Thursday, May 18, 2017

The "Let 'Em Go Strategy": Old Age and Treachery Overcome Youth and Skill

Crit Racing
I've recently been enjoying bike racing criteriums. These are short, fast races on tight courses with many turns. I raced in just one last year, my first, and didn't really get the feel for it because I didn't have my chip at the start line and started a lap down. This year, on May 7, I participated in one in La Crosse during an omnium (a multi-race competition) and it turns out I'm probably better at crits than road races. I have power and I'm a big guy, so flat crit courses are better for me than hilly road race courses. I was extremely pleased with my finish at La Crosse. I was 10th of 23, which was good considering that I was 12 years older than anyone else in the race, and that most were in their 20's and 30's. And I might have placed higher, maybe 5th or so, if not for a scary turn on the last lap where I was nudged by another rider and slid out, nearly hitting a curb, and scrubbed a lot of speed at a critical point in the race.

Well, I enjoyed that quite a bit and headed for the next race, the Tuesday Night Worlds at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds on May 9. This is a weekly crit race series that runs from April to May. While the La Crosse field was small, 23, the fields in this series are much larger, often 50-65 racers. This made me apprehensive, because it's a bit scary to be whizzing around a sharp corner at 30 miles per hour with a pack of cyclists all around you. If anyone makes a mistake there could be a crash that would take out many riders. But things went quite well. The pace was not all that difficult overall (26.2 miles per hour) and I felt pretty good. At the final sprint I headed for the line and was 12th of 59 across the line. Hooray! I can hang with these guys!

But here's the rub: it's a points race, so the places are determined by who has the most points first, and time across the line second. This meant that I got relegated to 16th place. Ah ha! It's about points! My next goal: get points.

I then met with my cycling coach and we agreed to a strategy that she thought was doable: I was going to break away early in the race and try to get some points by putting in an all-in effort for 1 1/2 laps, about a mile. Points are awarded every four laps. So we planned that I would cruise along until lap 6 1/2 and then take off on the back stretch. We estimated how many watts I needed to generate and agreed that once I broke away I would then try to maintain that number of watts until the line at lap 8.

I talked to my buddy Cole, who has ridden in this series for a long time. He's not on my team, but is a good friend. He suggested that I modify my plan to go at  lap 2 1/2 instead of lap 6 1/2--go for the first points. So that was my new plan. And he agreed to help during the race with a few key words.

But here's where the fun part comes in. The biggest problem with my plan was that I needed to not have everyone chase me immediately when I took off. Many of the riders are stronger than I am and they could chase me down right away if they thought I was a real threat. So I resorted to psychology. Bike racers are an extremely judgmental lot--particularly when it comes to whether people and their bikes look cool, look like they have their act together. If your socks are not of the right type, they judge. Sunglasses must make you look cool. And particularly important to racers is that there be no unnecessary equipment on one's bike. Unnecessary equipment slows you down and is uncool. So I hit upon a plan: to make myself look like a total newbie, a rookie, a doofus.

Special "Rookie" Setup
So I set up my bike as if I were going on a casual pleasure ride: with two water bottles (opaque) and my saddle bag--all empty, of course. There's really no need or opportunity to drink anything in this type of race so the water bottles are particularly inappropriate. And, of course, given that you don't have time to change a flat, the saddlebag serves no purpose other than to slow you down. Never did a racer look less threatening.

Before the race I told all my teammates my plan and asked them not to give chase when I took off. I did not want them to help the field catch up with me. Then I pulled up to the front of the pack at the start line to display my water bottles and saddle bag. The judging was palpable.

The race started and I was feeling good. At lap 2 1/2 I was right where I wanted to be, about 5th position, and I took off. My friend Cole, who many in the field knew to be experienced, is reported to have shouted "Let 'em go" at this point. Thanks, buddy!

I dove to the inside curb and went hard. Only one rider followed me. I created significant separation from the field. They were letting us go. So now it was going to be a two minute all-out effort. I set in at the designated wattage and the other rider with me spent most of the time on my wheel. I knew this meant that he'd beat me, but didn't care. I couldn't slow down to make him pass, because then the field would catch us. My goal was to get some points and I didn't much care if it was 3 points for second or 5 points for first.

The field didn't catch us before the line. I got 3 points. I was exhausted and eventually got lapped by the field, but it didn't matter, because I finished the race and got my 3 points. It was good enough for 8th place out of 62--even though almost all the field crossed the finish line before me.

Results: My First Points!
That was the most fun that I have had in a very long time, maybe my whole life. But I think they're on to me now. I don't think they'll let me go next time. But in thinking about it, maybe I'll always ride with my lucky saddlebag!

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Ten Recommended Classical Recordings: A Sampler for Those New to the Classical Scene

The following is a list of classical recordings that offer a variety of classical genres: opera, symphonies, keyboard, violin concerto, solo cello, piano concerto, and oratorio. Though it is mostly mainstream with respect to the represented composers, it reflects a variety of interesting sounds.

Because the list is intended for someone who is starting to explore classical music many of the recordings are now budget issues. If you have thoughts on the list or would like to pipe in with your own, please do!

1. Mozart: The Magic Flute; Sir Colin Davis, conductor, Staatskapelle Dresden, orchestra; Rundfunkchor Leipzig, choir; Moll, Schreier, Price, Serra, Melbye, Venuti; Philips Duo, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 1994.

2. Beethoven: Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Carlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1975 and 1976, released on CD in 1996.

3. Bach: Keyboard Pieces, Toccata, BWV 911; Partita BWV 826; English Suite No. 2, BWV 807; Argerich; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1980, released on CD in 2000.

4. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D; Brahms: Violin Concerto in D; Jascha Heifetz; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; RCA, recorded in 1957, released on SACD in 2005.

5. Panorama—Edvard Grieg, two discs of various piano and orchestral works; Deutsche Grammophon Panorama, recorded on various dates, released on CD in 2000.

6. Bach: Six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello; Yo-Yo Ma; Sony, recorded in 1983, released on CD in 1990.

7. Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos, Vol. I—Brendel; Sir Neville Mariner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Philips Duo, recorded in 1972-82, released on CD in 1994.

8. Handel: The Messiah; Sir Colin Davis, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Philips Duo, recorded in 1966, released on CD in 1994.

9. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Martha Argerich, Philips, recorded 1982 and 1980, released on CD in 1995.

10. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-4 (separate disc one); and Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 5-6 and Orchestral Suite No. 1 (separate disc two), Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; EMI, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 2004.