We arrived early. We found the registration area, signed additional release forms, casually got into our biking things. There were two events for the day: a time trial and a criterium. For the benefit of people not up on racing terminology, here's what these things are. A time trial is just you on the course by yourself. They time you, and the winner is the person with the least time. They can be on all sorts of courses and be all sorts of distances, but the main characteristic is that they involve none of the strategy usually associated with racing, that is, knowing when to draft people, when to break away, how to interact with your teammates, etc. It's just your own strength and skills as a biker. A criterium takes place on a very short course, a loop of less than 1.2 miles, that you go around a bunch of times. They usually involve some sharp curves, which is where lots of action happens. Races can consist of loops longer than 1.2 miles, but then they're called road races, so the races we've been doing in Central Park are road races.
Our time trial was 1km. The first 2/3 of it was mostly uphill, the last third was mostly flat. The uphill section consisted of one mild uphill, a right turn, a short slight downhill, a left turn, a long steeper uphill, a left turn, and a short steep uphill. The mostly flat section consisted of a short flat, a mild uphill, then flat for the rest of the way thru' some parking lots, which involved a right turn, another right turn, a left turn, a right turn, and a final left turn before the finish line.
After getting registered we warmed up, doing the time trial course several times to get a feel for it. I didn't go up the hills very fast. They were not pleasant. I felt some muscle aches in my thighs, and I thought that maybe I'd ridden too hard the previous day on the training ride. In the flat section I looked for the shortest route thru' the course, which meant cutting the corners as closely as possible, which wasn't a problem since they weren't bad. I didn't know what gear to use for the uphill parts. Pete had said to use the big chainring, but that just didn't feel right for me. I do better pedalling a bit faster, and since the middle chainring on my bike has 44 teeth, while on racing bikes the little chainrings are 39 or 42 teeth, I thought I'd have plenty high enough gearing staying in my middle chainring. I asked Pete about it. He said that he wasn't there watching me go up the hills, so he couldn't give me any specific advice, so I'd just have to do what I thought best, and if I felt the middle chainring was better, I should use it. I decided to go with the middle.
The men went first, separated into categories (A-D in collegiate, A being the fastest) and then the women went, all lumped together (there are only A and B in women's; I'm a B, since I'm new to this and not very confident yet). There were about a dozen women. Within the subgroups, we raced in order of our numbers. I happened to have the lowest number of the Penn women, so I went first, then Lauren, then Tiffany. I was glad Lauren was behind me, not Tiffany. We were being sent out 30 seconds apart, and I didn't want to get passed, since I felt that that would be pretty disheartening. Lauren isn't great on hills, so I knew she wouldn't pass me, and Tiff said "There's no way I can make up 1 minute of difference", and I realized she was right. So at least I was reassured on this point.
Brian did his time trial and came down with some advice for us: "Use a big gear". In racer lingo, big gear means high gear (this confused me at first, since bigger cogs in back give you a lower gear). He was saying that lots of people spun out on the hills (that is, they reached their limit of pedal rpms, and shifting up is hard when you're putting alot of pressure on the pedals, not to mention the difficulty of reaching the shift levers if they aren't integrated into your brake levers). Also, he said that some people were sitting down in the shallower uphill sections, and then didn't sprint for the finish at the end. Hearing this, I reconsidered whether I should use my big chainring. I again asked Pete. He said "Do what your body tells you". I decided to stick with my decision to use my middle, but shifted to one smaller cog on back than what I had thought I would use.
As the men went off, I wanted to keep my muscles warm, but there was really nowhere to ride, so I ended making little circles at the bottom of the hill we'd be going up. I felt like a shark circling its prey. Except that I had the odd feeling that I was the prey. Strange. I don't know if it helped any to keep my muscles warm, but as one of my teammates (perhaps Randy) said, "It helps to work off nervous energy". And nervous I was. I used to be terrible at hills, but I've been getting better as I've developed my muscles and technique. I've learned that to climb hills effectively, you have to pull up as much as you can. This adds to the power you can apply to the pedals, and you go faster. Still, going up the hills during the warmup was painful, and I wasn't looking forward to doing it for the time trial.
Finally, it was getting close to my turn, and they called my number. I got in line. When I was up they called me to the start line, held my bike. "15 seconds", the official said. I couldn't get my right foot onto the pedal immediately. I panicked, but fought it down: 15 seconds is plenty of time to get clipped in, as long as I keep my head. I got attached. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1," -- at the "1" I came off the saddle and put pressure to the pedals, while holding my brakes, as we'd practiced with Pete during our training ride on Thursday -- "go!" and I released my brakes and took off.
I was going well for most of the mild uphill part, but towards the top it began to hurt. At the slight downhill I picked up some speed and swung into the steeper part. I kept it going, but not terribly fast. The left turn, then the steepest part. I pushed and pulled hard as I could, turning the pedals over, putting all my might into it. I passed the woman who had taken off in front of me. This was not a surprise to me -- she had a racing bike, but for some reason had toe clips and running shoes. Since the secret to going up hills is pulling up on the pedals, she didn't have much of a chance. I got my clipless pedals last October, and before then, even with bike shoes, and before I'd learned to really pull up, I was coming out my toes clips going up hills.
Anyway, passing this woman about 2/3 of the way thru' the course made me feel pretty good (but of course, probably made her feel kind of bad). When it flattened out I really picked up the speed. In my trial runs along the course, even tho' I'd gone up the hills much slower than I did in the race, I'd ease off a bit after getting to the flat parts in order to recover, but I didn't allow any recovery this time, I just took off. This surprised me, but I guess adrenaline was driving me on. I cut the corners really closely, following the line I'd picked out from my trial runs, and after rounding the last corner sprinted for the finish line. I sped past it and then saw various people in front of me biking around the parking lot. I applied some heavy brakes and slowed to a normal speed. I found the team in the parking lot, and we were all standing around recovering. We commented that it really hurt in the top of the chest, right under the breastbone. We coughed occasionally, and kept this up for more than half an hour!
Pete told us to find the criterium (crit, in racer lingo) course and cool down there, then gather back in the parking lot at 11am, and he'd have food for us. We went in the direction we were told we'd find the course and went up a big hill to get to it. The crit course consisted of various turns and ascents and descents, including one terrible uphill, and a downhill just before a sharp left turn. Well, the "terrible uphill" is actually not all that steep. It was between the mild and steeper sections of the uphill time trial, and I went up it without to much difficulty, seated, in my middle chainring (44 teeth) and big cog in back (28 teeth). But this was slow, and we'd need more speed for the race. The course was at the very top of a hill, providing for nice views, should we care to look, but also meaning lots of wind. The wind was blowing so that after you got up the hill it hit you full in the face going down the following downhills.
We did a few laps and went back to the parking lot. We weren't very happy with the crit course. It's similar to that in Cadwalander Park in Trenton, where we'll be hosting a race April 9, and we know by experience that that's not a very pleasant course -- that hill really gets to you after a few reps. Pete arrived with food -- makings for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, Fig Newtons, iced tea, apple juice, water. Roger supplied some beat-up bananas, and Tiffany added some apple butter.
Us women were back at the crit course at 11:40 -- our race (women's A & B combined) began at noon. We went around the course a few times more, not being very pleased with the hill. As we gathered at the starting line, I dropped my water bottle off in the grass -- I wouldn't need it for such a short race (15 laps, 12.7 or so miles) and water weighs alot. We got instructions, and took off. I started my timer, trying once again to time the race. I kept with the lead riders for about the first three laps. Tiffany was there too. The problem, mostly, was the sharp left turn. I didn't want to be next to people going around it. I'm getting so that I can take turns pretty well, but I'm still nervous about having other people around me, so I'd ease off a bit to give them some space, and then I'd be off the back a bit starting up the hill. I couldn't make up the distance going up the hill, but I'd catch them after the left turn, in the mild down/up section. Tiffany had no such problem with the turns. I'm not exactly sure how she handled it, but whatever she did, she did it right. I think that part of it was that she was much more towards the front than I was. Anyway, I couldn't keep this up, and they got away from me for good on about the third lap.
On the lap that I lost them, a Penn State woman (Stacy, I learned her name later) in front of me dropped her chain and had to stop, but she soon had it back on and got moving again. Then she was in front of me, between me and Tiffany's group, for almost the entire race. After a number of laps I started passing people. I thought I was passing people who'd dropped off of Tiffany's group, but I learned later that they were people who had been lapped. Anyway, seeing these lone riders ahead of me gave me encouragement -- something to aim for. The funny thing was that I'd pass them and they'd just let me go -- they made no attempt to draft me, and they made no attempt to keep to the inside of curves to cut the distance.
All the while, I'd see Tiffany's group not too far ahead of me going up the hill, then Stacy, with one or two other random lapped people ahead or behind. Then, when when they got to the top they'd take off and increase the gap again. It seemed that I remained about the same distance behind Tiff's group, on average, thru' the race. Gradually I gained on Stacy. I felt that she was different from the other people I passed, since I gained on her much slower than the other people, and she was staying on the inside of curves. I got to her just before the not-too-bad left turn, with one and a half laps left to go in the race. She was about 3 feet from the left edge of the road. I knew I had to pass on the left, since if I went on the right, I'd be taking the longer distance thru' the turn and she'd gain it back. I put on some speed and passed her on the left and kept ahead of her thru' the turn.
I passed Pete, who was standing not too far before the finish line. He'd been encouraging me thru' the entire race. He said "Attack her now!". I looked back. She was not too far behind me. It was then that it really hit me how different she was from all the other people I'd passed. When I passed them they just watched me go, but she was pursuing me. I accelerated down the hill and took the sharp left turn as fast as I possibly could. And then she caught me going up the hill. We were parallel at the top of the hill. I eased off and waited for her to go forward, so I could draft her. But of course, she did exactly the same thing. We waited, watching each other. I finally tired of the game and decided that I'd make a go for it, try to make a break. I got down on the drops. I've found in practices that sprinting on the drops gives me more control over the bike. I stood up and took off. I was amazed that after 15 times up that damned hill I had the energy for a sprint, but I found it somehow.
But it wasn't enough. She caught my draft, followed me thru' the not-too-bad turn, and then came out in front, sprinting for the finish line. I stood up and tried to do something, but I didn't have it. She beat me across the finish line... We coasted down the downhill, and said "good race!" to each other. She asked me if I'd been pursuing her the entire race. As it turned out, I had, but I didn't realize it.
In the Central Park races I'd take a lap around the course (6 miles) to cool down. But this time, I had no desire whatsoever to go up that hill again. So before I got the the bottom of the downhill I turned onto the sidewalk to go back to the finish line. I came to a group of people and had to get off the bike to walk around them. I went to where I'd left my water bottle, and suddenly thought about my timer. I flipped to it and stopped it. It said 46 something minutes. I figured I'd finished the race at least 4 mins ago, so I think my time was something like 42 or 43 mins. Someday I'm going to remember to turn off my timer at the end of a race! I dropped my bike, picked up the water, and drank. I looked for the team. I saw Pete with Tiffany. I staggered over. I learned that Tiff had won the race! Wonderful! I congratulated here. She's a great rider.
Then, feeling that I'd done everything I needed to, exhaustion overwhelmed me, and I had no desire to do anything but flop in the grass. So I did. I took off my helmet after I hit the ground, closed my eyes, and just let my body twitch. I was panting and sweating wildly and my heart was racing. Pete knelt and unzipped the neck zippers of the thermal shirts I was wearing under my Penn jersey to allow me to better cool off. I heard the next race start. Eventually my breathing slowed, but my heart still hammered on. I felt for my water bottle with my right hand, found it, drank some.
Eventually, my heart slowed. Pete dropped a thick jacket across me. It didn't seem too warm, so I left it there. Soon I began to chill, and I pulled it up over my shoulders. I recovered enough that I wanted to watch the race. I propped my head up on my helmet and watched them. After awhile I felt that I could move. I got up, slowly, put on the jacket, zipped it up, found my teammates. I sat with them a bit, and then got Pete's car keys from him. I went to the car, took off my Penn jersey, got out another thermal shirt to put on, got my own jacket, and grabbed a gallon of water. I came back and sat with the team for the rest of the race (men's C-D, which Roger, Dave, Cary, and Mike rode in) and the following one (men's B, which Brian, Dana, and Randy rode in), where our guys did very well. During the last race, Stacy got to talking with Tiff and me about our team (that's when I found out her name). It was nice to talk to her, to get to know someone from another team.
During the men's races, we found out how us women had done in the races. Tiff had gotten second in the time trial, I'd gotten third, Lauren had gotten 6th, I think. In the crit, Tiff got first place, I got 6th, Lauren 7th. All the top 5 people get medals, so I'll get one for the time trial. My first medal! They weren't available then, but we'll get them at next weekend's races. After all the races were over, we went to dinner at a restaurant in downtown Bloomsburg, run by a guy who's an avid cyclist. During dinner Pete tallied up our results. Damned good, for the first collegiate outing of a new team! Then we headed home.
All in all, I was pleased with how I'd done, especially in the time trial. One thing that I was happy about was that I really had given everything I had on both events. At the last Central Park race I'd felt that I really wasn't tired at the end of the race, and that I should have worked harder. This was certainly not the case yesterday -- completely exhausted was a good description of how I was at the end. Still, I could have done better in the crit. In particular I have to find out how to take corners faster with lots of people around me. I'll have to ask Tiff how she did it, and see if Pete can give me some points as well.
Another thing is: part of the reason I didn't keep up with them was that I felt that they were faster than I was and I'd kill myself trying to keep up, so I didn't put everything I had into keeping up. But this was not the case: the group that Tiffany was in wasn't going faster than I was! The gap between me and them would shrink and grow, but didn't increase on average. So, on my own, not drafting anyone, I was going as fast as they were, and they were trading off who was in the lead. So it's not that I'm slower than they are, I'm just not as skilled. Also, Pete says that tho' I'm capable of holding good speeds for long periods of time, races aren't like that, and I need to get better at keeping up with them when the pace picks up, and then relaxing when it eases off.
So there's still lots more to learn. But my strongest impression was: I'm very very happy we did those Central Park races. This Bloomsburg race was a bastard. That hill really sapped our energy. We'd go up it at about 8mph, and considering that our average speed was somewhere around 17 or 18mph, it demonstrates how much the damned thing slowed us down. If this had been my first race, I would have croaked. In my first race, I was scared senseless, and it was only Pete riding with me, calming me down, and giving me advice that got me thru'. And the Central Park circuit is a piece of cake in comparison to the Bloomsburg torture course. In the second race, also in NY, I wasn't afraid, and after it I felt ready to put more work into races. Well, this time I did work, but not making breaks, as I thought I would, since I got dropped from the lead group... Because of my experiences in the two NY races I wasn't afraid, and I was ready to work.
Next weekend we race at Bucknell and Penn State.
Here's Pete's official report:
In their first collegiate race of the year, the newly formed (once again) Penn Cycling Team traveled to Bloomsburg, Pa for one day, two event stage race. The events were a .75 Hill TT and a (hilly, as in is this really a road race?) Criterium.
Penn entered 10 riders in three categories; Randy Knarr, Brian Hirsch and Dana Royer rode the Men's B, Mike Riley, Carey McConlogue, Roger Quon and David Copas rode the Men's C/D combined and Tiffany Pezzulo, Myra VanInwegan and Lauren Slawe competed in the Women's A/B combined.
Also competing in the race were teams from Bloomsburg, Bucknell, Navy, Pitt, Lehigh, Slippery Rock, Cornell, SUNY Cortland and current east coast champions, Penn State.
They rode very well earning 2 gold, 2 silver, 5 bronze medals, 4th place in the Team Category and 19 top ten placings, bringing home enough medals to fill a truck!
MEN'S B, 27 competitors
.75 mi Hill TT: Knarr 3rd (2.20.23) Hirsch 7th (2.28.07) Royer 9th
20 mile Criterium: Knarr 2nd, Hirsch, Royer -- field
Overall: Knarr 3rd
MEN'S C/D combined, 65 competitors
.75 mi Hill TT: Riley 3rd (2.22.08), McConlogue 7th (2.26.35) Copas
17th (2.34.67), Quon 28th (2.42.10)
15 mile Criterium: Riley 4th, McConlogue 8th, Copas, Quon -- field
Overall: Riley **results not available at time of reporting***
WOMEN'S A/B combined, 12 competitors
.75 mi Hill TT: Pezzulo 2nd, VanInwegan 3rd, Slawe 6th (women's times
12 mile Criterium: Pezzulo 1st, VanInwegan 6th, Slawe 7th.
Overall: Pezzulo 1st, VanInwegan, Slawe **results not available at time of reporting***
This was an excellent job for an experienced group, much less a first year squad where only 3 members have raced before.
The Penn Cycling Team is affiliated with Quaker City Wheelmen and sponsored by Bike Line Bike Shops, Spinergy, American Classic Equipment, Bell Helmets, Morris Mt. Wheelers, Molino Technical Support, Bike Club Ultra, Bike Pro USA and VOICENET INTERNET Access.
Peter Durdaller, coach Penn Cycling Team, reporting