Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Race Report Vance Creek RR

My race time of one thirty allowed a bit of a lie in and a leisurely morning of coffee and loading up. I will confess I was anxious about this race. I rode this last year and it was an intense experience. I was shelled off the back on the final climb on the first of four laps. I knew my mistakes from last year, but knowing what you did wrong before and doing it right now are two different things.

The start/finish line is the high point of the course. After the start there are a series of turns and swooping downhills on rough pave.’ Then a sharp right hand turn onto rougher farm roads with potholes, some loose gravel, and a number of ninety degree turns as the course follows what I can only assume is Vance creek. Then another ninety degree right puts us onto a wide two lane highway with plenty of shoulder and after some gentle rollers another right and we are onto some not so gentle rollers and then a heinous steep climb to the finish line. Each loop is 13.25 miles with 500 feet of climbing, about 300 of it in the final 1.1k.

We arrived in time to sign in and warm up. So far all was progressing on plan. There would be three from my team in my 50+ race and our brother John was in the 30+ race that followed ours by five minutes. As the time drew near we rolled over. Soon the starter called us “greybeards” to the line, Hank, Mathew and I took our positions. I was in the back of the pack as we waited. The lead car was sixty meters ahead of us with a large orange sign that said “BIKE RACE.” I started taking deep breaths in anticipation.

The starter signaled us to begin and I implemented my first lesson from last year and I jumped into any open spot I could find to move up in the pack. As we sailed downhill I kept looking for openings and moved up first on the outside, then on the inside. I was constantly thinking about improving my position. On a long sweeping lefthander we were sailing at close to forty miles an hour when a guy in apex green kit pulls up on my right on the road shoulder. I could hear him because the shoulder had a lot of loose grit which I am guessing was from sanding the roads last winter. The guy gets a little ahead of me and his bike starts to wobble. At first I think he is trying to be funny and is shaking his bars. The look of horror on his face told me otherwise and I just moved left as someone shouted, “don’t brake.” I assume they meant for him not to apply his brakes, but they could have meant don’t break your body. The shimmy was just increasing and that was slowing him down and once he was behind me, he was no longer my problem. My present situation required one hundred and ten percent of my concentration to be focused on what was in front of, and immediately next to, me.

As we hit the right hand turn onto the farm roads I knew what was coming up. The peloton slowed approaching the corner and then, and here is what I learned from last year so I was ready this time, accelerated hard after the corner. Last year I was in the back of the pack when we hit ninety degree corners and there was fifteen seconds of maximum effort to catch up after these corners, this year I was about a third of the way back and it was five seconds of max effort. Soon we hit another corner and the pattern of slowing into, and accelerating hard out of, the turn was repeated. The difference of being near the front, versus being near the back on these is amazing.

People were moving up on the outside and whenever I saw a gap in front of me, I jumped off of the wheel I was following and took another. It was kind of scary as we hit bridges, rough or loose roads; we all held our lines. You are inches from the wheel in front of you and riders are tight on either side as well. I thought about taking a drink but this was not a place to take a hand off the bars. I dared a glance at my computer and noted we were going 27 miles an hour. I was working to conserve my energy for the climb. I marveled at how fast I was going while trying to keep my effort to a minimum. When I say minimum, I mean as little as you can do and still go 27 mph on a bike. Before joining the highway there was a long straight with better pavement and I took a hurried gulp from my bottle.

As we turned onto the highway our pack went from long and narrow, to short and fat as the shoulder was wide enough to park a car and riders were moving up on the right. I swung around and moved into about tenth spot and worked my way out of the wind. I remembered this is where Tim went down in 2008. It got hectic as everyone wanted to be near the front. It was like Paris-Roubaix where two hundred riders all want to be in the top fifteen when they hit the cobbles. I felt strong on the rollers and noted Matthew was leading the chase as we approached Alp d’ Satsop. Matthew is a strong rider and would often lead Cyclocross races, but the speeds on the road mean the lead dog is working twice as hard as the rest of the pack. Once we were on the big hill the clunk of riders shifting into their small chain ring was very audible. Matthew paid the price for leading the peloton and shot back through the pack and was left alone by the time we crossed the line for the first lap. Except for the leading part, I had been Matthew last year. Working hard on the flat only to blow up and die on the big climb, followed by three laps of time trialing on wobbly legs. My goal was not to repeat that this year. I worked up the hill and held my spot. I took an inside line on the corner and wrestled the steepest part out of the saddle. I crossed the line in the pack and my goal was met.

As we reformed for the descent I squeezed some gel into my mouth and worked up to about tenth as we entered the flats. We rode two across and I felt I had achieved my goal of not getting shelled on the first lap. Attacks came and were caught. I found myself hanging onto the wheel of a guy from First Rate who was chasing down a break and so I hung on for all I was worth. It took more out of me that I had hoped and I made an effort to recover. I worked on my form and tried to be efficient and breathed deeply and slowly in an attempt to bring down my pulse. I drank more liquid and took some more gel. I looked around and these were all fast guys. Hank and I were close and this was racing. I was getting my twenty bucks worth. I recognized a guy from Cyclocross and he was moving as well. I was proud of myself for riding in the mix. One of our team and injured himself and broken some components at this race two years ago and that tale had caused me to race to conservatively last year.

As we get older we seldom venture out of our comfort zone. When we do try something new, and it doesn’t go well, we usually just avoid it in the future. Driving the course before the race to familiarize Hottie with the roads for photo opportunities my stomach was in knots as the memories from last year were not fond ones. To be in the mix as we approached the halfway point, and to have raced boldly, was fulfilling my lofty pre race expectations. I was so stoked I felt like I had already won the race.

As we turned onto the highway I held my position and felt alright on the rollers. Hank moved past me and I stayed close. As we started the final climb I was drifting back and tried powering up while seated and then when I stood there was no increase in power. Instead of sitting down and spinning I stayed out of the saddle and a gap opened up. I reached deep into my suitcase of courage. I knew that if I could keep in contact over the top I would be in the mix for another lap, and perhaps if I rode real smart I could recover on the third lap and then who knows what could happen. My quads screamed and I found my suitcase was empty. I fought on as I knew every second would count if I hoped to latch back on. I saw Hottie snapping pics and her words of encouragement helped me climb.

Passing the finish line for the second lap I was perhaps fifteen seconds back and I jumped onto a wheel and we tried to close the gap. I was feeling like my power wasn’t there. I got out of the saddle and the front wheel felt mushy. I looked down and saw more sidewall that I should and realized I was going flat. Considering how much time the peloton had spent with riders, including me, on the shoulder riding over all kinds of crap, I was surprised there hadn’t been more flats. As I type this, I recall John telling me that two years ago all kinds of riders had flats at this race.

The top of the course was near the parked cars and I slowed stepped off my bike. A little over 27 miles in one hour and seven minutes, my elevation climbed was a little over a thousand feet. My average was 23.7 miles an hour. We had been flying. I had been flying. I hate not finishing a race. But my success at having been in the mix and not getting blown to bits on the first lap left me surprisingly satisfied with my ride.

I changed and made my way back to cheer on my brethren. Hottie got some good shots and Tux survived the day as well.

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