Saturday, May 9, 2009

The air up here

As I write, I am sitting in Lakewood, CO, the day after racing the collegiate nationals road race up in Fort Collins. A race marked by what Velonews described as 'gale force winds' - which is not much of an exaggeration.

Last week some of us who were making the trip hooked up with the UO physiology lab for some quick altitude acclimation work in the lab's environmental chamber, which allowed us to sit at a simulated 10,000-14,000 ft and adapt a little bit to the oxygen poor air. We didn't do a course long enough to boost hematocrit, but rather followed a procedure to improve ventilatory response and O2 use at altitude. We took turns sitting on a stationary bike pedalling at pathetic wattages with pounding hearts, and sitting around doing homework. I think that it worked, because I have felt better than I ever have visiting Colorado, but it wasn't really enough to get any sort of results.

We started off with a 'neutral' rollout that was apparently clocked at ~36mph as super strong winds pushed us around inside the rolling police enclosure. There was a pretty big pile-up resulting from the field riding gutter to gutter and swarming around, where guys were moving out to occupy all possible pavement including right turn lanes, etc, then swinging back in as the pavement expired and they faced curbs, ditches, and what-have-you. Eventually some guys just collided and mayhem ensued. The whole Oregon team avoided that but it was a major annoyance at just 7 minutes into the race.

The entire field basically blew to bits on the first climb. We hit a little bugger of a rise into some weird wind patterns and went hard up the climbs and before you knew it, it was carnage all over. And I sucked. I started hyperventilating on the climb and freaked myself out a bit, calmed down, and realized that I was in a really bad position. Plus, the short efforts like that are my Achilles heel - I really, really suck. If it involved any portion of fast-twitch muscle, I just suck. Anyhow, over the top of the climb I put it into TT mode and started catching and dropping groups of guys, just riding right through them. A lead group was up the road a little ways and a relatively big chase group right behind them. I got so close. But with the winds, either tail or head, it was just a bridge too far.

Sitting just a few seconds down from the second group, a few miles after the major carnage, a third group rolled up and caught me. Then we watched group 2 start to roll away. I was pissed. I tried getting the paceline going but it was just not moving all that fast, even though you could tell some guys were pretty much dead. I rode away - without attacking - on all of the climbs and got 2/3 of the way back to group 2 until headwinds killed it again, and again, and again. I must have done that three times, the climbs were just too short and followed by winds at the top where a larger group would just roll away. A group of maybe 8 fell off of group 2 and motivated our guys enough to chase hard - until they got within 5-8s and started looking at each other. What?! They literally stopped chasing. So I took the opportunity to jump across - again, no attack, just accelerating from 6 riders back and making the junction. That group went another 5-6 minutes, the group behind finally got their act together and connected, and I went away on the very next climb. Just big-ringed it when everyone else put it in the 39, one guy from Midwestern States followed me and it was just us. A little while later we caught a Colorado State and the three of us went bye-bye. We were within 30s of group 2 for the longest time - closing on climbs, losing ground in tailwinds - and eventually couldn't see anyone behind us any more. So we tempo'ed it home.

The winds... insane. I was stopped on the last descent by emergency services who has just arrived (an ambulance was in the caravan) to pick up a Marian college rider who had gotten picked up by the winds and hit a rock when he got dropped back down. I rode the brakes down the descent to try and keep everything under control. Not exactly a good time.

Today, I'm skipping the crit, and resting up for the TTT tomorrow. With calmer winds forecast and a borrowed Zipp sub-9 and 1080 wheel combination, there will be some serious hammer throwing. At least, by Oregon standards.

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