Doing it all the hard way...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ronde van Palouse 2013 Race Report and Photos

I only wanted a regular epic, not a biblical epic....
If you want to see race photos of everybody click here  for Spotshot photos !
 Yeah, a lot of it was like THIS  !
While I can't say my whole road racing season has been focused on this race, I will say it is the one I most looked forward to racing. I did this race two years ago and loved it so much I wanted to do it again.  Hottie and I made the trek to Spokane on Friday and drove the course scouting for photo spots. Although I recalled portions from two years ago; I was struck by the topography. It was like an Escher drawing. The loop course seemed to undulate uphill the whole way around. The weather reports had been varied ranging from ten percent chance of precipitation to seventy percent. It wasn't until the day before the race that the predictions finally converging on "epic."

With an eleven o'clock start there was no rush Saturday morning. After a rainy night and freezing temperatures, the sky looked promising at eight in the morning as we drove around Spokane seaching for breakfast. Puffy clouds in the distance and blue sky overhead; despite the stiff cool breeze, the sight raised my spirits.
Sunshine and false hopes !
When we made it to the race the clouds were gathering, but still my hopes were high. By the time I got dressed and on the trainer hope was lost and I donned my yellow (dark sky) glasses. The wind cut through to your core, but the numeric temperature was above freezing.
This ride was so hard the before picture is in black and white !!
Like a bunch of kids who knew they should know better, we prepared for our folly. Some on trainers, some riding the road and others just sitting in their cars working on their powers of denial. In desperation, riders stuffed bars into their mouths in hopes of laying up some stores of energy to fight off the elements and the exhaustion that would follow. As we rolled to the line a breeze from behind carried a dusting of snow and we let out a collective, "oh......crap."
Charging into insanity !
We rolled out with a tailwind and a smattering of snowflakes blowing in the thirty mile an hour gusts. Soon we were racing and in no time our race blew apart. Less than five miles in and it was every man for himself. The wind was coming from our left and I looked down and was looking at the left side of my skewer through the right side of my tilted wheel. I looked up and the riders were all leaning left as if they were turning to the left. We were in fact on a right hand bending section of road. I had to spit and the wind blew it all the way to Idaho before it hit the ground.
Down we go ! BTW, the hill on the other side makes you cry just looking at it..
When we finally made the turn at the north end of the course we were heading east with a tailwind. I looked down and I was going 51k per hour on a slight uphill pedaling with ease. I was part of a small group and we traded pulls after making another right turn and clawing back southward with the nasty wind coming from a west, southwest direction. We were all hurting, but there was no place to hide. The wind pushed us around like a football stiff arm. When we hit the gravel I was a bit behind the other two and started making up ground. A long stair step climb with loose gravel and a side wind that kept trying to move me around on the gravel.
Chose your line carefully !
In gravel you don't make any sudden moves and turning is done with extreme caution. A side wind was trying to push me sideways and my efforts to stay straight nearly violated the first part of the rule. I consider myself a good gravel rider and the strong wind made me nervous.
There was time for everyone to find their own personal purgatory!
After reaching the crest of the climb a short downhill leads to a sharp right hand turn that was a mix of deep loose gravel and soft mud. A short hill that would have been nothing if it weren't for the headwind that made it hard to keep a straight face. I was in a Galibier gear on a three percent grade and I was getting out of the saddle to keep my speed in double (mph) digits. This was the suffering we had been promised.

The gravel and mud continued for another five miles all of it with a headwind that was like a punch in the face. Hottie was photographing and she said she didn't see anyone coasting the short downhill section as the headwind would stall them if they didn't keep pedaling.
Keep it moving !!
The mud and gravel road drops into a canyon and emerges with a steep loose climb that kept everyone guessing. The climb out of the canyon constituted the final kilometer of the course where we received the good news that we had two more laps before we would be done.

I had caught Dave from Methow and a local kid named Justin. I said, "let's work together," and both guys responded with affirmitive grunts and nods. We sped down a steep downhill and climbed up the far side and Dave was gone. I looked back and he was struggling. His body language said, "don't make eye contact with me."
Cooked Evo !!
As I looked ahead the rollers climbed and seemed to go on forever. It was like looking out at the ocean for the last wave; they just kept coming. You climbed a series of rollers only to reach the top and see another set that went even higher.
Go Evo Go !!
I worked with Justin and we were together when we made the right turn at the cemetery at the north end of the course, but soon he too dropped. I pushed on and caught and passed some other solo riders who looked like they wanted to be done or dead, and they didn't seem to have much of a preference.
The ride was billed as a tough one and at times I looked down to see if I had a flat or if I was riding on fly paper as it was so much harder than it was supposed to be. I know from my cyclocross and my morning commute that when I go through a short section of trail and your tires sink in soft dirt it is a strength draining feeling and when it ends I feel like I have been released from the death grip of mud.

Evo was pretty blown himself. I could feel I had some kind of Hammer Gel crust on the side of my mouth. I looked down and my dribbles from drinking or misfired snot rockets had picked up dust and were conspicuously visible. The cold and wind kept my nose running like a faucet. I had feeling in my feet, but it was a bit of a dull ache from the vibration both of the rural pave' and the rough gravel. My shoulders and hands were sore from the pounding.

I pushed hard through the mud and gravel section and soon passed the finish line and was onto my final lap. There was a sense of relief to be on the road. The stress of scanning the gravel for the best line not just to go faster, but to avoid a face plant takes a Zen-like focus that is mentally exhausting. I looked behind me on a long stretch of road and there was nobody to be seen. We were strung out. I soon noticed a rider up the road and worked to catch him. I caught and blew past the guy in a HSP kit and he looked and sounded shattered. Then I caught a rider about every five to eight minutes and that was motivating. The hills were such that if you could push the downhill and attack early on the uphill you could crest the roller with some speed. If you got behind the power curve you were in your small ring and big cog and wishing you could be home cutting your lawn or at the dentist getting a root canal.

We had little snow flurries on each of the three laps and the wind was relentless. My knees, feet and hands hurt. My low back was reminding me how old I am. I knew the end was coming and pushed into the headwind. I was catching riders faster and faster and they were going slower and slower. The guys at the traffic controls were shouting positive encouragement, but their words were carried away by the wind. I smiled and said, "thank you," but I doubt they could hear me either. I could not tell for sure if the riders I was catching were from my cat or one further up. I am reluctant to call it a death march, but they were all tired and wobbly.
Evo crosses the line, done for the day.  
By coincidence I passed six or so guys in the last kilometer. As riders crossed the line they weren't interested in taking a victory lap. Those whose significant other were at the finish line threw their spent bikes into their trucks, vans, or clipped them onto bike racks and they dropped their weary bones into the cars like a pile of dirty clothes.
After riding hard for the better part of three hours I wanted to ride easy for a few minutes and so I made my way the three miles to the school parking lot. I was cooked. I found Hottie and Tux and struggled to change my clothes. They offered up burritos and I made one and chomped it down.

1 comment:

Steelcyclist said...

Wow, I chose the wrong race this weekend. Those Eastern WA guys know how to have fun.