Friday, May 22

Episode IV: A New Slouch

Part of the response to my cycling race-training panic that I mentioned last week is that I am only riding for myself. If that means getting dropped on a group ride and crawling home solo, then so be it. If that means popping out of the pace line to sit in the wind because I want to keep my heart rate at a steady 164-168, then I'm going to do that--even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else in the pace line. If my training plan doesn't entail a sprint, then I'm not going to take the bait when someone else jumps. It is by taking my training rides for myself that strengthens me for my team and friends for when it matters--in the races.

Now that I am back on my Annual Training Plan, which I had completely drawn out back in January, I know exactly what workouts I need to do to stay on track to be able to bring my maximum potential for the races that are most important [to me]. This week, I need an endurance ride, which I knocked on on that 50-mile bike ride around York County on Monday. Also I need a muscular-endurance ride. Right now, that means tempo. In other words, keeping a steady pace on the bicycle and just hammering it out.

I took this tempo approach at the Slouch this week. I went to the head, got low, got aero, and just started grinding it out. I wasn't hammering or anything--I just kept a steady pace, didn't make any quick accelerations, and maintained a steady power output that was tolerably painful, ratcheting up the pace slightly as we approached Rye Harbor, where we let everyone catch up.

Now, if you know anything about the Slouch Potato Ride, then you know it's a pissing contest. It's all about the pointless attacks, and doing anything you can to shatter the group. But there was none of that this day. I sat on the front and pulled a steady 22 miles an hour or so through the New Castle loop, about 6 miles on Route 1B. As we approached the first stop sign, someone said "nice pull"--as if it were over--I think not! I kept the same pace, and stayed on the front, all the way down to Ocean Boulevard and another three or four miles before everyone else sitting got impatient with the pace and came around me. I swung out in to the breeze and finished steady in to the wind as the others attacked and sprinted the last 500 meters or so. When I looked back, I saw that most all of the 25-person group had hung on--usually there are maybe five of us or so left by the end.

What happened there was that I had held a steady pace of about 22mph, which was enough for everyone, and not too much for most everyone else. In order to pass me in any meaningful way, one would have to set the pace over 25 miles per hour, which no one particularly wanted, particularly in to Route 1A's coastal wind. This sort of going-to-the-front action sets and controls the pace of the ride. This is also exactly the same tactic that Professional cycling teams like Astana employ to control the race during a stage race. You will see the whole Astana team at the head of the pack, setting a tough pace to discourage anyone else in the peleton from attempting to break away.

Anyway, it was really cool to have most everyone still in a pack when we got to Rye Harbor. Normally we end up spending a lot of time waiting for everyone to catch up, so the guys that get there first have totally cooled down by the time we head back, which is annoying. This time, everyone was right there or close behind, and we turned back in just a few minutes.

We had Rami set the pace on the way back. It really just boils down in to a 25-minute tempo workout if you pull the whole way, but the problem is that it's too easy if you sit in--everyone behind wants to attack. So I just sat at second wheel, so I could rest fairly easy, but also keep Rami clear if anyone tried to pass him, putting him in to their draft. When people eventually started to come around, I was in position to just blast off the front. If they wanted to go ahead, they would have to go hard to catch my wheel, so people were either sitting on me or siting on Rami, and he could keep his tempo. Eventually I just positioned myself right on Rami's shoulder, in order to box in Ben Goss and the troop of followers behind him:

In order to get around Rami, he would have to back all the way off his wheel and get around me first (blue). As soon as I would see him start to drift back to get around, I'd punch it out ahead, so he would have to catch up, wearing himself and anyone else that followed out in a pointless chase (red). If they caught me, I'd just drift back to Rami and drag him back to the front before resuming my position on the flank. Meanwhile Rami's just doing a tempo workout without regard to anyone else--not taking the bait of attacks, and just riding steady. Mind you, I was only working to keep him in the wind so that he could do his tempo workout unfettered.

We held everyone off through most of New Castle, and were in the last two kilometers or so before Rami got irrevocably surrounded by the pack. I punched it off the front to let everyone play catch-up and waste some more energy before the "King of the Mountain." The "mountain" I wouldn't even really call a hill, it's a knoll at best. I didn't bother contesting it, and drifted back. As we came over it, I could see the field had split in two, there were five up ahead by perhaps three seconds at most, and maybe eight or ten in my group in front of me.

Now, there's been contention lately as to where exactly the "finish line" is. Some people insist (wrongly) that it is at the crest of the bridge, where the Portsmouth town line is. The real line is about 400 meters after that, at the second of the three crosswalks, just before the turn in the road. There used to be a line and "LE FIN" spray painted on the road. Also there's a huge "Welcome to Portsmouth" sign which some people might consider. But just to be sure there wasn't any confusion over the last 500 meters, I layed it down hard, bridged the gap and passed the group of five before the first line, and held a gap until the finish. No one followed my move, which surprised me. Ben insists it was because he was so annoyed at being boxed in the whole time, he didn't have the spirit to contest my attack.

This was a great ride. Not because I took the finish. It was a great ride because I got the workout I needed, I didn't feel frustrated, and I rode smart, for myself and then for a teammate. NorEast controlled the ride, and I think that everyone in the back appreciated the steady pace without attacks. Having the majority of the pack hang together is something that never happens on the Slouch, so it was cool. From here on out, I am just going to ride the Slouch as two 25-minute tempo intervals, or to just generally shut down the break-away guys.

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