Friday, August 7, 2009

Hanging with the Valley Ride

I hadn't yet done a Valley Ride this year.

The Valley Ride is in the same category as the Tue Noon Ride and the Spectrum Ride: a race simulation which if, if you can survive, is a good indication of race readiness. Other than my extended climbing (I recently PR'ed Old La Honda), I've had precious little indication of race readiness this year. Certainly I've shown none at races. The frenzied, lactic acid saturated hammer-mania typical of the shot climbs often encountered in these rides or races is a much different beast than an aerobically dominated climb like Old La Honda Road.

And while I'd not done the Valley Ride, my several attempts this year at either the Tue or even the somewhat tamer Thu Nooner had all been failures. Refusing to take short-cuts taken by 2/3 of the packs at Canada College or at Corte Madera, I'd been gapped by the leaders, who are rejoined at the bottom of the associated descents by the low-roaders and are then gone for good. "Unfair?" Yes or no, if I'm fit to race, I should be able to stay with the leaders.

Unlike the Tue-Thu Noon Ride, the Valley Ride has a regroup: after the descent of Kings Mountain Road following the climb of Huddart Park. Still, in the spirit of competition, I made a maximal effort on that climb: 301 watts for 5 minutes, 17 watts off what I'd managed on a 4.5 minute interval in July and a whopping 32 watts below what I'd averaged in a 4.1 minute interval in 2008 (I'd done a lot more intervals in this time range last year), but this time I had legs that had already been run through the "espresso" setting of the grinder. After having done sitting-standing intervals on Old La Honda and W Alpine Road earlier in the day, I definitely wasn't working with a full tank of glycogen. So I was pleased.

Gentle approach to Huddart, then crossing the gate and beginning the climb. X-axis is ride time in minutes (including riding to start), y-axis is watts w/ 5-second smoothing. Seriously now: riding at the back is like an interval session before the real interval.

In comparison to the approach, the climb was quite civilized. I did a decent job of smoothing out the power spike which invariably comes at the steep section: it feels ridiculously slow at 350 watts, but "maintaining momentum" as most riders do comes with a high rate of interest. I passed several others when the grade lessened since my power didn't fade as much as theirs did. I tried to keep my cadence up on the final straight, and as a result I was able to maintain my power to the finish of the climb, despite hurting legs.

Where I got into trouble was on the climb of Sand Hill which follows. This climb is clearly shorter and less steep, but the shorter length simply implies riders attack it even harder. I was systematically losing position while at around 6 W/kg: my legs simply had nothing more to give. Fortunately, while my legs were done, I had position to give away at that point. There were still a few wheels left to follow as we crested the top. I'd avoided the wake of destruction left behind on Sand Hill....

As the group winded up for the final sprint, I was finally gapped for good. My legs had had enough. But this was well into the final kilometer of the race, I mean ride, and so I'd basically survived, which had been my goal, despite my hard ride that morning.

Good, right?

No. My pack position through much of the ride had been wretched. Too far back, sometimes all the way at the back. Draft is draft, right? Again no. At the back acceleration-deceleration cycles are amplified. Furthermore, on climbs there's no margin for error or weakness. It was only pack position which saved me on Sand Hill. Had I been at the back, hasta la vista, Dan. I'd made considerable efforts on Mountain Home, for example, which I would not have had to make had I been further up.

I get nervous on these rides, especially if I haven't been a regular. All that separates me from the operating room is some guy I don't know losing concentration and overlapping a wheel or riding onto a dirt shoulder. Or worse, some aggro driver who thinks the roads aren't the place for pseudo-race group rides, and is going to enforce his own brand of righteous intimidation.

All true, but the fact is life is never without risk, and anecdotal analysis suggests these rides, despite the craziness bordering on chaos, are fairly safe. The vast majority of tragedies on the roads have been individuals or small groups. Even minor injury crashes are relatively rare, typically limited incidents. The ratio of danger perception to danger evidence is on the extreme high side. There's some safety in numbers. Even Critical Mass, which is designed specifically to annoy people, and is populated by riders with essentially no pack skill, has a low race of injury.

Linda Jackson once said to me you race like you train. You're not going to ride like a wuss in training rides then be up there in the action in a road race. I need to get out there and do better.

But at least I met my primary goal this week.

No comments: