Monday, May 19, 2008

Chess, Poker and Jousting

Yesterday, a group of us were climbing Big Mountain. As the road tilted upward, the following conversation ensued (one tactic that can be employed on a steep climb to get the fast guy to turn it down a notch is to start idle conversation):

Samurai: huff huff puff puff. So Blake, what road races are you going to do this year?

BZ: Road racing is lame.

BG: You're riding with the wrong crowd.

End of conversation. More huff huff and puff puff. Time to think of a new tactic. . .

I've written in defense of cross. And while there are definite times that I can't disagree with BZ, there are those times that I really like road racing -- so much that I haven't and can't (yet) make the transition to something else (like cricket).

One of the appeals of road racing is the tactics involved. Because there are tactics, it makes things a bit more complex and a bit more interesting. Tactics can also make it that much more discouraging. Tactics are kind of like your dog -- sometimes you really really get enjoyment out of it; other times you wish you could flush it down the toilet (or go mountain bike . . . ha ha take that!!).

Road racing is to some degree like a combination of a poker, chess, and jousting. Being successful (or so others say) involves a bit of luck, a bit of brains, a bit of strength. If you only have one of these, you might win, but chances are slim. Winners (or so I've heard) usually have a nice combination of the three. And that's what make road racing fun -- you've got to get that combination just right. Getting that combination right is hard and may be affected by other factors, like number of teammates.

Perhaps an application might be a bit more illustrative. This weekend was the Bear Lake Road race, a 104 mile race involving a bit of wind and a few minor rollers. The Cat 3s really raced it this year -- lots of attacking and chasing. We had a relatively big field at 40 plus. We finished in under 4 hours.

Out the gates, team Cyclesmith went out fast, obviously banking on luck and strength, and perhaps minimizing brains -- 104 miles is a long long time to be in a break. Dumb, yes. Rippin' strong, yes. Luck required, yes. Didn't work out.

Several other attacks went. I think I bridged up to one of them. Dumb, yes. Strong, kind of. Luck required, yes. Didn't work out either.

There were a few more attacks. Then Drew Nielson (sp?) attacked solo. He hung out in the wind alone for several miles. Dumb, yes. Strong, super yes. Luck required, yes. Didn't work out either.

And so went the race, over and over again. Of course, as time and miles increased, the "dumbness" factor went down because the more likely it became that a break would stick.

Finally, a rider (Drew again) attacked, two bridged up, and the winning break was formed. Dumb, not so much, actually smart. Strong, yep. Luck required, yep. Gutsy (a facet of dumbness, depending on how you look at it), yes.

Of course, when the three rode away, the peloton collectively was thinking that the break was too small. The peloton therefore placed its bet: odds are that the break won't survive, dumb move, you're bluffing, we're not going to chase. We acted at our peril.

So, as the three got a bigger gap and it looked more and more like the break was going to stay away, and as the three started looking smarter and luckier and stronger, another set of options were presented: (a) sit in and save for the sprint, (b) participate in a chase, or (c) break away and hope that someone joined and that the pack would allow it.

Hard call. To choose (a) would mean that the break might stick and I'd lose all chances of contending for the win. Obviously it assumes that there is a possibility for actually winning or doing well. And I would look like a chump, sitting on wheels and not trying to race. Choosing (a) would place an emphasis on brains and luck, but not strength.

To choose (b) would likely mean I would end up working for those who chose (a), only to have those chumps outsprint and bury me at the finish. Unless you're my teammate Jake and happen to be riding really strong, in which case, you could both contribute to the chase and contend for the win or sprint finish. Choosing (b) would place an emphasis on strength. A little dumb? Yes.

Why dumb? Because as was the case on Saturday, your contributions might be in vain. The break may not get caught, and you'll have spent matches chasing, when they could be spent sprinting.

(b) also has a very high glory factor. Cyclists like warriors. Cyclists who are warriors get respect. If that's your goal, then choosing (b) isn't a bad thing.

Finally, regarding option (c). Option (c) is super high on the glory respect scale. It requires strength. It requires smarts. And it requires luck. It requires ALL THREE factors, so that's why it's so high on the glory scale. A true winner (so I hypothesize) would choose (c).

So, which option did I choose? Let's just say that I tried option (b) for a few pulls, but then realized I didn't have the necessary strength and that it was kind of dumb. So then I tried option (a). But with 2k to go, I threw all the capital I had earned by choosing option (a) out the proverbial window, and took a flyer with 2k to go -- kind of a half-baked option (c).

Based on my calculus of brains, luck, and strength, I never really committed to either one, but I more or less tried them all. I guess that in itself ups the dumbness factor.

So, back to BZ's comment. What's my point here? I like road racing because it's interesting trying to get the right combination. Chess, poker, jousting -- all at the same time.


Piotrek said...

And, and...?! Arggh, nobody wants to post results. Oh wait, this is Bear Lake RR. IIRC from last year, results don't matter much.

Jared said...

I ended up somewhere around 9th or 10th, but the results had me listed as not even placing. Last year, I finished top ten as well, but got a big fat DNF. Drew Nielsen won; Lance Christensen got 2nd, Spencer DeBry 3rd, Aaron Rennert 4th, Clintster 5th, Taft 6th.

StupidBike said...


You could race MTB and go hard for 2+ hours, although on lap three i had to think a lot about metered effort on particular grades to keep Dainton off of me. I almost wrecked hard on a 25+mph descent thinking about how hard to go up the next short incline.

MarkS said...

you Think too much,Ride your bike.
you make things happen by trying not watching and wondering.
also know your competition
it's not nearly as complicated as you make it sound.
guys that don't like the road don't know how to read a race ,have fun and attack till you black out or win its great fun win or lose

Ian Tuttle said...

Bear Lake!!! Aw man, nice brainteasing there. Sounds like you juked yourself out. You going to elkhorn?