Boulder Roubaix

Last weekend, I knew I was fatigued from high training load for my first race of the season at the Louisville Crit.  My result there was neutral; not good, but not bad.  After last season, where I was positively surprised at my results at nearly every race, I was hoping to show up fresh for the Boulder Roubaix and find some of the form I had last season.

The field was incredibly strong.  Last year, with the pros shut out from most local races I got used to weaker competition.  The few races where I did face local pros, and even my NRC (National Racing Calendar) debut, I was on peak form in mid-summer.  This was to be my second race of the spring, facing more than a dozen riders with professional contracts and no day job.

Perhaps I should have thought out my strategy more thoroughly beforehand, but I figured that on such a selective course that aggression would likely pay off, but I didn’t think much further.  I should have taken some advice I heard a few weeks ago that the race can be a ‘normal road race’ if the road conditions are good and the winds are light.

The roads were great, and the winds were moderate from the north-east.  This setup a very similar situation to what we had last week at the Louisville Criterium, where there was a tailwind blowing uphill, and a headwind on the downhill sections.

I made sure to line up right , to save myself some energy, headache, and risk trying to stay positioned in the first part of the race.  We rolled out the first section at a fast, steady pace.  Robin Eckmann was the first aggressor, punching it over the final roller to the pavement on Nelson Rd, but he was quickly caught with the headwind blowing up the descent.

The next dirt sections featured high speeds and a nearly .  I was doing great and riding right in the first 5-10 riders.  Each paved section was slightly downhill and into the wind, so the pace slowed considerably between each sector.  I knew this pattern would change after Crane Hollow Road, since the wind would become a tailwind for the first time, and on 65th St, we would have our first cross-tail wind on a paved section.  This would be the perfect time to launch an attack.

The early break - Photo by Rosemary Ledson

As we made the turn onto 65th, Robin went shooting up the unpaved shoulder in the grass and gravel.  I was in a position to follow, so I did.  A few riders came across and I was now in the break!  There were five of us: A very strong rider from Optum Pro Cycling, Robin Eckmann (Cal-Giant), Jesse Goodrich (Juwi Solar), Kevin Selker (Tokyo Joe’s-Whole Foods/Primal), and myself.  We rode hard, knowing that once we returned to the headwind on the pavement (about 8 miles away), We would hopefully be out of sight and the pack would ease up.

I only have a wired powertap hub on my training wheels, so this was to be one of the few races during the season where I get power data from racing.  Unfortunately when I left the house to ride down to the race, it inexplicably wasn’t reading.  I didn’t have time to troubleshoot, but it could have helped me pace myself in the break.  It had fallen asleep without a reading from the hub, but I could have at least woken it up to check my heart rate, but I didn’t.

Negotiating the numerous 90 degree bends

From looking over the race photos, it looks like a chase organized behind, with at the front.  We gained some time, but were never given a lot of breathing room despite our efforts.  We never received a time gap, but I’m guessing our advantage was never much over a minute.  On the second time over Crane Hollow, the Optum rider broke his front derailleur cable.  He was one of the strongest and easily the most motivated in the break.  With robin as the only strong rider left, I knew our chances were dwindling.

Now we were essentially down a rider as we climbed Nelson Rd, the longest sustained climb on the course.  Suddenly, as I’ve found it often happens in high level racing, there were a few riders that had bridged to us!  It is amazing how quickly a gap can dissolve when the attacks really get flying.  There was a moment of disorganization when the bridging riders made contact and I didn’t realize the importance of the moment.  Robin took off with Julian Kyer, and I was left with the slow half of the break.  We knew our fate and retreated back to the peloton.

As we hit a few of the short climbs, I knew I was going to be in trouble.  In the break we weren’t quite sprinting up the climbs, but the pressure was on in the peloton and I was feeling it.  I also wasn’t as focused on positioning, which drastically reduces the amount of effort to regain contact if the group stetches out over the climbs.  I lasted almost another lap before I was gapped off the back on Hygiene Road.  Pushing downhill into a headwind with a couple dropped riders, we didn’t stand a chance of regaining contact.

From my understanding of events, Julian and Robin stayed away, until eventual winner Frank Pipp (Bissell), Sean Sullivan (Elbowz), and Mike Creek (Optum) bridged up to them, staying away as the winning move.  A chase group of three followed a handful of seconds ahead of the remaining peloton of about 15 at the finish.

I eventually made contact with teammate Garrett Peltonen and we goaded each other into finishing the race.  We had been dropped for about 10 miles, with almost 20 to go, as we crossed the finish line for our final lap.  I rolled in about 20 minutes behind the peloton to finish 46th out of about 80 starters.

With last year’s incredible fitness still fresh in my mind, my aggressive strategy made sense at the time.  It is becoming apparent that I’m not going to be at that level until at least mid-summer.  I really wish I had some power data to analyze.  It would either tell me that my power numbers were great and I chose a very poor strategy (likely), or that my power numbers were mediocre and I have a lot more work to do than I had hoped.  I’ll be racing two days next weekend, so I won’t have power data but I will be gathering more information and racing hard in the process.  Practice makes perfect, right?

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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4 Responses to Boulder Roubaix

  1. Kurt says:

    Can you explain more how knowing your power / HR would have influenced your tactics? Would you have limited yourself with a ceiling wattage in the breakaway and given up sooner hoping to be stronger in the peloton? If you could, please expand on the two likely and unlikely scenarios you mentioned at the end of your post. Thanks! Love your blog and am new to power and love to learn more about tactics.

    • says:

      It is hard enough to pace yourself alone in a TT. The excitement is a factor, and then there are well rested race-day legs. It can be even harder than normal to gauge your fatigue.

      In a breakaway with a few riders, it can be very easy to get caught up in it, and roll turns as hard as the other guys even if it isn’t in your best interest. If I had had my power meter and watched my average, or checked my heart rate, I probably would have sat out more turns if the numbers told me the pace wouldn’t be sustainable. Even in the break, there is a fair amount of decision making about how much work to contribute. Jesse Goodrich sat on the back of the break for most of the time and didn’t contribute very much. He’s coming back from knee surgery, so I didn’t expect too much of him. Initially when the chips were down and I was dropped, he was able to hang on for a bit longer because he had been conserving. In the end, all the riders from the break would DNF except me, and Robin who went on to finish second.

      One of my teammates spent the day in the peloton and he recorded 329w normalized power for the 3 hour race. He is about 10 lbs heavier than I am, so you could infer that if I had stayed in the peloton I would have been just over 300w NP. At last year’s Mead Roubaix I was at 285w NP (although the race blew apart and I spent much of the race alone or in small groups, so I’d expect this decreased my normalized power somewhat), so I bet I would have been at my limit to finish with the peloton in this year’s race, even with last year’s fitness.

      At in this video, you can see me ‘sit out’ a turn in the break. We’re riding a single paceline and when the Optum rider pulls off, I drop the wheel in front of me, and he slots back in second in line. I might have a post someday that goes in to detail the mechanics of riding in a breakaway.

  2. says:

    Thanks for the great reply and link to the video. I can see how power can be such a benefit and give you a pretty clear cut inside look into how hard you are working. Knowing you are pushing through lactate threshold wattage in a breakaway would be bad news and could at least give you the “heads up” before you spend too much time at or above threshold intensity. I guess from previous training, you would know how long you can last at certain wattages. IE: sitting in the breakaway at a high tempo wattage and occasional “sweet spot”/threshold wattage when pulling would give you a better indication that you could last…

    Today on the trainer I noticed while using wattage for “sweetspot” sets of intervals (IE overlap between high-end tempo and low-end lactate threshold) that my HR would be sitting around the minimum required HR for a Tempo intensity. Of course there was lag and it would increase over time… However I found this interesting and beneficial since I remember trying to do 90min tempo earlier this season using HR for reference. I had just got my power meter on the trainer and was watching my wattage not knowing what it meant yet. To get my HR up to “tempo range” I went out way to hard (near my FTP) and dwindled down and down over time. Looking back I think that training session was much too intense and I suffered near the end each week trying to increase time at Tempo. I would have to guess that holding what may seem to be too easy of a pace at your specified tempo wattage initially, would benefit you more since you would be holding the proper output intensity rather than guessing and riding harder/easier based on HR which is a “result” of output (combined with other factors)….

    You agree?

    Cant wait to get a real power meter…. Garmin Vector (if they ever release it)

    • says:

      For a sustainable pace in a breakaway for a 3 hour race, I might average threshold HR and power for the first and last 1/2 hour, but would prefer to average tempo HR and power after the break is established. Instantaneous power during pulls and recovery would probably be too variable to watch, HR would be the best measure of the overall workload.

      Yes, I agree. It is easiest to pace intervals with BOTH heart rate and power. You can see when you’re not recovered (usually low HR and high RPE). You could easily see how having a lower than expected HR due to fatigue could cause a workout which is too taxing, causing even more fatigue.

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