Monday, February 17, 2014

Winning the Race: Tactical Monologue and Analysis of New Braunfels Road Race

By: Heath Blackgrove, Senior Consultant

"How do you win a bike race?" is a question I am often asked and the answer changes every race and situation but for myself the first thing I try to figure out what I have to do to win. What are my particular strengths and what do I have over the other riders I am with?  Reading the race and situation plays a big part and reading how the competitors are looking, feeling and their strengths and weaknesses and how to take advantage of them.
More often than not for me to win I have to be in a break, as bunch sprints are not my strength.  A lot of the time I will back myself sprinting in a small group, especially if everyone has been working with me.  Even if I know a better sprinter is in the group with me I will try to wear him out to make it a more even sprint.  The longer he’s working with me and more isolated the better my chances.  It’s often not so much who can put out the most numbers but who can do it at the right part of the race, the end, and the more tired a better sprinter is the more even it can be.  But nothing beats, for me, winning solo as it removes all chances of something going wrong in a sprint.

A great example of this was at the recent Tour of New Braunfels Road Race.  I was in a 4 man break (5 for a start but one rider flatted), for more than 2/3rds of the race.  With 2 riders from Elbowz Racing and no teammates from my Boneshaker Division 1 Racing Team I set about working well in the break but didn’t need to drive it as if it didn’t stay away I knew I had teammates in the bunch I could rely on. Because of this, I did no more than my share of the work as I didn’t need to be the one “driving” it.  While it was hard to hide in the cold windy conditions I did my best to eat and drink properly and do it as easy as possible when not taking my turn on the front.  Eating and drinking was vital on this particular day as the cold takes more fuel to keep the body pumping, and warm, and I wanted to keep my glycogen stores up so I had enough left for the push to the finish.

With under a third of the race to go the gap to the chasing group had come down a lot but by this stage I wanted the break to stick even though I was outnumbered.  We had all been working really well and I think we deserved the chance to race to win. Also, everyone was showing fatigue as the effort of the move began to show.  Luckily I had looked after myself pretty well and was able to up the intensity and we took time out of the chase again.

From here I turned my thoughts to what I had to do to win the race and made sure I had enough food and sugar in me for the last push.  I had faith in my sprint if it came down to it but really wanted to try to break up the group or go solo if possible, as it can be one of my strength’s in this situation and takes away the probability of a mistake or the unknown of a sprint.  It was hard to tell how good I was feeling, as by this stage we were all looking a bit tired. 

With the numbers advantage to Elbowz I was really waiting for them to attack and start the racing so I could get a gauge of what they’ve got left and possibly counter attack.  Unfortunately this attack wasn’t coming so I turned my thoughts to trying to attack at the right time.  For me this would be on an uphill when the pace would drop a bit and I was at the back so I could use a bit of the element of surprise to start a gap.  This never came either, making it clear to me they were tired. 

In the end, on a slight rise while mid group I could wait no longer and had to go with a full out attack. (I couldn’t wait any longer as if I was caught I wanted enough time to be able to try again).   With a full sprint out of the saddle, another 30sec+ full gas in the saddle the gap opened up and I was able to keep an eye my power and make sure I didn’t go too far above my lactate threshold and risk blowing up.  Thankfully this was enough, and the closer we got to the finish the better my chances and more the small gap I had meant.  If I have 10-15sec with a mile to go that’s 10-15sec+ faster the chase has to be going to catch me in a mile, which adds up to a lot of speed, unless I blow up!  While the numbers weren’t through the roof by any standards it’s often more about being able to produce the right numbers at the right time and thankfully on this day all my best numbers came when it mattered, at the end.

the race winning attack

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Making the most of winter: Fat Biking

Grant Harrison, MSE. Source Endurance Senior Consultant

Winter in the midwest is tough to train in, especially the Great Lakes region where ice and snow make riding the road all but impossible. Many people turn to road and gravel riding,  or enduring the harsh elements on the roads they are used to riding in warmer months. Others take to cross country skiing, cross training at the gym or just riding the trainer indoors. These options have their limitations and benefits, but there is another option worth considering: fatbiking.

Fatbiking can be an excellent training tool for road and mountain bikers and a great way to put in training hours (dress appropriately). A unique element to fatbiking is that there is much less coasting; Resistance is increased by the larger surface area of the tires in contact with the snow, especially when tire pressures are lowered to accommodate the deeper snow. Greater resistance equates to a more constant application of force needed to keep the bike moving. Arguably one of the greatest challenges can be staying upright and moving if the bike ventures off of the packed trail and into deeper snow. Although the chances of washing out are much less compared to a mountain bike, it can be demanding to stay upright in snow deeper than 6 inches. Not only are the bikes made sluggish by the tires, but they are heavy and take more effort to maneuver. These element makes fat-bike riding a great option for endurance rides as well as an opportunity to work on bike handling skills and on-bike agility. 

With more fatbikes being produced and the sport gaining popularity, there are more and more races being held. Many fatbikers in the upper midwest are looking forward to the Fat Bike Birkie in Cable, WI on March 8th, held in conjunction with the American Birkebeiner ski races. This year’s Fat Bike Birkie is home to the U.S. National Fat Bike Championship and is part of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series and the Wisconsin State Fat-Bike Race Series. This year the event has almost doubled in capacity, capping attendance at 500 riders; Last year’s event maxed out at  300 riders.

Smaller fatbike races are popping up all across the country. The Freewheel Frozen Frolic 2014, a three race series held in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area, is a small but well-liked first year event. The remaining two races will be held February 8th and March 1st. Also in the northern midwest is the Sweaty Yeti held at Levis Mound Trail System near Neilsville, WI on March 1st, as well as the Winona Snow Bomb in Winona, MN on February 8th. Other growing events such as the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race in Gorham, NH, as well as the Tennessee Pass Night Jam in Leadville, CO, give cyclists an opportunity to take on a new and challenging discipline.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s another bike to buy. But if you’re just looking to try it out, a basic fatbike can be purchased for less than $1,000.  As far as gear is concerned, like anything else, it’s as simple or as complicated as you make it. If you already have outdoor winter gear, you are pretty much set.

Although there are some major differences between fatbiking and road riding, fatbiking presents an opportunity to put in base miles, work on force-endurance production, and overall bike handling skills without the windchill and/or epic boredom. While maintaining motivation heading into the spring road racing season is critical, taking up fatbiking might be the solution.