Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lessons from the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic

This past weekend we fielded 5 riders in the Cat 2 field and 1 lone rider in the Pro/1 field of the 50th annual Fitchburg Longsjo Classic stage race. This marked a few firsts for the team and our riders: First NRC race for Peter Bradshaw; First Cat 2 Fitchburg for all other members of the team and the first major outing with our whole Cat 2 squad. As might be expected, we learned some serious lessons out on the road that will prove valuable in the future. As a team we had a decent performance, especially in the road race where we were able to represent in every break, despite falling a bit short in the long-run.

Lesson 1: Get a team vehicle.
Ok, so this isn't a real lesson about the race itself, just a wish for the future. Stage races are a big pain - two bikes, a ton of wheels, food, trainers, spare parts and clothes all shoved into a small Japanese car. The situation only gets worse as the weekend progressed with stinky clothing, etc.

Lesson 2: Dial in your equipment before the race!
Jay Combs has been known for impressive performances in time trials and crits. At last year's Longsjo he won the TT and wore the leader's jersey in the Cat 3 race. We expected a good time trial from him this year as well and he expected the same thing of himself. Near the start gate, Jay noticed his rear brake caliper was not re-opening as well as it should, indicating some drag inside the cable housing. Jay's last-minute attempts to fix this small issue took his focus away from the action in the start house and he missed his start time by 70 seconds. His official time was listed as 20:34 putting him in 53rd place. Had he left on time and had he applied a similar effort his official time would have been 19:24, which would have put him in or close to the top 10. Nobody was angrier at Jay than himself for our first-day loss of a true GC contender.

Lesson 3: Have a plan B
The stage 2 circuit race as the Longsjo is fast, fairly technical and in recent history has rarely favored a break-away. With our GC plans squandered, we collectively decided to go for the green points jersey. We specifically (and in retrospect, stupidly) decided to ignore any breaks, deciding instead to let the GC contenders keep the race together while we set up for the sprint points. The first lap was flawless: Josh and I set up a fast lead-out for Jay and Chris, with Chris taking maximum points at the line. Shortly after, a break got down the road and managed to stay there the entire race, soaking up all the remaining sprint points and eliminating our hopes for that competition as well.

Lesson 3: Don't shoot all your arrows in the first volley
Having given up both GC and green jersey aspirations we collected our pride and decided to head into the road race intent on having a good individual stage finish. We thought the key to this would be diligence at the front of the field and representation in all major breaks. At this we did achieve our goal. Jay and Chris managed to get into early breaks, Jay's lasting a few laps until the field caught all but the eventual race winner Matt Purdy. Later in the race I managed to bridge up to a larger break. 8 of us stayed between Matt and the main field for 3 laps only to be caught in the final few km. With so much effort given to driving breaks, chasing attacks and controlling the front of the race we had virtually nothing to give when the final 2km arrived. My break had just been caught, while Jay, Josh and Chris had ridden themselves into the ground in previous efforts. We should have assigned one rider to remain sheltered in the group until the final assault.

Lesson 4: Stick with the race leaders
After two stages, there's a reason why the race leaders lead the race - they're the strong guys and they'll do what it takes to finish near the top. Don't hesitate to stick with them. Not a new lesson, just painful reinforcement of an old one.

Lesson 5: There's no shame in taking neutral wheels
A flat tire the week prior forced me to do a hasty and ultimately shoddy glue job on my tubular Fulcrum race wheels I like for crits. I sheepishly went to the SRAM neutral support pit prior to my race and explained my situation. Without hesitation they gave me a set of Zipp 404 clincher wheels with Michelin Pro3 Race tires. This wheel and tire combo proved to be nearly perfect for the crit. The SRAM guys also informed me that if you roll a tubular in a race USA Cycling can suspend your license for endangering the race. Jay raced safely on his tubulars...

Lesson 6: Enjoy the crit
Crits are usually a necessary evil part of stage races for me. For the first time in a while, I actually really enjoyed racing the crit. Despite some sketchy road conditions in places the Fitchburg crit course is really fun and was quite fast and safe this year. The two penultimate turns are tight and anything less than total concentration can lead to bad crashes. This year we managed to avoid any such pile-ups in that section - every time through was clean and fast. It's the last day of the race - enjoy it.

Lesson 7: Acquire as many discarded bottles as possible
Our team started the season with a ton of bottles. Before the start of Fitchburg Bradshaw and I were only able to scrape together 8 between the two of us. Our other guys were experiencing a similar bottle dearth. So where did our bottles go? Into the bike racing bottle collective, of course. Every time we toss a bottle in a feed zone it's scooped up by someone from another team and goes into their collection. We know this for a fact because we see other riders cruising around with our bottles in their cages. And it's all good - that's the way it should work. The water bottle economy is one of balance - bottles out, bottles in - everyone maintains a balance. We've just become complacent about the bottles-in part of the equation recently. This weekend we managed to get back what we've given: we were diligent about picking up orphan bottles and appropriating them into our own collection. For those teams out there that are stingy and particular about reclaiming their own bottles, give and give alike I say...

Lessons learned; raced hard; a good time had by all. Onto the next race.

Thanks for reading.


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