luck and no more of that bad kind. Maybe I don't need any luck, just no bad will do the job. Next up for me is Speed Week starting next weekend. Stay tuned for blog posts and youtube videos.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Joe Martin Stages 3 and 4

Over the past couple days I finished up competing in the Joe Martin Stage race. Stage 3 was a 110 mile stage where we rode out to a 23 mile circuit, rode four laps, and rode back to the start. The circuit had a tough hill and was fairly exposed to the wind. The race started off fairly easy with Rally controlling the pace and no attacks rolling. We went over the main hill fairly easy with the yellow jersey pulling over to pee, so I decided to pee as well. This put me toward the back of the group. At this point the riders at the front punched it in the tailwind, and a group of about 30 riders to rolled off. I decided to not panic, sit in, and see what would happen. If I used a ton of energy and bridged to the attack I would possibly not have any energy for the rest of the race. I stayed patient and the group came back. Shortly after this group was brought back another group of about 15-20 riders went up the road with Rob Britton who was second place on GC. United Healthcare did not like this situation, so they kept the pace high and brought the race back together. This was really fun and tough racing for the first two hours. I really thought the race was going to blow to pieces. Then Rally controlled the pace again, let a break of a few riders roll, and the pace relaxed for pretty much the rest of the race. They kept the gap to around 2-2.5 minutes to the leaders and just let them dangle there. With about 10 kilometers to go we caught the leaders and rolled the last 10 kilometers at around 60kph, dodging trucks coming the other direction. It was chaotic to say the least. I just sat in the group, saved energy, and finished. I was looking forward to the crit the next day.

The final stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race takes place on a tough 1 mile circuit that has 8 turns and a steep 200 meter climb. I staged early and got the best start position I could, but was only able to start midpack with storm clouds on the horizon. The pace started off fast, and it started to drizzle. I lost position over the first couple laps but told myself to be patient and the pace would slow down. The drizzle turned into a full on storm. However, as I was sitting near the back of the peloton the pace never really did slow down. I wasn't feeling like myself. Usually I live for crazy conditions and thrive in them, but on this particular day I didn't want to crash. You can't think like that if you want to do well in bike races. After about 10 laps of racing my legs were killing me from the bad positioning, and I lost contact with the peloton. It was far from my best day of racing, but I will move on and live to fight another day. I am thankful Foundation let me join them for Joe Martin. They are a great group of guys, and I am glad I met them.

Next weekend I will be racing the Sunny King Criterium and the Fort McClellan Road Race in Anniston, Alabama. I have done well at these races in the past, and look forward to racing them again.