Sunday, February 28, 2010

Race Report: PACC 125th Birthday Crit at Wingfield

Today was a very special race for the Port Adelaide Cycling Club - a criterium to celebrate the club's 125th anniversary!

PACC members were out in force, and I don't think I have ever seen such a huge gathering of black and white jerseys before. A lot of new members who I didn't recognise! We all got together at the end for a photo, which should appear on the PACC forums in due time.

The crit was at the Wingfield industrial park circuit: around a kilometre long, a rectangle with sweeping corners that you can pedal all the way through most of the time. A stark contrast to the last couple of races I've done, which have been very technical circuits.

We rocked up just as the juniors racing was starting, and all PACC members were given our very own 125th birthday commemorative bottle opener - sweet!! The entry fee for the race was a gold coin donation, which was also fantastic. It was sort of self handicapped, and I put myself into B-grade as that was where everyone else was that I usually race against. Our race was to be 40 minutes, plus two laps.

I've always enjoyed racing at Wingfield, and have even won a couple of club races there before. Both of the previous times I've won, I've left it until about five minutes to go to make my move. Initially, I thought I might try the same thing, but something also was in my head -- a while ago Pete at BMCR told me that if you attack from the gun, often people don't think you are serious and do not try to chase you down until its too late. I have tried this occasionally in the past, but have not committed to it or have been chased down pretty quickly.

Well I've been feeling pretty good lately, so I decided to attack at the start of the race, commit to it as much as possible, and see what happened.

There were about 15 or so of us lined up for B-grade, mostly familiar faces. A couple of members of the Korean National women's track team were racing with us, they've been in Adelaide for the past few weeks and have been regulars at many races.

I clipped in as quick as I could at the start and took off -- the first lap went pretty quick as I was trying to get a gap. No one chased me initially - excellent! I pushed it pretty hard and soon 5 minutes had gone by, I was quite surprised that I hadn't been caught, and then I thought to myself "what the heck am I doing out here?"

There wasn't any other option, except to put my head down and go for it!!

We were on the course at the same time as A-grade, and they conveniently managed to wedge themselves between the chasing B-grade group and myself for a little while. It always helps if the chasing group can't see you!

After a while, 20 minutes came up on the clock and I was really starting to wonder if I had chance. The chasing group was still within sight on the longer straights, I could usually see them just entering the straight as I was exiting it. On I went...

A note on pacing: Two of the straights were into the wind, and the other two straights had a tail wind. In these situations, theoretically, it is always worth putting in more effort into the wind, and putting out slightly less effort for the downwind sections. Essentially you get more 'bang for your buck' for energy spent riding into the wind. I was clicking up one or two gears for the downwind straights, but was putting out about 50W less.

The suffering really began at about 35 minutes in, I was waiting desperately for the bell to be rung. I was passed at this point by A-grade again, who had split up into several small groups.

Finally I got the bell, and really stomped it for the last lap! As I crossed the finish line I got a bit carried away and gave a big victory salute - but what the hell.... I don't win races very often, especially not with a solo 40-minute breakaway!! Probably the last time I'll get away with that for... I dunno.... my entire life!

Your initial thought might be "yeah sure Daniel, you were just sandbagging a lower grade!". A couple of things in my defense: most of the other riders in B-grade were all people I would usually race against in C-grade open crits. Everyone in A-grade today were B or A-grade open riders, so I definitely would've been stepping it up to race against them. Additionally, there were at least one or two other riders in B-grade today who probably could've done what I did today -- I train with them and they regularly make me hurt! I'm fairly sure that if the pack had rolled some hard turns they would've pulled me in. Maybe they were just being nice to me!

The morning concluded with a group photo, followed by a rather impressive looking birthday cake (if only it were vegan it would've been even more impressive!).

Finally, in particular: well done to Sam and Pete for 2nd and 3rd in B-grade, and to Barn Dogg for 2nd place in A-grade against some tough opposition! Nice work gents.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Race Report: Salisbury town centre crit

Another late race report! This one is for last Sunday's criterium at Salisbury. I was in two minds about whether to race this -- I'd heard reports that the course was probably going to be a bit sketchy, and Salisbury seemed like a long way to ride for a 20 minute race. I got up on Sunday morning, had breakfast, and couldn't think of anything better to do. So I decided, why not...

I'm glad that I did. The course was around the Salisbury shopping centre, and they'd setup quite a bit of stuff to keep spectators occupied around the start/finish line, like a BBQ and an area where some trial mountain bike guys were doing their thing. So there was kind of cool feel too it.

Unfortunately there was a very small turnout for the graded races, with a grand total of seven of us lining up in C-grade. I knew pretty much everyone, and the two recently juniors-turned-open were probably the guys to watch (Kyle & Alex). The only person I didn't know was a guy on a Colnago who'd just come up from D-grade (where I'd seen him win with a long solo breakaway).

We decided at the start line to ride an 'easy' first lap because none of us had really had a chance to ride the course. Off we went.

The course started on a very narrow section of paved road, lined with barricades. There was a hard chicane to the left, and then we turned right at a roundabout, taking the long way around! This was probably the hardest bit of the course. We then rode straight through another roundabout, out to a 180-degree turnaround. This sent us back to the second roundabout where we turned left, this was followed by two 90-degree right handers to get us back onto the first straight. The second of those right handers was on paved road with a very tight exit, and so some serious care had to be taken!

We started out pretty quick, with Kyle, Alex and Colnago-man taking some hard turns at the front. I sat in fourth wheel and the other three settled in behind me. The 180-degree turn was probably the hardest point, and it took me a few laps to really get the hang of it - I always seem to take these turns too wide for some reason.

The next bit of this race report is for Alex B -- who has promised to buy me a beer everytime I go off the front in a crit. Little does he know, I have gone off drinking for a while, but he can buy me an orange juice or something.

Anyway, I did attack once during the race, just after the 180-degree turn. I hit it hard on the straight and went waaay too hot into the left hander straight afterwards, only just managing to avoid putting myself into the concrete median on the exit of the corner. Whoops. I stayed clear for a bit under a lap, but didn't get a huge amount of distance on the guys chasing. I don't know if this qualifies me for a beer-slash-orange-juice!

After that we were all together again and I went back to about sixth wheel for a lap or two. We were about 13 or 14 minutes into the race according to my computer, so I thought given that it was meant to be a 20 minute race, I'd sit back and then move up in another lap or so before the bell -- well the bell rang right then!

On such a tight course it was pretty much impossible to do anything after this. Kyle, Alex and Colnago-man got a gap on the rest of us as we neared the finish, and I believe Kyle got the win. Lesson learned (again): stay at the front, stay at the front, stay at the front!! (and don't trust how long the race is meant to go for)

The A-grade and Teams races were quite entertaining, with some superstars showing up to race: Bobridge, Meyer, Durbridge, Hepburn, Dennis... basically the Australian teams pursuit squad, who I think are all in town to train up for the Worlds in March.

We witnessed a very sneaky tactic by Jack Bobridge and Gene Bates - during the teams race warmup lap, they pulled off the course after about 100m and doubled back to the start line, so that they could line up at the front! Those two and Rohan Dennis ended up breaking away very early on and were never caught.

Port Adelaide Cycling Club's 125th birthday criterium is on tomorrow at Wingfield, I'm pumped for it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Race Report: Omnium at the Superdrome

Firstly, I really did mean to update this blog earlier but have been flat out over the past couple of weeks (really!).

Anyway, here is a belated race report for the PACC track meet at the Superdrome, held on Wednesday last week.

The night was an omnium, which is typically a series of five events held in the same day/night. In each event, you get as many points as your placing. For example, if you come first, then you score one point. If you come 17th, then you score 17 points. At the end of the omnium, the rider with the lowest amount of points is the winner.

A typical omnium consists of a points race, scratch race, time trial, flying 200m sprint and a pursuit. The flying 200m and the time trial obviously suit the sprinters, the pursuit and the points race suit the 'enduros', and the scratch race probably suits the enduros more but can also suit a sprinter. So, essentially the omnium overall favours an all-rounder! (Note: the "time trial" in track parlance is 500-1000m long, nothing at all like a road time trial)

I was pretty keen to do the omnium for two reasons: one, I was inspired to race at the Superdrome again after watching some of the track nationals the week before, and two, I had never done a flying 200m or a TT before, and I thought they might be fun. Unfortunately there was no pursuit in our omnium, which makes sense given that most people probably wanted to be home before midnight!

There were three grades, and I was smack in the middle in B-grade, along with 12 others. I chose to go with a 90" gear (50x15) for the night, as that has felt the most comfortable for me racing B-grade at the Superdrome in the past. I don't usually bother with changing gears for different events, mainly because I'm lazy. For reasons I won't go into, my rear track wheel was axle-less, but luckily Alex B was able to lend me one (complete with tied-and-soldered spokes and a Gatorskin tyre!).

It was a very hot and humid night! There was sweat literally dripping off of me just getting my bike ready. I was pretty careful to drink a shite-load of water for the rest of the night.

As mentioned in my last race report, I haven't done a lot of track lately, in fact it had been about six months since I'd ridden on the Superdrome! Fortunately I felt at home almost right away while warming up.

B-grade started off with a 30-lap points race with sprints every 6 laps. My strategy expert informed me that I should attack from the whistle. Hmmm, why not? And so I did... I got a gap pretty easily and managed to hold off the field long enough to get the first sprint points. I swung up at that point as I was suffering pretty hard and didn't feel like I could keep going at a pace sufficient to hold off the group. In hindsight, perhaps I should have stayed out there because the others may have sat up a bit after the sprint for second place. Something to try next time.

I rejoined the group and pretty soon we were coming into the second sprint. I managed to just edge into fourth place, getting myself another point. After this sprint, Ben P decided to go on the attack and flew off the front of the pack. We wouldn't see him again until he lapped us about ten laps later.

At this point I was pretty tired, and finding it very hard to respond to any surges and the sprints. I wasn't able to get any more points, but I finished the race in third position overall.

The next two races were the new experiences for me - a flying 200m, followed by a 500m time trial!

For the flying 200m I got some advice in the pits to try a bigger gear. All I had on me was a 14T cog, so I put that on, bringing my gear up to a rather large 96.4". When I went for the sprint, I had a lot of trouble winding this up, and in hindsight I really should have just stuck with the 90" and spun it out. My time was a rather sluggish 13.47 seconds, good enough for eighth place. I know that I sprint better at high cadences (on the road anyway), and I'm sure I could pull off a much better time than this if I did it again on a smaller gear.

The 500m time trial was a standing start. Needless to say, I went back to my 90". I recieved some good advice beforehand from one of the experienced track guys, John Z (I think). I think that technically my time trial was pretty good - I stayed out of the saddle until the second corner and tried to get up to speed by then. After that I just got aero and felt the pain! Unfortunately the result was not particularly great - another rather sluggish time of 41.36 seconds, good enough for ninth place this time.

The final event for the evening was the scratch race. One of the other riders ramped the pace up fairly early on, and a lap after he swung off, I tried to put in an attack but with my legs a bit faded, I couldn't get clear and ended up dragging around the bunch for a fast lap or so. Another lap went by and then Ben attacked off the front again, unfortunately I was still recovering from my earlier effort and couldn't go with him. The rest of the race went a bit poorly for me, I stuck at the back, and struggled whenever I needed to accelerate. My lack of track fitness was showing I think! I finished at the back of the remnants of the main pack for seventh place. Ben stayed away to win the race.

At the end of the night I finished up eighth overall in the omnium, which I was happy enough with. I could have raced scratch race a bit better, and obviously my sprint times would need some work too if I was ever going to win one of these things! Looking at the results, the top 3 riders all placed fairly highly in every race, which really shows that the omnium is all about consistency and being a good all-round rider.

The night was incredibly well organised by PACC, I'm a bit annoyed that I haven't attended any of the Superdrome track events earlier in the season. This week is a Madison night, with a keirin and a points race for the people not doing the Madison. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it, but it sounds awesome!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Little Italy

Within about an hour's ride of Adelaide, there is a somewhat unknown climb, commonly referred to as 'Little Italy'. I don't know where this name came from, but it seems to have stuck.

Little Italy is one of the coolest climbs in the Adelaide Hills. Its relatively short, but quite steep in places. It starts in the bottom of a valley near a creek, and weaves its way up the hillside with a beautiful view of the valley below.

The road itself is actually called 'Burdetts Rd'. Here's how you get there.

Ride up to Norton Summit, and go straight ahead at the town, towards Ashton. Just before the hill up to Ashton, take the left hand turn down Marble Hill Rd. This will dip down, and then climb up a bit. After the little climb, you will come to a road on your right called Pound Rd, turn down there.

As you descend Pound Rd, it will bend to the right and turn into 'Knotts Hill Rd', this is all good.

Now I want to make something clear: be careful on this descent! It starts off innocently enough, but there are some nasty off camber corners that can catch you out towards the bottom. Really, I don't want you to kill yourself, so  please take care the first time you ride down here. In winter there can be moss growing on the road too, which makes it extra slippery.

When you reach the bottom of the descent, you will cross over a concrete bridge, at which point you need to start braking pretty hard, because just around the corner you will be turning right onto Burdetts Rd (a.k.a. Little Italy)!

The climb itself goes up the side of the hill, then weaves its way past a few houses. It kicks quite steeply towards the top, and then levels out as your ride past an orchard on your left. It will probably take you about 10 minutes or thereabouts.

When you get to the top of the climb, you will find yourself at the town hall for Basket Range, on the main road to Lobethal. If you turn left here you can continue on to Lobethal, if you turn right you will go back up to Ashton. Both are very nice options.

I have ridden this loop many times and count it amongst my favourite rides in the Adelaide area. Its a pretty hard climb, so its good training too!

Here's a photo I took while riding up Little Italy one morning during the winter (hence the greenery):


Monday, February 1, 2010

The importance of intensity: a tale of two rides

A few months ago I acquired a Powertap, and began using power in my training.

For those of you who don't know, power is a measure of the rate at which you are exerting energy, and is measured in Watts (W). As a rough guide, most trained cyclists would do somewhere around 100W when riding slowly, 200W riding at a brisk pace, 300W when riding hard, and up to 1000-1500W when sprinting. Simply put, it's a measure of intensity, or how hard you are riding at any given moment.

The story I'm going to tell is an illustration of why measuring intensity is very important for cyclists, if we wish to measure our training load in any meaningful way.

On the weekend of the 9th and 10th of January, I did two rides. Both rides left at 7:00am, on the same bike, in similar weather conditions (bloody hot!).

On the Saturday I rode with a few mates who all race in B-grade, one grade higher than me. We did a very popular route through the hills - from Adelaide up to Norton Summit, then Lobethal, and home via Gorge Rd. The total distance was 69 kms, in a time of 2hrs 25 mins, at an average speed of 28.5 km/h. The other riders were stronger than me and I was on my limit at many times during the ride! My only respite came when one of the other guys got a hunger flat and we had to slow down while he consumed copious amounts of sugar.

On the Sunday I was after a more relaxing pace, so I went for a ride with another group, along the flat roads by the beach. We took it quite easy, and had a nice lengthy coffee stop. The total distance for the ride was also 69 kms, in a time of 2 hrs 20 mins, at an average speed of 29.5 km/h - almost exactly the same time and distance as the ride on Saturday.

Obviously, the two rides were quite different in terms of how physically demanding they were. And yet, if I were tracking my training by kilometres or hours ridden, they would be 'objectively' the same! So, just how different were they?

Fortunately I had recorded both rides on my Powertap. The program I use to analyse my training data is called Golden Cheetah, and it is able to calculate a metric called 'BikeScore'. BikeScore is similar to another metric called Training Stress Score (TSS), which is used by the very popular program called WKO+.

Both BikeScore and TSS are measures of the training load of a particular excercise session. You can sort of think of them as being duration multiplied by intensity, but a little more complicated. Under both of these metrics, a score of 100 is meant to be the training equivalent to riding a one hour time trial as hard as you can.

So, in terms of the overall training load, the best way to compare these two rides is to compare the BikeScore (or TSS) values for each. What were they?

Saturday: BikeScore = 170
Sunday: BikeScore = 80

As you can see, that's quite a difference! In fact, the Saturday ride had a BikeScore of more than double the Sunday ride! i.e. the training effect of the Saturday ride was twice as strong.

What is the moral of this story? If you are to measure your training in any significant way, you should not just record distance and time, but also intensity. This measure of intensity can be as simple as a percieved rating between 1 and 10, or as complex as logging every second of your journey with a power meter. Either way is far superior to distance and time alone!