Sunday, June 13, 2010

Air Force Cycling Classic


Strange day. Almost one of those if it can go wrong it will go wrong days.

There was a two-day cycling event in town. The second day was the Air Force Cycling Classic but featured an open ride before the pros raced. The course was closed to traffic. It was a 12.5 km course that goes around the Pentagon and climbs up to the Air Force Memorial.

It is open to anyone which meant rider beware. Especially in the first couple of laps it was dangerous passing or following anyone.

They offered a bronze medal for anyone who could complete two laps; a silver for four laps; and a gold medal for 8 laps (100 km or 62 miles) within the 3:30 time limit.

Last week I put out a feeler to see if anyone I knew was riding it. I wanted to get in a group because I was reasonably sure I could average 18 mph in a group; the speed necessary to make the cutoff time. On the other hand, only one time had I ever averaged over 18 mph on my own -- that was an 8.5 mile "time trial" just to see what I could do going all out. I averaged 19.3 mph.

No one responded although I was told that it's easy to hook up with other riders. I went to bed last night thinking about it. Registration opened at 6:00 a.m. and I wanted to get there early.

I cleaned my rear cassettes then went to bed. When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. I decided I would go for it. I got ready to go, put my "race lite" wheels on and found the gears didn't work. I fiddled with the bike for 15 minutes before taking the cassette from one wheel and moving it over to the other wheel.

I headed off to Arlington, parked the van, jumped on the bike and rode to registration. It was hot, high 80s although it reached 94 (35 C) during the day, and realized I forgot my Chamois Butt'r to lather up with (prevents chaffing). I got to registration and they only accepted cash. Feeling that it wasn't my day, I decided to leave. But on the way out I passed an ATM, grabbed some cash, and decided to go back and register.

Having run out of fuel at Mountains of Misery, I decided I would carry everything I needed. Or try to. I grabbed four packets of gel, Power Bar's Strawberry-Banana -- one for every two laps. I put two water bottles on my bike and carried my Tour de France bottle in a back pocket.

It was a slow starting roll-out. I was pretty far back. I missed any organization at the front. Most of the first lap was carefully maneuvering around some very slow and very unsure riders. "On your left" or "on your right" didn't seem to register with a lot of these folks. Just smile when you go by.

The route went out past the Pentagon and up to the Air Force Memorial. I flew by a lot of riders climbing the road up to the memorial. On the descent I hit 35 mph and soon was behind a rider on S. Washington Blvd. He had just taken a drink from his bottle and seemingly fumbled as he tried to put it back in the cage. He wobbled once and I saw him put a foot down in front of me. Oh boy.

Sparks flew from his shoe and then he veered sharply to the left. Thank god -- my line was to his right. In less than a second he went from upright to road kill. Well, almost. He went down hard. Very hard. Thankfully he didn't take anyone down with him.

I completed the first lap then briefly found two guys from James Madison University and rode with them a little on Lap 2. How or why I could drop them, I don't know, but I did. They disappeared behind me.

I went through the second lap at 46 minutes total and knew I was looking at 23-24 minutes a lap. I quickly did the math -- just about 3:04 -- well within the 3:30 cutoff. I also figured I might lose some of that due to the heat.

Basically I went through Laps 3-7 with no issues. They did have water on the course near the start line in which they handed the bottles to you as you flew by. I never had to stop to take on a drink. I took one PowerAde and one water. Different laps.

I lost my Tour de France bottle at the end of Washington Blvd when it fell out of my jersey. I slipped it on the outside of the pocket underneath my race bib which is why it came loose. I didn't stop for it and quickly figured I would pick it up on the next lap. Well, someone got a souvenir. The bottle was gone when I returned 23 minutes later.

I went through Lap 7 and my time was 2:45. At 25 min I knew I would be in at 3:10 but I also knew I could take an unheard of 45 minutes to finish Lap 8 and still finish under 3:30.

I held my line and finished it in 25 minutes. The race announcer told us we could take a 9th lap. Thanks but no thanks.

I discovered they ran out of gold medals, the prize for finishing eight laps in less than 3:30. Oh well, they took my name and said they would mail me one. Not sure why I really want one but gave them my name anyhow.

I went hoping, and even doubting a little, that I could average 18 mph on a hot day. I knew if I found the right group to ride with that I could but I missed the big groups up front and didn't see anything forming at the back where I was. Nor did it make a lot of sense to "sit up" and wait for the big groups to lap me. I would be giving away 23 minutes that way.

So I basically rode solo the entire day. And I was rewarded not only with making my goal of 18 mph but riding faster than I have ever ridden over distance before. I averaged 19.73. Rounded, I can call it 20 mph, on a very hot day where I did not put a foot down the entire time. It was a very satisfying day!

After the race I was parched. I went looking for water and didn't find any. I heard they ran out which is understandable on a day so hot. I elected to ride back to the van and leave - simply to find a store and get some water.

I had a soccer tournament in Woodbridge at 1:00 p.m. and wanted to get there so it was a good time to leave. But I missed the mens' pro race. I would have liked to have stayed and watched it and said hello afterwards to Phil Gaimon. But I missed Phil and all the men racing simply to stay alive.

The Air Force Cycling Classic is a neat event and a tune up to the Nature's Valley Grand Prix. Whether I ride the peoples ride again remains to be seen but I will have to add it to my spectating calendar for next year.

And continues to go wrong...

Tuesday June 15 -- A few minutes ago they posted the "official" times for the ride. I was listed as having completed just two laps. The first in 22 minutes and the second in 67 minutes. Geez! Can't say that I'm impressed by their timing mechanisms. I sent them my Garmin data and will wait to see if they correct the record or if I would even consider riding this event again.

The website listing shows 1,023 riders and I was listed 999th. The listing is first by number of laps and then time to complete the laps. Since I was recorded as two laps and took more than one hour to complete the second one, well...

No one asked me but I think the problem came in where I wore the timing chip. After I was handed my bib I was instructed to remove the timing strip and place it on my shoe. But when the very nice volunteer saw my Louis Garneau shoes she wondered how to attach it. Then she said "well, you can leave it on the back of your bib." She made sure it was in place and off I rode. I have a feeling that the tracking mechanism is aimed at knee level and lower thus it only picked up two of my eight passes through the checkpoint.

I received an email on Wednesday informing me that the website would be changed. My actual time, verified by satellite mapping on my Garmin, was 3:09:55 or 3:10:14 - the 19 seconds difference being when I started Garmin as opposed to when I actually started moving. That moves my listing up to 85th - a top 10% finish.

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