Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wednesday Whatevers

Hey y'all! I woke this morning to find the following message mixed in with my normal dose of spam...

Dear Racer,

Congratulations! You have qualified for the 2008 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships scheduled for July 16-20, 2008 at Mount Snow Resort in West Dover, VT.
...blah, blah, blah...
Hope to see you there! Good luck with your season.

Kelli Lusk
USA Cycling, Inc.
Mountain Bike Events and Program Director

WOW, Thank You Kelli! I danced around the room like a lunatic celebrating my good fortune. USA Cycling must really like me, ...they really like me!! I just knew sooner or later somebody would spot my MTB talent, despite my inability to go down hill faster than 15 mph.

...and then it hit me, "wait, I'm only a beginner mountain biker. It says so right here on my license, and I've only done a single race. hmmmmm..."

So I investigated further, thinking perhaps, just maybe, a few other people might have also passed the stringent qualifying criteria, whatever it may be. A few clicks and I'm onto the USA Cycling site where the exclusive list of Nationals Qualifiers is kept. I drilled down further. Men's Cross Country Beginner 40-49 Woah, holy sheep, I'm devastated to find that 594 other Cross-country Beginner Men aged 40-49 have also qualified for MTB Nationals! Congratulations indeed. Whatever.

Could it be that all Kelli really wants is my $55 entry fee?

OK, since we're on this subject, am I the only one who thinks the concept of a National Championship race for Beginner mountain bikers is a tad screwy? Talk about encouraging sand-bagging! If I were king, I'd also do away with the Sport class nationals. Keep Expert and Pro, that's it. Expert is analogous to Masters Nationals on the road, and Pro... well, you know. Whatever.


But of course you should come out to The Santa Ynez Valley Classic presented by Platinum Performance.

It's gonna be a gorgeous weekend!


And what's up with the weather forecast up in Hood River, Oregon?

Where's all that rain, hail, and snow I remember from my trips to the Mt. Hood Classic? Whatever.


OK, now if you are a big-time bike-racer and regularly look behind you and see these vehicles...

...or for that matter, your logo-emblazoned team car, then you don't need to read any further. This issue won't concern you. Truth be told, it probably doesn't concern much of anybody, but Cookie and I were talking about this the other day, so I figured I throw it out for you too.

Consider Joe, who's in the best shape of his life going into the Bummforky RR, a regional event run by the biggest club in the district. He gets to the venue with plenty of time. Registers, pins numbers on, arranges his feeds, tags an extra set of wheels for the follow vehicle, and warms up. It's a beautiful Spring morning. The race starts and his legs turn perfect circles; today he's got extra wattage and feels no pain, so he attacks and drags away a couple guys. Their move is rocking and soon they've put 3:00 into the chasing peloton. Joe's pulls are the strongest. By far. He thinks he can win this sucka.

Then disaster... Pffffftt...Pffffftt...Pffffftt... the dreaded sound of air escaping his front tire.

His breakaway partners stop pedaling. Instinctively, Joe raises his left arm--left for front, right for rear--pulls over to the road side and looks back. No follow vehicle. He looks forward again just in time to see his former partners picking up their speed. They disappear around a bend and all is quiet for a couple minutes. He flips the skewer and knocks out the traitorous wheel. After what seems like an eternity, Joe sees the field approaching in the distance. Silent at first, then a rising whir of chains, wheels, and wind. As they finally pass by, he hears "Bummer dude!" from some faceless pack-filler in the back. Then, at last, the follow vehicle stops beside him. It's an older pickup driven by an older man, and despite 30 sets of wheels stuffed into the bed, Joe immediately spots his pair. Quick as lightning, he grabs the front, pops it in, and tosses the lame one in the truck. Within seconds he's stomping on the pedals again, chasing the uncaring field off in the distance. Two minutes of anaerobic fury but making no apparent progress. Heart rate at 190, legs burning. He cracks, screams out "F%@&^@K!!", and quits.

Two weeks later, Joe's back at it in the Numnuzz RR. He's lost some fitness so he rides conservatively in the middle of the field. He's relieved each time the pack successfully chases down an attack. No help from Joe today; he's saving matches and hoping for a field sprint. But then in a momentary lull, a strong five-man move pinches off the front. This time nobody takes up the chase from the now-apathetic field. The guys ahead make the most of their opportunity, rotating fast and smooth, and quickly they gain 40 seconds. Joe can't believe what happens next... the neutral follow vehicle--a white Ford Bronco--roars past the group and races up behind the break. And then...

Pffffftt...Pffffftt...Pffffftt... Joe flats again. "F#@&%&K!"

Hey blog reader, wake up!! Instead of the lame fiction above, maybe I should just ask you: Should the neutral support vehicle stay behind everybody, or should it support the riders who are most in contention for the win? What about dropped riders? What if the field breaks up into a bunch of small groups? Where goes the wheel wagon?



Dave said...

Neutral Support should always go with the break (provided the gap is large enough)... I didn't even know that there was a question about this.

If you're dropped from your "race envelope" and get a flat, the best you can hope for is the mercy of the neutral support from the field behind you; otherwise, pack some Vittoria Pit Stop.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

At least there WAS A follow car in this story. At San Ardo last year, there was a follow car for the 4s, but none for the 3's (womens)! As an afterthought, I had popped a CO2 and a tube into my jersey, just in case, and it turned out I needed it! I flatted in the lead group on mile 62...and had to change my own tire and roll in 5 minutes back. It was so not fun... Even worse was after rolling in, the announcer called me back to verify my number because it was partially covered by my flatted tube.

I think if there is one follow car, it should be with the folks in contention at the time (i.e. leaders, breakaway)

Marco Fanelli said...

Dave & Kim-

I think I tend to agree with you, but let me play Devil's Advocate ...or at least suggest that it's not always so clear. Suppose the course is a remote 50-mile loop and say 80% of the field bucked-up and put wheels in the truck. Then say a 3-person break goes up the road with a good gap. Is it really fair to abandon all those other riders? What if only one person in the break put in wheels?

I've seen it both ways, and even in-between. Take last Saturday for example, I was in a 4-man chase group behind two leaders, but ahead of the remaining field of 20-30 riders. Guess where the wheel truck was? Right next to us!

In 2006 I flatted out of the front group at Devil's Punchbowl and waited 3-4 minutes for the truck which was following the main bunch. The very following year, the driver went immediately with the leaders and leap-frogged any riders who fell off.

I'm loathe to criticize any race volunteers, because as we all know, without them there would be no races. I'm just wondering what it says in the "Wheels-in/wheels-out support-vehicle driver handbook"

Heather said...

I say it goes with the leaders b/c if you are in the main field, there is a good chance you have teammates nearby, and if you are "on form" then one of your teammates should immediately offer up a wheel and wait behind for the broom least that's what I would do.

Yes, not everyone has teammates, but hey folks are making a choice when they ride "unattached" or on a team with little to no other riders.

TnA said...

IMHO, if you think it's going to be an issue, screw the extra wheels and just put a spare tube and CO2 inflator in your jersey pocket.

Steve said...


The OtherSteve said

You BLOG got me so excited I went out and purchased tickets and will be arriving in SB tommorow 5/16, just in time to watch this race. Will you be riding?? I will have my Road Bike and hope to join all the fun for the World's Sunday also. PS I will be in + out of town for two weeks.

Steve D ( Gary's DAD )

Chester said...

I think the wheels should go with the break if the gap is big enough hands down no exception. There are a lot more options for the guys in the field, a few of them have been mentioned above. The peleton is an entity in and of itself. It survives minus the one flatted rider- where as a break is usually very dependent on ALL riders present, whether they are pulling or not.
But I know very a little- These comments are coming from a guy who has been racing less than a year.


anony-miss said...

What the support car actually does depends on what the point of neutral support is in the mind of the race director. Are they concerned with the outcome of the race, or are they more concerned that everybody in the race makes it back ok? 15 miles is a long walk in the heat for a rider not prepared for that. (RR Championships)
Aside from that, the decision to follow a break or not, comes down to a math problem. Where should the car with the wheels be for the least probable total wait time for all riders? It shouldn't always just go to the break, because the riders behind will have a much longer wait time and there are many of them. Similarly, it shouldn't always hold back when people fall of the back, as it is increasing the total probable wait time.
The wheel car should not be moved ahead of the peleton simply to support the front of the race. You are making a value judgement there, saying that the fastest people's race is more important that everybody elses. Being ameteurs, we pay for the races and all care about how we do. Somebody whose race goal was to just stay with the pack has as valid a claim to wheel support than the person who is gunning for the win. They paid the same race fee, so why should the car take their wheels up the road where they won't see them again?
The least aggregate wait time method seems the fairest to me.

Steve Weixel said...

I've been at both ends of this problem in my short racing career. At SNSR road race I wasn't in "the break" but I was in the first chase group, with most of the peleton behind. I flatted with a slow leak and nursed it to the top of the climb, where I waited for 10 minutes. I don't know where the hell the wheel truck was, because nearly everyone passed my while I was on the side of the road. It must have been behind the last rider. I actually never got my wheel, the neutral support guy came and replaced my tube. I was pretty upset at the time, especially because there was a radio truck at the top that was able to call for support, but didn't have any tools or support that I could have used.

On the other side of the coin, I got a flat at Orosi, and although I didn't have any wheels, I could have at least gotten a ride back in the SAG, but it followed the front group. To be fair, I was dropped and it was with the peleton, but it still sucked. I waited more than half an hour, and eventually the SAG came by with several riders already in it. One of the riders let me borrow a wheel so that I could at least ride back to the parking. I've learned my lesson and now carry sealant and a pump with me, but haven't had to use them yet!

hubert said...

As lame as it may sound, I carry a spare tube & CO2 in every race with the exception of Sea Otter where neutral support and communication is actually quite good.
That way, if I do flat and the support vehicle is either up the road, or ten minutes behind, I have an out; not a sexy or clever one, but an industrious one.
Now, if I could stop dropping my chain. . .