Louisville Criterium

This would be my first race of the season. It was also my first race since breaking my collarbone at the USGP in October 2011, almost six months ago.  I didn’t know entirely what to expect, since I haven’t even been on a group ride in over a month.  My fatigue levels have been high, as I finished a training cycle with a big ride three days prior, and then spent two days at work.

I did manage a bit better recovery at work by stretching and foam roll massaging twice per day, but my race-day prep couldn’t have been worse.  Sleep was marginal, and I woke up at 4:30am the day of the race, leaving work at 7.  I foolishly scheduled a bunch of errands in the morning and found myself in Longmont looking for lunch.  I got an enormous bacon breakfast burrito at 1pm, which is not an ideal meal four hours before the race.  I went home and slept from 1-3, and I’ve usually had poor results with a pre-race nap.

I decided to ride down to the race, as it is only 10 miles from my house.  I already had my race number and planned to arrive pretty close to the 5:05 start time.  I got there early enough to chat with a few teammates before riding an easy lap and lining up for the start.  The field was good sized (about 70), and with no NRC (National Racing Calendar) races this weekend, many local pros were present.  Teams included Bissell, Exergy, Wonderful Pistachios, Jelly Belly, and Garmin Development.

Weather conditions, especially wind speed and direction, are probably the most important element in bike racing.  The course layout and profile come a close second, but the wind affects every course.  Usually this course is highly selective, with a head/cross wind on the long hill.  This makes the hill section harder and more likely to break up the group, while the downhill section has a tailwind, keeping speeds high.

This race had an unlikely wind from the southeast, putting the hill in a tailwind.  As it turned out, this neutralized attacks on the hill, and the headwind down the hill decreased the speed of small groups, making it very difficult to sustain a breakaway.

My number one goal is this race was to stay safe.  My next goal was to get a good workout.  At the start of the race I turned these goals into strategy by doing my best to stay in the front 20 riders.  I say trying because the pace was furious.  It didn’t take long before I was conserving, trying to follow wheels to keep my position.

Not long after that I had alarm bells going off.  This is when my body is telling me that the current pace is not sustainable, and I’d better change something (if possible) or I would be eventually dropped.  I checked my computer, and we’d only been racing for about 20 minutes!  My second goal of getting a good workout required at least finishing the race.

Photo By Dejan Smaic - Sportifimages.com

I dropped to the back of the pack.  First, this gave me a few seconds rest, as the peloton was so long that it took me a while to get there.  Also, it can be helpful to see how each section (front, middle, back) of the peloton feels in a particular race.  With the wind conditions in this race, the pace felt very difficult at the front, but much easier at the back.  At the back, the wind and draft of the peloton would help minimize the accordion effect, and the rear of the peloton would easily regain contact at the start/finish.

The average speed in the first 30 minutes was 28 mph, with a maximum of 40 on a few laps.  Once I was at the back, I was able to rest for the middle part of the race and it started to look like I would finish.  The major problem riding at the back of a large field, is that you have no idea what is going on at the front.  In this case, a breakaway of almost ten riders got away, and didn’t even notice.  Once the end of the race was approaching, I decided to try my hand at the front again.

Once I got there I saw the lead moto was gone, and I glimpsed a break about 15 seconds ahead.  I saw my chance to bridge with a few others and went for it.  The move was a good one, with Julian Kyer (former Trek-Livestrong development squad, and winner of the DU Criterium two weeks ago), Keith Harper (last year’s nemesis), and a few others.  We worked well, but not perfectly, and we stayed away for about five laps, but were caught with 5 laps to go.

I was spent from my effort in the break at this point, and followed wheels for a bit near the front.  As we came up the hill to see 1 lap to go, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a few teammates a few wheels back.  I gunned it up the hill to keep the pace high and keep my teammates well positioned.  I pulled off and drifted to the back as the final sprint lined up ahead.  I came across the finish line at the back of the pack, pleased that I’d met my goals for my first race out.

Louisville Criterium Race Data

My heart rate data showed that I still wasn’t fully recovered for this race, which is not too surprising.  My heart rate was about 5 bpm below normal, averaging 8 bpm below threshold for the 75 minute race.  My TSB was still -12 (zero is fresh), and that should probably be adjusted for the two poor ‘rest’ days at work.  I rode home and totaled almost 60 miles for the day.  Now I’ll be taking it easy, and should be properly rested and ready for next weekend’s Boulder Roubaix.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
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