Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ronde Van Palouse Race Report 2011

We all look good before the slaughter begins

A year ago the Vance Creek Road Race was the second weekend in April. I had assumed it would be on the same weekend in 2011 and planned accordingly. I had seen announcements about the Ronde van Palouse, which sounded interesting, but was in conflict with Vance Creek so I looked the other way.

A couple of weeks ago I realized Vance Creek had been moved to May, so the weekend was open. The Ronde promised an alternative from the ultra-serious road racing and Hottie and I were in need of a little break anyway. The fact that the race was on my birthday was an added bonus.

I watched the weather and when I was convinced it wouldn’t be wet, I signed up and booked a room. I noted one of my friends who rides for was already registered, so I took some solace in knowing there would be at least one familiar face in the hinterlands to the east.

I bailed early from work and Hottie and I enjoyed an uneventful drive over with sunshine and a sleeping greyhound in the back. Either my haste or laziness resulted in my booking a room in Post Falls Idaho (4 miles from the border).

The town is so small they all share the same mail box.
The morning of the race dawned clear and crisp, with the promise of warmer temperatures by race time. The Spokane area is at the intersection of rolling farm fields and pine covered hills. The drive to the race was pretty and I was excited.

I got a coffee on the way and realized just how serious they are about racing in the northeast corner of the state...


After driving the course, we returned to the starting area. I spotted Kevin and we were both glad to claim a friend in this hostile land. Our field was lean in number as well as body type. We rolled out and the first few miles we all behaved like gentlemen.

After a full rotation of double pacelines we hit our first significant roller. A drop of one hundred and sixty feet where I clocked 44 mph. Up the other side was a climb of the same elevation and I never got out of my big chain ring. The kindness had ceased and the field began to splinter. I made the selection and was in a lead group of five.

The rollers were pretty typical. Steep at the bottom (where you are carrying your speed), and tapering near the top, so you could power over. Then a nasty one broke the pattern and kicked up at the top. I lost some ground and let a gap form. As I pushed to close it, I felt a cramp in my right calf.

I decided to cruise for a minute and catch on with the next group. Much sooner than I expected I had company. Our chase group wasn’t very organized and soon we too were split up. A right turn and we were headed south and fighting the winds the Palouse is famous for. Nobody gained or lost much, but I did close on the rider in front of me.

Soon we turned onto the gravel that was the reason for the race. Channeling my inner Katie Compton, I ignored the urge to slow down and plowed down the first loose downhill. Then I used my Cyclocross skills to power up the gravelly rollers. I was able to spot soft dirt and avoid it. I was catching riders who were lacking either in boldness, or skills, in riding the loose stuff. The second stretch of road was soft and the wheel tracks told me lots of riders were getting sideways. I moved my weight back and focused on keeping my pedaling motion smooth and I passed some more fledgling souls.
The dirt road turned once more and was firmer and faster. As I approached a steep uphill a rider to my right was out of the saddle and his rear wheel was slipping. Pedaling hard, with my weight on my rear wheel, I blasted over the hill and soon we were back on pavement. In a minute or two, our group reformed and we started working together as we approached the killer hills near the end of the first lap.

I kept drifting back and catching up with this group. As we neared the top of the longest climb of the route I was off the back. I nearly caught up as we peaked on the final climb, which rose to the high point of the whole course and provided an inspiring vista which I would have enjoyed if I could have caught my breath and un-crossed my eyes

Soon I was rolling past the start line, then past the finish line and on the second and final lap. I was living the lonely life of a dropped rider. I spotted someone up ahead and tried to time the gap between us. The gap was sixty seconds, then forty, then twenty, and then I was close, but didn’t seem to be gaining. The rollers and wind had us both getting out of the saddle periodically. As I finally closed it down I realized it was Kevin. He was cooked and we hit the gravel together. I rode smartly through the loose stuff and when I got back on the pave’ I soft pedaled until Kevin caught up. He was grateful and we soon caught another spent rider from our group and the three of us worked together. The hills were relentless and when I got out of the saddle my quads were both cramping. I thought I had been drinking enough, but a spin class on Friday morning combined with the long drive with little to drink and dry climate gave me plenty of reason to be low on electrolytes.

The three of us limped the last few miles like a true band of brothers. On the final two climbs I felt good until I got out of the saddle only to sit down and cry “uncle.” I told them to go on and I geared down and spun a lower gear seated and to my surprise, caught up. I repeated this on the final hill and soon we were zipping toward the finish.

Kevin kept at the front and led me like he knew it was my birthday. We were three across with 200M to go and I felt it my duty to announce that I was going to sprint. I went and my companions let me have my glory. My quads cramped and I just stayed on it, and I let the burn overcome the pain.

As riders stood around afterwards, they all looked like they had suffered on the ride. There is a look that says I gave the last 200 meters all I had, and there is another look that says I gave the whole 48 miles everything I had. I saw lots of the latter. I didn’t see anyone asking to add another lap to the race next year. My computer told me I had just over three thousand feet of climbing on the day. The fact that we were more than a half mile above sea level may have also contributed to my experience.

Post Race notes:
My bike was wonderful with 25mm tires at 105 psi. I wore a short sleeved jersey with two under shirts (one mesh and the other wool) and arm warmers. I also wore knee warmers and toe covers and a little poly skullcap kept my cozy. I started with a vest, but peeled it off halfway through the first lap.
The race was well staged with controlled intersections and lead, and follow, cars. Although the fields were small they were fast and it was an adventure.
The Cyclocross skills were a huge advantage.

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