Thursday, October 6, 2011

Giro d' Califoria 2011 Wrap-up

I'm back home after another great Giro d'California.
It seemed like this was the best organized event yet, my complements to Harley and Deb and all those who helped them!
I've been asked for a bit more of a competitive update. Here is the story.

A Bit On Scoring and Strategy
The end section of a agility test right before the timing lights

The giro has 4 "agility tests" a day, where you strive to hit your time exactly over a short course, typically a slalom through some cones of less than 60 seconds. These are at the start, before and after lunch and at the finish. Additionally, there are typically 2 "emergency checks" along the course where you are marked to the middle of your minute (the 30 second point) in seconds. The agility tests are measured to the thousandth of a second with timing lights and emergency checks are measured to the second. Additionally there are 2 secret checks out on the course, where you are measure to the minute.
So here's how the strategy works out for me. Most importantly, I must leave on time at the start. It would be silly to blow that. Secondly, I want to arrive at the finish on time (you can be up to 15 minutes early for that with no penalty as it's a "known control". Then, I want to hit the secret checks and emergency controls on my designated minute. If a I can do all that, for 2 days, I will be "on my minute". Previous Giro's show that you will likely win the event if you can do that, or come close. The next priority after that is to try and hit the emergency check as close to the middle of my minute as possible, to avoid adding extra seconds to my score. And then the agility tests are important as they can also add seconds. Actually, the agility tests could add alot of seconds if you are very sloppy... between those and the emergency checks you could add enough seconds to more than a whole minute to your score.

The Competition
Barry Porter in the foreground  at the start with his "race face" on.

There are a bunch of guys doing the Giro well now but one stands out. I've found Barry Porter to be a fantastic competitor. I haven't been able to beat him in the last events as he runs just like a metronome. I succumb to the urge to just ride ahead of my time when the roads are good and that is a real detriment competitively. I tend to do the rabbit thing, run fast and then stop to let the clock catch up. At any rate, this typically means something has to go wrong for Barry for me to be close to him time wise. I mean, a TSD (time-speed-distance) event like this is about riding perfectly, and I make more "mistakes" than Barry and that makes it hard to beat him!

Day 1
Day 1 in the morning went fine. I lost 2 minutes when I arrived to a checkpoint early on a long twisty downhill. I knew I was ahead of schedule but didn't want to go slower as it was a nice road. I was just thinking of looking for a place to stop and whoops, here is a checkpoint! So that was that... I was going to be behind Barry in the overall.

The afternoon of Day 1 started pretty hot. Two riders are released from the start every minute and then have to wait for the agility test. As it was a long agility test the riders started to line up to wait for it. Soon it was a 10 minute wait. This means the guys in front had a real advantage, as they just got to run the test and leave. In the back, I had a long wait in my hot leathers... I was roasting. Eventually, I pulled my helmet and gloves and got some cold water. But by the time my shot at the test came up I just drove through it carefully to get rolling and away. I also needed to hit a gas stop and was just annoyed at the heat and delay. But eventually I was off and after an hour had cooled off and was enjoying the ride. It was a great road and we started to bend our way up a mountain.
But heading up the mountain, there was an error in the mileage on our roll chart for one of the turns! I was running right up a narrow single lane road in the Sequoia National Forest when I met Barry coming back down the mountain... he flagged me down and said the turn wasn't where it was supposed to be. I looked at my mileage and he appeared correct, but I suggested we keep going just to be sure, it's a long way to turn back. So we went another 2 miles forward and there was no turn. The previous turn has some road name markings which led us to believe maybe we should have turned differently back there... so we agreed to go back down the hill. For a moment, after he decided to go down the hill I was tempted to proceed ahead alone, as that would give me a time advantage if it worked! But Barry was right; we were way past where the turn was supposed to be and the previous intersection had been confusing on the roll chart.  So I followed him back down and we were zooming as we knew we were now late. And Barry was supposed to be several minutes ahead of me so he took off... and I was hoping that if I kept the gap low I would gain time on him in the overall. This error could be to my advantage! I was laughing in my helmet as the whole thing gets particularly funny when you are lost.
Barry and I went back down the hill passing people coming up with confused looks. And then we turned the other way at the last intersection. And we kept zooming. Barry was out of sight ahead but then he appeared coming at me again!  He pulls up and is frantic. He says he just came up on a checkpoint, from the wrong direction! We must have been going the right way the first time! He zooms off to go back up the hill. Now I stop and think. I don't immediately follow Barry. In moments there are half a dozen other riders pulled up and we they are all gabbing and discussing what to do. And then... Harley rides by.... and this surely indicates the proper direction, as he is the organizer! So I take off after Barry again. But now my mileage is way off, who knows where I'm going. And I know the turn on the hill isn't where it was supposed to be. I ride as fast as I can, still occasionally laughing in my helmet. This will really toss the standings like a salad! I'm competitive, but route finding is the game and certainly some people will have done it right. Hey, I almost went ahead without Barry the first time up the hill! At any rate I keep going as fast as I can. It gets lonely and I suspect no one is following me now. I was near the back in the start order and with this confusion I must be last or nearly so. It's getting dark and I finally come to an intersection... and it's no clearly marked so it doesn't match my chart and of course who knows the mileage! The sign seems to indicate I should go left. But if this is the lost intersection from my roll chart I should go right. I gamble and go right. And since the mileage was wrong I clearly can't reset my odometer here so I'm really concerned I might be getting lost. Its forest here and getting dark. I ride as quickly as I can. I haven't seen anyone in a long time. No cell reception up here I'm sure, it could be a long night if I'm lost. Luckily the bike is running well! And then... an intersection appears, and it matches the next turn on the map! I reset my odometer, noting I'm 40 miles off. And lots of time! I zoom along and a checkpoint appears! Yay! Humans! I'm on course! But WAY behind schedule. And the way the rules work, I have to stay behind schedule that same amount for the rest of the checkpoints. In fact, if I arrive more than 15 minutes early at the end I will be disqualified. Eventually I catch Barry and we discuss that fact and take our time during a free zone to avoid the possibility of DQ. And so the ride continues for the rest of the evening. I arrive at the hotel to find the special test already closed.
That night is full of interesting discussions. Obviously, those who managed to stay on route want the day's times to stand as they are! Rightly so, I think. It's the riders job to find the route regardless of errors on the route chart. And there are those who were lost who think the afternoons times should be discarded, because the chart was wrong. My opinion is that the results should be kept, UNLESS too many people are DQed. I mean, you can't throw out the results over every error in the charts or maps, you would never have a complete event. But on the other hand, you just don't want most of the riders DQed on day one of a 2 day event. That's just no fun for the attendees. So it will be up to the organizers...
That night Harley announces the afternoons results will be thrown out. I'm 2 minutes behind Barry, and there's a bunch of guys right on my tail...
(day 1 stats: morning: 89.2 miles plus approx. 40 miles lost, afternoon 91.6 miles)

Day 2 
It's a new day and it's like starting all over because yesterday's afternoon stage was discarded.
So starting day two I was solidly 2 minutes behind Barry, so my agility tests weren't going to be critical. Actually, there was someone close behind me (sorry I didn't check who it was, or I'd post it), but I assumed our times would likely spread enough that the agility tests wouldn't be critical. I still made an effort with them, but it was nice not to be concerned. After day 1's roast as I waited for the agility test after lunch, I was happy to just let these happen without stress for day two. I actually ran most of them without my stopwatch and just counted the seconds.
 I was happy to zero my first secret check in the morning and then we headed up into the mountains. Another great single lane road winding the way up. It's overcast and that's nice as it keeps things cool. There was a chance of rain and I brought all of my rain gear. This ended up being a good thing. We kept going up and up and it got colder. And then we were in the mist from the clouds and it was almost like rain the roads were wet and there were occasional small puddles. And visibility fell to 10 feet in places! And it was cold. I was in a giant debate with myself over whether to stop and put my rain gear on. I knew I was losing time as I rode more slowly in the fog and sometimes got stuck behind other riders. And I'd lose more time stopping to put the gear on. I kept hoping we'd head back down out of the mist... but eventually my hands became numb and I knew I had to stop. I figured most would do the same, so there was a good chance if I handled things smartly I could still do well. And there was always a chance Barry stopped longer. I stopped and put my gloves on the bikes shifter by the engine to heat them and put my rain jacket on. I ended up stopped quite a while to thoroughly warm up. I heated my hands using the engine as a radiator and waited till they were truly warm again. I didn't time it, but I lost between 5 and 10 minutes there. And then off I went, finally comfortable and passing people as I could trying to carefully and safely keep my time losses to a minimum. and as we came down out of the mountains the conditions cleared and it warmed up and I started to zoom along again. But I had obviously lost a lot of time. Finally made it to lunch and given the conditions I did pretty well. But Barry was heroic and actually zeroed the stage! He had anticipated the cold and dressed well. And he had managed to ride swiftly in the tough conditions. A really admirable effort. Unless something broke on his bike he was going to win!
After lunch I did well and zeroed my checkpoints. But I suspected things were all going to be decided based on the mornings score.
(day 2 stats: morning: 84.5 miles, afternoon 53.8 miles) 

That night was the big banquet. And excellent time of tales camaraderie and plenty of wine.  Barry took home the Overall 1st place trophy having finished the whole event less than 30 seconds away from perfect. Amazing! I took second approximately 10 minutes behind him. And Dean Kessler took 3rd a couple minutes behind me.

PS: My thanks again to the organizers and the fantastic volunteer staff. They stand alongside the road in the hot sun and cold rain and score us and encourage us through the whole event. Just amazing people who clearly love motorcycles and participating in an event like this.

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