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Learnings from an old race report – overcoming complacency.

It's not often that I write race reports for my own events, but back in mid 2011 I made an exception (on my old website) following the NSW Masters Road race as there were some important lessons for riders of all abilities.

Recently I have written about the importance of the post-race debrief and several times I have mentioned how a post-race review can be used to identify areas for improvement.    My own post-race review of the NSW Masters race, that was outlined in my race report, provided a good example at the time of how ever experienced athletes can sometimes make mistakes by taking things for granted and being too complacent during a race.

I just uncovered this post in a recent review of my old web files and thought it was a good one to re-post on the current site.  So without any further ado, here is that race report/blog post.


First up to set the scene
The pre-race banter was that the course wasn't too difficult but that the wind was likely to be the main factor.  I have seen what the wind can be like on this course as I had previously raced a TT on Windellama rd (just south of Goulburn).  The forecast in the lead up was for strong early morning winds (30kmh with gusts up to 45kmh) but easing in the afternoon.

This race was my goal race for the early part of the season and after good races at Bathurst and the Canberra Tour I was hoping that the flatter parcours would suit me enough to pull out a top 5 finish.  The biggest dilemma leading in to the race turned out to be equipment choice.  I had just acquired a new set of race wheels (Bontrager Aeolus 5.0 ACC)  and the major concern was how they would handle in the crosswinds.  These wheels were designed by Bontrager in collaboration with Steve Hed (HED Wheels) who is well known for his ability to design wheels that handle crosswinds extremely well.  In the end I decided to run with the Bontragers and I was so glad I did (see below).

So on to the race.

The winds were quite chilly to start with but arm warmers were enough to deal with the cold.  The race started at a moderate pace, with most riders seemingly content to conserve their energy for the 102 very windy kilometres ahead.  The first 3-4km were reasonably uneventful and I maintained position in the top 3, wanting to ensure I was well placed for the short climb to come.  After crossing over the freeway we turned left for a short 8km out and back section to help get the race length up to the required distance.  As we hit the turn point we got our first taste of the wind. While mostly a headwind it was coming in at a nasty angle making finding a good draft difficult.  As we approached Windellama rd again for our outward trip I made my first mistake.  I was too complacent about my positioning and didn't move up close enough to the front.  I had been more concerned about keeping on the left side so I would have some shelter from the wind as we hit the turn but as soon as we did it was in the gutter and guys were scrambling for wheels as it got strung out. 

After a nervous first km in the crosswinds I was able to get my first sight of the front of the race and to my dismay the race had already split, with a front group of roughly 20 riders already 100m up the road.  A few seconds later I made my way to the front of the chase pack and with a few other riders we started to chase.  It wasn't long until our chase group was down to 5-6 riders as the crosswinds took there toll.  I thought about trying to jump across but figured it might cost too much energy in the winds and decided to sit tight and chase in a bunch (mistake two coming up).  It seemed like the wisest choice and for the first minute of so it was fine, we were steadily gaining on the group but most of the other riders either had very poor pace line skills or were too tired to be any use.  In the end it came down to four of us, with two of us (me and a guy from Wagga) swapping smooth turns while the other two kept surging through, breaking up our rhythm.  After about 5km we got back to within 100m and that's when it happened.  The two 'surgy' guys put it in the gutter and ramped up the pace desperate to get on the back of the group.  This basically destroyed our chase and I sat up and waited a few seconds for the rest of the group so we could continue chasing. The guys who tried to get across were then stuck in ‘no mans land’ and the group started to pull away again. 

About another 5km later the group had slowed down enough for the two in front of us to get back on and my little group was closing in fast.  By this time we had increased in size to four riders again but I was doing double turns as the other guys were just not strong enough. We were also about to hit a steady uphill drag followed by a short, sharp descent and I knew we needed to get on before the top or it was all over.  This is where I made my second fatal mistake.  I was on the front pushing the pace as much as I could without smashing the little chase group apart.  At the top we were only 50m off the back and I could easily have surged through the following cars and got on but I didn't.  After experiencing the same thing earlier in the race I let my 'nice' side get the better of me and post race I realised that I had forgotten that sometimes in a race it really is every man (or woman) for themselves. If I had jumped across I would have had the luxury of being able to sit in the pack and save energy. 

As it turned out that wasn't the case and we were destined to chase some more.  Naturally the cross winds were making it very difficult but it was about now that I really started to appreciate how good my new wheels were.  They were just superb in the crosswinds and just wanted to keep rolling.  A short time later my little group was down to three as one rider dropped off.   About now I started feeling like a greyhound, destined to chase the rabbit, keeping it in sight at all times, but never to catch it.  I also remember thinking that wouldn’t it have been so much better if all this work had gone in to escaping off the front of the group rather than chasing it from behind.

A short time later and things were looking worse as my two companions could barely pull any more turns.  I noticed the Shimano spares car had stopped to help a rider with a flat.  But what turned out to be bad luck for him turned out to be good luck for me.  The Shimano spares car towed him back up to our group and being relatively fresh he added some much needed firepower to our chase.  From there we both swapped off turns for about another 5km before finally reeling in the bunch just before we hit the turn at Windellama.  Over half the race down and most of it at a really high intensity but finally, back into the safety of the bunch.

After this things went pretty well although I was definitely noticing the effects my long chase had on my legs.  After recovering I set about finding a good wheel and position in the bunch.  There were a few riders up the road but not far enough that anyone was really concerned about it.  As we approached the final run back to the finish the terrain took a distinct upward trend with a few smaller climbs, just enough to test the legs and entice a few riders to try a few moves.  As the main climb approached one rider hit the gas and it looked serious with all the main contenders going for it.  Surprisingly my legs responded more easily that I had expected and I jumped across the gap without any difficulty.  However my final fatal mistake was soon to reveal itself.  I knew the final climb came at 80km but I had not set my SRM to display distance in interval mode so I was at a loss to exactly where it would start.  As we hit what I thought was the final part of the climb the bunch slowed and I used my momentum to launch an attack, hoping to get enough of a gap to crest the hill in front, perhaps with a small group.  I heard people scrambling for wheels behind me and I thought everything was going well until we turned a corner and I saw that it was in fact the start of the final climb, at which point fellow Canberran Mick Tolhurst used my move as a perfect launching platform to counter.  All the main contenders responded but my brief move was enough to sap my legs and I was forced to sit in the remnants of the pack to once again chase.  This time our chase group was large enough that you could recover well after each turn but alas the poor pace line skills of many riders ruined any chance of us getting back to the front of the race.  It ranged from guys flying past and expecting everyone else to chase, to just sloppy positioning which offered the rest of us little shelter from the wind. 

So coming into the final 5km it became obvious that we were destined to finish just behind the leaders and many riders were content to sit in.  Into the last 2km and everyone, including myself, were preparing to sprint it out hoping to nudge into a top 10 position.  The sprint started really early (about 750m out from the finish) and that meant I was on the wrong wheel (I had been 5th wheel but was quickly down to 8th).  Keeping up a long sustained sprint was enough to overcome a few of the guys who went early but all up it was only good enough to finish about 6th in that pack and probably somewhere around 15th all up.  Considering the race I had and that there were 50+ starters I was pretty happy with the result but I couldn't help wondering what might have been if I hadn't made any of my mistakes.

As is customary with my races I looked back at what happened during the race to see where I went wrong.  These are the key things I identified as negatively effecting my result and what might have been if I had done things differently.

  1. Better positioning for the crosswind.  If I had paid more attention to my positioning heading into the initial crosswind section I would have made the split and saved a lot of energy for the later stages of the race perhaps enabling me to make the final split and race for a place.
  2. Every man for himself.  If I had jumped across to the pack when I had the chance I would have saved myself another 20km of chasing and again saved lots of energy.  Up until this point I could probably have gotten away with the wasted effort but from here on in is where it cost me the most.
  3. Course prep.  Although my legs were obviously a bit more fatigued from the long chase (nearly 1hour with a normalised power at my threshold), if I had my SRM display set properly I wouldn't have attacked at the bottom of the climb and this would have kept the group from accelerating as early as it did.  This would have kept us together longer and given me more of a chance to either make it over the top with them or given our chase more of a chance of catching up.

This brings me to me reason for writing this report.  When you get to the stage when you really want to get a top result in a race you need to ensure you are well prepared both physically and mentally.  On the mental front you need to ensure you have taken care of all of the little details but you also need to be prepared to do what it takes (physically) to give yourself the best chance of a result.  Sometimes all that training and experience can lead to complacency and in itself this is probably one of the worst things you can let happen in a race.  Regardless of how strong you are, you always need to make sure you are in good position and that you are thinking ahead to ensure you don't get caught out.

It's not often I make mistakes like these in big races and it’s why its always good to review your races afterwards.  You can pick out what went wrong as well as what you did well - like chased like a greyhound for ~40km, and make sure it doesn't happen again in other races.  This leads to consistent improvement - which in turn leads to better results.

A couple of final (side) notes

  1. [Removed as not relevant to current post]
  2. Wheels – Up until not long before this race I had been racing on a hodge-podge set of race wheels for some time.  They were an old Cosmic Carbone front and a Hed Jet 60 rear with a powertap and mavic stickers.  These wheel were tubulars and quite heavy.  They served me well but I had gotten fed up with the issues that accompany tubular wheels and road races (like punctures riding out to races) and I had decided to go back to clinchers.  After quite an extensive search I finally decided on a set of Bontrager's.  The 5.0 ACC wheels have an alloy braking surface, which makes them a touch heavier than their all-carbon brother the 5.0.  However, for people that descend as fast as I like to I find that the confidence of an alloy braking surface is more important than saving 100g. The ACC's are by no means heavy and are a good 500g lighter than my old wheels.  The 50mm profile is also combined with a wider rim design with a rounded, almost blunt edge.  It’s this feature in particular that gives the wheel better aerodynamics and handling in crosswinds and I have a lot of praise for them after this race.  Without these wheels I doubt very much whether I would have gotten back into the race and I very much look forward to racing on them again in the future. 

 

Note: Oct 2013 – I have made a few minor updates to this post to ensure it reads in the correct context given that the original was written back in 2011.   Also with regards to the wheels, I have found the Bontrager Aelous ACC 5.0’s to be an excellent race wheel in all conditions and when paired with my preferred race tyre (Vittoria Open Corsa Evo) they are an absolute pleasure to race.

 

Jason Mahoney Friday 25 October 2013 at 10:15 am | | Race Reports, Tips




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