Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Snelling RR

Too keep things short, I’ll skip over the pre-race and first two laps at Snelling where I followed along with Ed working hard to stay with the main group through the hard pace. When he flatted in the heavy crosswind section the pace was really high and I was able to stick on the back. I felt bad about leaving him, but he yelled at me to keep on it, so I did. The next 1.5 laps was a mix of blocks and minor attacks by various groups. The last lap saw the pace pick up again and split the field a bit. I was in the back group with 6-7 others but we were able to work together well enough to get back to the front group who had slowed down. For the last 2 miles going into the rough straightaway and final right hand turn the pace slowed way down, and the field stretched out into a large line in the right gutter providing no hiding spot from the wind. I began moving up on the right side of the others, sitting in the wind and getting ansy for something to happen… We had less than 1km to the finish, so instead of waiting I tried attacking. I got into the first turn in the lead, and then remembered how long the finishing straight was. The 63 miles of hard pace and cold headwinds caught up to me before the finish line did and I made it to about 100M before I started getting passed. I still finished ahead of some of the group, so it wasn’t all for nothing.

I was pretty toasted before I attacked, and I know I should have made a little harder effort initially to get a bigger gap, but I just didn’t have it in the end. Still, I would do it again as killing yourself for first is more rewarding than cruising into second. Final result says 21st, so not to bad for hard early season race (long one for me too) and full field of 100 racers.

This was also a great time to scope out some of the competition as this was my first race as at Cat 4, and I managed to spot a couple guys who appear strong and I'll be watching them the next couple races.

Next up, back to the same area on Sunday for Merco RR, then my first crit of the year, Menlo Park GP (and I’ve got friends/family coming to watch!!!! Extra incentive!)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cantua Creek and Snelling Road Races, Ed Price

Cantua Creek Road Race

After several years of thinking about racing the Cantua Creek Road Race this year I finally made it. The course does suit my talents with no mountains, a good distance (50 + miles) and a long uphill finish, like half way up Coolidge Drive at UCSC. I finished 4th, Vlada finished 5th and Joe Platin finished 6th place. It was my highest placing since finishing second in a Cat 3/4 open field at the Early Bird Criterium some five years ago.

Our team had the most riders in the race with four, John Pollard being the other team rider. The winner broke away from the start into a downhill headwind and we never saw him again. Thinking back on it, we should have had some sort of plan for the race and I take responsibility for that. I should have assigned someone to cover the first one half lap till the turn around and someone else to cover the road back to the finish and so forth. I realize with the 45+ 4/5 field and a relatively flat course we could have controlled the race better. Hindsight is always perfect vision and next time we will all know better. I knew it would be impossible for the field to work together and by the time I was aware of anyone off the font, his lead was two minutes. He was obviously very strong and well on his way to being a Cat 3 rider. The race alternated between 19 miles per hour and 27 miles per hour as the pack would string out when someone would pull hard and slow down when he would tire. I moved up to the front in the last lap back to the finish but I never put my back into any hard pulls, I just wanted to be near the front in the last five miles or so. I sprinted pretty hard from a very long way out, maybe 800 meter or so and built up a good lead, only to see two riders pass me on the last uphill to the finish. It was way too early but I still finished 3rd in the filed sprint and 4th overall. Looking at the pictures of the race, Vlada was right behind me and Joe was just ahead of the main field.

I want to thank John Pollard for all of the work he did in the middle of the race, he took some hard pulls with a rider from San Jose, Joe was very active at the front and the same was true of Vlada. I don't think the four of us could have caught the lone breakaway after he built up a two minute lead and maybe none of us could have held his wheel for the entire race as one person is much harder to draft off of than a large group but we should have tried to cover his early move anyway and for that, I take full responsibliity for our failure to do so. I haven't won a race since 1998 at the Pescadero Road Race so my mindset has been to try to place in the top six and on some courses, just to finish as high as possible. This year my fitness is much better, my weight is much lower and my uphill sprint is sharper from six months of sprinting up the backside of Bonita at the end of the Sunday ride when the legs are already very tired.

Our team has never been as strong as it is now. We now have 23 active racers on the team and people are comming to us from other teams wanting to join because we have the most road racers of any team in the county. I need to get used to the idea of our team being able to control a race and set someone up for the win and Cantua Creek showed me it is possible on select courses.

Snelling Road Race

Snelling Road Race was the following Saturday. I entered the open Cat 4 race that started very early (8:05am). The rain held off for the race but the wind picked up from about 15 miles per hour on the first lap to 20 miles on the second lap to 30-35 miles per hour on the third lap. Our field was full at 100 and the racing started as soon as we hit the tailwind that started the first of five laps. The group stayed mostly together until the third lap when the race started to "blow apart" on the tailwind section of road that headed north. I bridged from group to group until I was in the lead group of maybe 20 riders with six riders off the front by maybe ten seconds. The race turned right and into a fierce sidewind when I found myself at the front of the group of 20 trying to bridge to the six man break when my rear tire blew and I had no choice but to stop and repair it. I watched about six different groups of my race go by and when I remounted, I was all alone, riding 13 miles per hour directly into the wind back to the start-finish line. There were still two more laps to go and not wanting to drop out, I rode on. Someone from my race caught me who had broken a chain earlier and we rode together till the finish. I was really good to have some company on the headwind section.

I felt good about the race considering I made the final selection of the best riders and I was really happy to see Bryan King right there in that elite group of about 20. He went way too early on the sprint and lead into the right hand turn but he gave it his best shot. I was really impressed with how Bryan rode because in the space of about five miles, 60 riders lost contact with the lead group and he was right there. Pretty impressive.

Next Sunday is my hardest race so far this year, the 45+ open category at the McLane-Pacific Road Race. 53 miles of gentle rolling hills over two laps. 100 riders in my race and it is an NRC race that is part of the National Racing Calendar so it attracts the best age group riders in the state. The last time I raced McLane-Pacific in the 35+ 4/5 category, the wind was still, the weather was perfect and we covered 53 miles in 1:52 (an average of 26.5 miles per hour). I hope the weather is cooperative and the wind not a huge factor. In Sunday's race my goal is to finish with the main group.

Ed Price

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cantua Creek photo

Joltin' Joe the Baker at Cantua Creek Road Race

Snelling Road Race, Masters 45+ open, 2/23/2008

They say that failure is good for the soul. If that's true, then my soul is looking real good today... :)

I was a little apprehensive about entering the Masters 45+ open race at Snelling. In fact, I had originally signed up for the Masters 35+ 4/5 race, since I'm a new Cat 4 racer. But one of my teammates, Dennis Pedersen, said he was interested in doing Snelling this year (he had never done it before) and wanted to know if I'd join him in his race.

So, when Dennis suggested I race with him at Snelling, I thought about what happened at the Giro just a few months ago, where I got blown out big time by the likes of Kevin Metcalfe, Don Langley, and Chris Black. But the Giro was a crit - and in the 2 road races I had done last year (San Ardo and Henleyville), I had done just fine - and really enjoyed the road races so much more than the crits. I mistakenly thought that a Masters 45+ open road race would be much more tame than a Masters 45+ open crit (like the Giro di San Francisco).

So I accepted Dennis' challenge to join him at Snelling, and really thought the course would suit me well - no giant climbs, just some rollers - much like San Ardo or Henleyville - and a slight uphill finish, just like San Ardo - perfect!

And I had some additional data points that sent false signals to my brain - I had just done the Cantua Creek road race last weekend and managed to pull off a possible top 10 finish on a course that had an nice uphill finish (3 uphill rollers, in fact) - the results haven't been posted yet (typical Velo Promo), but you can read about that race right here. Of course, that was a Masters 45+ 4/5 race, and not an open race. It's amazing what a difference there is between "4/5" and "open" - in this case, "open" can easily be replaced by "1/2/3" - and you'd have a much fairer idea of the difference between the two categories of races...

Now, my game plan for the Snelling race was simple enough - just sit in the main pack, try to shadow Dennis as much as possible, conserve energy, don't respond directly to attacks - just follow the lead of the main pack and surge when they surge, rest when they rest. I figured a break might develop and get away, but it wouldn't have me in it - I'd be more than content for this group of animals to just finish in the main bunch at the end of the race. My goal was to just finish the race with the main pack - and I didn't really care if I was first or last. Well, if I had an opportunity to finish first, I'd certainly go for it - and Dennis and I discussed all kinds of strategy ideas, in conjunction with a lot of super ideas that Mark Edwards mentioned to both of us in a flurry of e-mails just before the weekend.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened when the race got underway - when you enter an open Masters 45+ race, it consists of primarily cat 1, 2, and 3 racers that have simply lived for at least 45 years - but many of them aren't really all that much slower than their younger counterparts...

And our race had luminaries signed up that included the likes of Kevin Metcalfe of Team Specialized, Kevin Willitts of Alta Alpina, Chris Black from Morgan Stanley, Jon Ornstil and Jess Raphael from VOS Racing, and Shin Umeda and Robert Parker from Webcor / Alto Velo. Dennis and I affectionately refer to them as "mutants" - actually, most of them are very nice guys - but they almost always make a hard race nearly impossible, in the best of circumstances.

Additionally, the Morgan Stanley team had 4 guys entered, VOS Racing had 10 guys (out of just 50 total!), Webcor / Alto Velo had 5 guys, and the International Christian Cycling Club had 5 guys entered. So there were several large teams - and with all those very experienced - and very strong - cyclists on some of those bigger teams, it seemed that attacks and blocking would be the order of the day.

Well, the start of the race WAS a lot easier than the start of last year's Giro crit - but that's only because the first 3.5 miles of the race is a gentle promenade from the start of the race in the town of Snelling to the entry of the main 11.7-mile closed course loop - and the promenade is lead by a motorcycle (first time for me - pretty cool, I thought!). As we rolled through the neighborhoods of Snelling at a gentle 15 mph pace, everyone was chatting away and being very nice and civil to one another - I was feeling very good and very confident...

Yeah, this race was going to be a piece of cake - I'd just sit in the main pack for the whole race - staying towards the front as much as possible - then wait for that last 90-degree right turn that is a few hundred meters from the finish line, unleash my killer sprint, and get a nice top 10 placing...

Well, you know what they say - the best laid plans...

As soon as we hit the main course loop, there is a small climb - not more than 1/10 of a mile - but the pace - and my heartrate - shot up noticeably within just 1/4 mile after cresting that first little hill, which seemed like a major mountain the way everyone started screaming up the hill. I realized fairly quickly that this was definitely NOT a Masters 45+ 4/5 race - those races would have never launched into such a ferocious pace so quickly. Now I realize why I saw so many guys warming up on rollers an hour before the race started - they were the ones that just knew what was going to unfold in those opening minutes of the real race.

(Note to self: If I EVER do another Masters 45+ open race, get a good solid 30 minute warmup BEFORE the race starts...)

My system went into anaerobic shock as my heartrate climbed quickly up to my redline pace - beyond my normal time trial pace - I can hold my heartrate at about 160 bpm (my max heartrate is 175 bpm) for an hour, no problem. But if it climbs up into the 165 bpm to 170 bpm range, I can only hold that for 5 to 10 minutes.

After we crested that first small hill, the attacks unfolded - incessantly! First one guy would attack and go off the front - the main pack would quickly string out as the chase began - and this was with a healthy tailwind / crosswind at our back - the pace was so intense, there was essentially zero drafting effect - at least, for me - I was hanging on for dear life, just trying to stay in contact with the guy in front of me. Then, as soon as the guy who attacked was caught, the pack would slow down ever so slightly - but before you had a chance to recover, another guy - or sometimes, even the same guy that had just attacked, would repeat the insanity and we'd do it all over again.

As I found out later, this phenomenon is typical in a Masters 45+ open race - the big guns in the race make sure the opening miles are super hard, to shell out the weaker riders in that first 5 to 10 miles - this reduces the size of the pack and presumably increases their chances for placing higher at the end of the race - there could be some riders that have good sprints (like me, for example), but if those sprinters get shelled early, they won't be around at the end to contest the field sprint, if it comes down to that. Plus, a series of attacks can eventually lead to a successful breakaway, as was the case in our race.

I, however, didn't get to see all that unfold, as I was gasping for oxygen within the first 5 miles of the closed race course loop - about 8.5 miles into the entire race. I was keeping myself in contact with the main pack - barely - but I was doing okay, all things considered.

But then, on a small rise on the backside of the main course, there was yet another set of attacks that finally formed a small gap between me and the 2 guys in front of me - and they had let a small gap form in front of them, too - so now there were a couple of gaps for me to close.

I quickly closed down the gap to the 2 guys in front of me, and we now had a threesome - and I was hoping we could work together and catch back onto the main pack. We tried to form a paceline to do just that - but all of us were dead tired and were not doing much to close the gap - we weren't falling further behind, but we weren't gaining, either.

Then there was this hard right-hand turn that took us from a crosswind situation into a direct headwind condition - and that's when it all fell apart. One of the guys simply sat up and said he was done - this other guy and I decided to continue to press on - but not for long. My partner was stronger than me - and his pulls were longer and harder than my pulls. I think he eventually figured out I wasn't really helping him much - so he suddenly sprinted away and dropped me after I took one of my hardest pulls - I was way too tired to go after him and grab his wheel, so I just watched helplessly as he motored up the road - he wasn't going that much faster than me, but fast enough that I was slowly losing ground to him - and with that incredible headwind - it felt like a 20 mph to 30 mph wind - it was getting increasingly demoralizing, being out there all alone.

Then I hit the really awful stretch of bumpy road that you ride along for about 2 miles - it's the most difficult spot on the course - the road is so bumpy and horrible, it's dead straight - so it looks like it goes on forever - and you have this rotten headwind/crosswind condition that keeps blasting away at you, reminding you how insignificant you are, compared to Mother Nature...

Finally, I hit the 90-degree right turn that is the beginning of a 300 to 400 meter stretch of road with a small hill that takes you to the finish line area at the top of the hill - I limped by the finish line area going only 12 or 13 mph up that small hill - about 5 mph slower than the main pack would be doing it, I thought. I heard Bryan King near the finish area, filming me on video as I passed by, offering a word or two of encouragement.

It's really depressing to be on that course all by yourself, knowing the main pack is now a mile or two ahead, and increasing the distance between you and them with every turn of the pedals. I started onto the 2nd lap, determined to press on anyway. But after going just a few miles into the 2nd lap, I decided I was done for the day. I think when you get demoralized, your legs feel just a little heavier than they really are - but it really doesn't matter. When your mind says you're done, you're done. I was done.

I turned around at that point and headed back to take myself off the course, near the area where we had entered the closed course loop. A race official took my number and relayed by radio that I was a DNF and I crawled back to the car, which Bryan had so graciously parked right near the course for us - he had raced in the morning with Ed Price, in the Cat 4 race - and had done quite well - he thinks he got about 20th or 25th in a huge pack of 100 original starters - great job, Bryan!

Our pack, which started with 50, also got whittled down - I understand about 1/2 of our pack pulled themselves out within the first 2 laps - so I took a small consolation that I was not alone - but it still bothered me that I had not been able to hold onto the main pack and at least finish the race - even dead last in the bunch sprint would have been a victory for me, considering the quality of the competition.

Dennis, on the other hand, did great! A small breakaway of about 4 guys got away about halfway through the race - then their respective teams all blocked for them. Dennis and a few other guys tried to get the pack chasing, but were unsuccessful. Then one guy got off the front during the last lap and time-trialed his way into 5th place - the 4 guys in the original breakaway dropped one of the guys early on, but he managed to time-trial his way around the course to finish 4th. For the bunch sprint, Dennis was able to hold off the entire rest of the pack (about 18 guys), and took 1st in the field sprint, for a very-well deserved 6th place, and one of those coveted Velo Promo t-shirts (the top 6 get a t-shirt with the name of the race on it). Good job, Dennis! I just wish I was there with you at the end of race.

Oh well, even in failure you can learn a lot about yourself - what to do next time, and certainly, what NOT to do, too! In my case, I think I'll stay away from the Masters 45+ open races until I've made myself into a stronger racer - maybe by the end of this racing season, and hopefully by the beginning of next year, for sure...

- Steve Rosen

Snelling Road Race, 2/23/2008, Dennis Pedersen

This is a big race on the calendar, but I'd never raced it before. This year I decided to give it a try as I thought it might suit a small sprinter like me. The 11.7-mile course is on gently rolling hills (roughly 500 feet of climbing per lap), set in the foothills of the Sierras north of Merced with a slight uphill finish (as revealed by my MotionBased GPS research!). Plus, I was reunited with former Team Santa Cruz teammate Steve Rosen who also wanted to enter my 45+ open-category race, and carpool too, so that made the decision easier. Team Bicycle Trip was well represented in two races: Bryan King and Ed Price entered the earlier Elite 4 race with five laps, at 8:05 a.m., while our race started at 12:35 p.m., riding four laps. That gave Steve and I some extra sleep, and fewer miles!

But the weather, well, the weather made me reconsider. I read the forecasts, from every source I could think of, in the days and hours leading up to this race. It didn't look so good, with talk of 70 mph gusts, heavy rain and flooding in areas. The storm was due to hit in the afternoon, so I started wishing I was racing in the early group instead, extra sleep be hanged!

On race day I had a light scramble for breakfast before Steve arrived at my house (at 7:15). I brought my nice, clean-enough-to-eat-on Giant TCR C2 and my old aluminum beater bike so I could choose either depending on the weather at the race. I really wanted to ride the Giant, because the carbon-fiber frame would make the notoriously bumpy roads of this course smoother and faster. But I didn't want to mess the bike up if the rain was blowing horizontally either.

En route we got some light rain, and strong wind, but not enough to dissuade us. We stopped for a second breakfast at Casa de Fruta (having two breakfasts in one day is, well, like heaven!). Only a little heavier on the carbs this time, as it was still four hours before our race start: More eggs, plus ham, hash browns and a biscuit.

Snelling is north of Merced in a beautiful, green expanse of meadows, fields and creeks, with the snow-capped Sierras as a backdrop. When we got to the race venue in tiny Snelling, we signed in and decided to sit in the car to stay warm as long as possible, because the 15 mph wind from the southeast was chilly. Mark and we had traded some ideas on tactics and we all knew the wind would be a factor; creating gaps with every turn. I ate a banana like a condemned man's last meal.

While we were suiting up Bryan jumped out at us; he and Ed had just finished their race, and while Ed had flatted on the second lap, Bryan had finished strong. They both gave us tips on the course and how much to wear. We both went with arm- and leg-warmers, vests and shoe covers. I worried that it wouldn't be enough if it started raining hard, but I didn't want to overheat if it didn't either. I also decided to ride my Giant because the weather was OK, and I didn't see any huge rainstorms on the horizon. I did worry about my low rolling-resistance Michelins because they flat more easily, but you can't have everything and on this rough course smooth tires would help a lot.

Both of my water bottles filled with energy drink, we lined up for our start, getting colder by the minute. I didn't bother warming up because of that, and because we had a promenade, and who needs warmup anyway? We watched for the biggest threats that we'd identified from the list of registered athletes (the field was full at 50, with another 61 on the waiting list!):

503: Chris Black, Morgan-Stanley
520: Phillip Hellman, Colavita/Sutterhome-Norcal
524: Kevin Metcalfe, Team Specialized Racing
528: Jon Ornstil, VOS Racing 546: Mark VandenBerghe, Wells Fargo Racing Team
549: Kevin Willitts, Alta Alpina Cycling Club

But Chris Black and Kevin Metcalfe never did show, and probably many others because of the dire weather forecasts, and #520 wasn't Philip Hellman (I thought he might be Marco Hellman's brother!), but Phil Heiman, who I knew from crits, but the others were there, plus Mark Caldwell, Morgan-Stanley, and a few I didn't know well enough to fear. I remembered Jon Ornstil from my first 45+ race, the 2006 Early Bird Road Race in Patterson Pass, where he was clearly a confident and fast racer. I remembered in particular how he would attack, then sit up and look back at us to see who was still there, and who was suffering most.

After our promenade behind the Course Marshall on his motorcycle through rustic Snelling we entered the closed course, and... the attacks started on the very first straightaway! No surprise. I held on for each surge and worked my way forward in the strong crosswind. Some small hills threatened to spit guys out the back, as others jumped up them. In the curvy section that followed going north we had a tailwind, but on the small hill there another attack opened several gaps that caught Steve and half the peloton out, and they were soon dropped. I was up front so I was in a good position to respond. On the back straight (nicely repaved recently but still somewhat bumpy) we sat up and formed echelons, though not rotating ones, in the crosswind from our right front. I'd guess some guys caught back on, partly because we caught some stragglers from the Pro 1/2/3 race and had to try to keep separated. Eventually the Course Marshall rode up and split us up, and after a half lap the Pros all took off.

We passed the finish line with 3 laps to go which gave me a chance to scope out the finish: We had the last sharp right turn, then about 400m up a slight hill that got steeper at the crest, all into the headwind. It turned out Bryan had stayed after Ed left, walked up there and was taping the race, cheering us on. Thanks Bryan!

Back on that first straight again, Ornstil attacked super-hard several times, each time sitting up and staring us down; I maxed out but I thought I could hold on and draft a bit, though it was touch-and-go. But I missed what then happened: It turns out several guys broke away with him and mixed with stragglers from the previous race. Willits chased but sat up when he saw he couldn't catch them. Cresting that hill with the tailwind this time was much easier... It took me a few minutes of asking questions to figure out why: The big teams, Morgan-Stanley, VOS and ICCC, all had guys in the break and their teammates were blocking for them! Stanley Terusaki of Morgan-Stanley told me to kick back and drink some water; I did! On the back straight I tried to stem my impatience and hoped a chase group would form. None did.

At the finish line, with 2 laps remaining, I pulled a bit, hoping it would motivate others. Eventually Roland Freund from Davis Bike Club, Willits, and Bob Parker of Alto-Velo/Webcor joined me, but the blockers did an awesome job of keeping us separated, disrupting our attempts to form a paceline to chase the break. I looked at who wasn't contributing and harassed the Alto-Velo teammate who didn't help Parker, but Parker said he was saving him... for the sprint? I doubt it; he didn't look the part and never did sprint. The guy from Allegiant Air/Vandenberghe Properties just sat in too like it was a cooldown lap. I guess nobody believed in our chances. The Course Marshall said it was 45 seconds to the break, then later it had increased to 2:08. I started doubting too.

On the 3rd lap I started to take more pulls, and even tried to bridge twice; once in the curvy section with a tailwind, once on the bumpy back straight. Both times I could feel myself weaken, and I then had a group of 18 guys chasing me. I gave up when I heard the gap was up to 3:30.

On the 4th lap I decided I would just contest the field sprint for a top-10 finish, and that tiring out the blockers was my best bet. I launched Ornstil-style attacks several times, as did Willits and Parker, and Freund a bit too. Then Parker attacked again, snapped the cord and time-trialed off the front with 3/4 lap to go. And held it!

I stopped pulling at 1/4 lap to go, drafted, and awaited the last turn. Two guys who had been blocking until then jumped about 600m before the turn while we surged from behind. We had debated which side of the road was best to take the last turn, but I launched hard on the left outside, passed the pack at +10 mph, skirting the ditch, my rear tire skittering through the turn, and passed the two guys who had jumped before the turn like they were standing still. My legs almost died in the headwind but I won the field sprint for 6th place! Sweet revenge!

Some of the blockers congratulated me, including Scott Calley, of VOS, who said my sprint looked scary. By that he meant that it looked daring, not reckless! Bryan, Steve and I shared stories, loaded up the car and went to see if results were posted. Velo Promo has really improved their system, and soon I was holding my hard-won T-shirt.

Darryl Smith, ICCC, got 1st, Caldwell 2nd, Ornstil 3rd, Jess Raphael of VOS 4th, and Parker got 5th. Smith won Snelling back in 2005, so we should have marked him too! (Results here.)

Driving home in the increasing storm, after stopping for a quick lunch in Merced, we talked endlessly about cycling. I guess we love the sport!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pine Flat Road Race

a few photos swiped from the interwebs...

Jim the Berserker Langley finishing 5th after his long solo breakaway.

Mark Edwards not far behind.

Matt and Scott

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pine Flat Road Race, 2/17/2008

Pine Flat Register Press Release, Sunday February 17th:

Team Bicycle Trip puts power house Jim Langley off the front for a full third of the 3 hour hilly Pine Flat Road Race. Gaining valuable TV time for team sponsor Bicycle Trip, Jim proudly displayed the team kit solo off the front for an hour. In the post race interview that never happened, Scott Hennessey might have said "Jim's unstable… I mean… he's crazy… I'm a National Time Trial Champion, where’s the respect? It took myself and 3 powerful allies an hour to chase him down, and what did he do when we caught him? He ATTACKED! He’s a menace to the established peloton paradigm. Sanctions must be considered."

Whew… talk about a wild ride. Jim, Scott, Matt, and myself headed to Fresno this past Saturday to test the 2008 road race scene. After a memorable night in the Motel 6 adjacent to Hwy 99 and Southern Pacific Railroad’s main North American hub (not to mention car alarms, slamming doors, loud talking, all night arrivals/departures – and, oh yea, the 1:34 AM wake up call that my truck had been hit in the parking lot) we rolled out at 6:00 AM Sunday to Pine Flat reservoir. The road closure and detour temporarily had us worried, but we soon found our way to the Kings River and started following it up to the reservoir. It was a beautiful ride, but a bit cold, ranging from 35 to 41 degrees.

We were warming up in circles in the small picnic area when Scott, Matt, and Jim noticed my rear brake was rubbing. Jim had his tools out in an instant and spent the next 15 minutes working to free up my rear wheel. He used every trick in the book, eventually getting it 98% corrected. A rubbing brake wasn’t what I wanted to be thinking about, but I was thankful Jim was there to get me rolling.

The race starts with a neutral promenade out of the picnic area up to the road. "UP" being the key word! This half mile section must have been a 10% grade. Several riders were dropped before the race started. I really felt for those guys, they had another 4+/- hours of solo riding ahead of them.

Once on the main road we took off, the course started with a rolling out and back 22 mile section skirting the edge of the lake. The pace was very civilized and we all talked, joked, and responded to the occasional surge.

After passing the start line we hit our first extended climb, several guys got into trouble here. Jim and I were comfortably tucked into the top 15, Scott turned himself inside out to hold my wheel, and Matt found himself in trouble. Fortunately the climb was followed by a fun extended 40 mph descent all the way to the Valley floor. The majority of the peloton came back together in short order.

Once on the Valley floor, it was apparent that the group wasn’t anymore interested in setting a hard pace than they’d been the first 30 miles. Clearly the big guns were planning to sit in until the final 30 minutes of climbing to sort out who’d stand on the top podium step.

Planning…. Until Jim took a wild flyer off the front 32 miles from the finish.

I was sitting closest to the front when Jim jumped. No one responded, so I moved to the front, got into an aero position to feign chasing, and set a pace just below Jim's. After about two minutes several guys decided to give chase. I jumped on their wheel and, as soon as they tired of the hunt, got back on the front and slowed the group again. This time I stayed on the front for around 5 minutes. Jim's gap was substantial and the group wasn't biting, so I drifted back to ask Scott to take the front and keep the pace down. In the mean time, Matt had been watching me and went to the front to disrupt the flow. After Scott had done a turn or two at the front you could sense the nervousness growing.

VOS had a very strong team and came in intending to win. Scott Hennessey was designated to chase Jim down. Twice he jumped out of the group, and twice I sat on him until he gave up. But on his third try I was elsewhere in the peloton and he got away with three others. At this point Jim had been out of sight for quite a while, and in the flat Central Valley, that’s a pretty good lead.

Scott, Matt, and I continued to sit in, unwilling to assist in chasing down our teammate. I was worried about Jim out there for so long on his own, knowing this was a long shot strategy, but Jim’s strong, if anyone could pull this off it would be Jim.

Also sitting in the peloton was Jon Ornstil (VOS) and Carl Nielson (Wells Fargo), I viewed these two guys as the favorites and stayed very close to them. Carl was working, but Jon was in the same position as me. He had a teammate away and wasn’t going to help pull him back.

At mile 51 the first big climb started. At this point we figured the breakaway was either going to make it or not on their own. So, it was time to race! To steal a phrase from Scott "when the big dogs bite, it hurts." And hurt it did. Within moments our group was down to six, minutes later it was five. As we neared the top of the big climb Carl and Leon (VOS) had a gap on Jon, a forth rider was off Jon's wheel with me trailing behind. I mustered a final effort to close the gap to the forth rider as we crested the big climb. There's a five mile valley after the big climb to the file 1.5 mile climb to the finish line. With a massive effort the five of us were back together just before the final climb started.

Jon, Leon, and the "forth" rider attacked hard. Carl popped and I was soloing behind the 3 leaders. To my surprise, Jon popped next. Wow! He’s human. Next the "forth" rider popped, cool. Leon was way too strong to catch, but finishing in the company of these amazing riders made the whole experience an unqualified success.

What happened to Jim? Well, he was caught just before the big climb and was able to hang for the entire climb. Pretty darn impressive after an hour off the front. In the valley he got popped, but managed to hang on to fifth place, crossing the line just a head of Leon and I. Matt and Scott rolled across the line a little while later, pleased with their contribution to the team effort and a nice boost of confidence placing so well in a very tough field.

Mark Edwards

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cantua Creek Road Race, 2/16/2008

First, let me welcome our newest Team Bicycle Trip recruit, my friend Steve Rosen! He's been a great ally in scoping out races, helping me understand the importance of physics in racing, and just being there for training and racing. In fact, Steve was the guy who encouraged me to enter this race, by showing me how to analyze GPS data uploaded by various riders to the MotionBased website. After I got the hang of their online tools I could see that the Cantua Creek course is mostly flat with several fairly short climbs that might favor smaller sprinters like me. This is the first time I've entered a race based on satellite reconnaisance!

After I decided to target Cantua Creek I tried to get some other teammates interested in going, and Team Captain Eddie "the Snake" Price signed up with me in the open-category 45+ race... yeah, the killer mutants! And soon teammates Joe Platin and Vladan Strbac were in too, but since they're all USCF Category 4 racers they entered the less intimidating 45+ 4/5 race (Cat. 4 and 5 racers over 45 years). Now that I'm Cat. 3 I can no longer enter those races; I hope they can upgrade soon and be forced to race the faster Cat. 1, 2 and 3 guys with me! Steve Rosen, Gary Griffin and John Pollard were also racing 45+ 4/5, and we arranged carpools for the looooong, early-morning drive to the barren regions of the Central Valley by Highway 5.

Ed kindly volunteered to drive Joe and I, and at 4:50 a.m. he pulled up in his Mercury coupe in the Pacific Coffee Roasting parking lot and we loaded up. I couldn't believe that three men with their bikes, rollers and big gear bags could fit into his car, but we did! We stopped for coffee in King City; who knew you could get lukewarm coffee at a Starbucks? We also had to stop along desolate, but gorgeous, Highway 198 to get rid of the coffee... it is a vast wilderness barely touched by human presence, and inhabited by coyotes (well, we saw one at least). The rising sun glinted on the frost.

We were running a touch late, but since Velo Promo was also running late we arrived with plenty of time to suit up, get our bikes and stuff ready, and warm up. The weather was nice and clear, and just a little chilly, so I didn't wear arm- or leg-warmers. Most road races use staggered start times, so we're often all on course at the same time but separated by 5 minutes or more and identified by the race numbers pinned to our jerseys (my group's started at 500). Ed had changed his registration to the 45+ 4/5 race, so I was the only one starting at 8:30; the others were all starting at 8:55. Racing solo forced me to reassess my tactics too.

The course is about 12 miles out, with a U-turn back; we'd do 2 laps for about 48 miles total. There are literally no houses, just pastures, fields and orchards, so traffic is light and the start of the course was on a road open to the public. Even so, the very occasional car forced us to be considerate as we lined up for the start, clumping together with the other 500-series race numbers. I didn't recognize many of the other guys except Scott Calley and Martin Wolff of VOS (they had like 9 guys there!), but I certainly recognized the jerseys of powerhouse Morgan-Stanley! As we started off we took it easy, rolling down the foothills toward HWY5 into a bit of headwind.

The first leg out wasn't too hard, though the mutants threw in a few surges just to "burn our matches" as they say. I tried to save my matches for the finish, and drafted along in the shelter of the pack. When gaps appeared ahead of me I closed them smoothly with the minimum amount of energy required, instead of stomping on my pedals in panic. I was a bit worried that the turnaround would cause splits in the group, especially with the wind, but while some guys did fly out of the U-turn nobody got away. (I had even taped the number "12" on my bars to remind me to keep alert at the 12-mile mark!)

We hit well over 30 mph returning on the flats, and had some more minor attacks, but the big excitement was passing the Cat. 5 group tooling along. We had to violate the centerline rule to do so, while yelling at them to move right. Then we hit the three short climbs just before the turnaround at the start/finish line, and I started to worry that the course was too hilly for me after all. It was hard! I was gasping trying to maintain contact with the pack, even though I made sure to start the climb at the front. Ideally these climbs would have been shorter for me.

It wasn't until the turnaround at the start/finish line that anything serious materialized. I was third wheel when Martin and another guy (John Zunino?) took off downhill and started gaining ground on us just after we started the second lap. I wasn't at all worried because I was sure the pack could easily outpace them for the remaining lap and catch them long before the finish. In the meantime we could relax and save our energy. Except that as we got nearer to the turnaround and still hadn't caught them I worried because the big teams didn't take any turns at the front. A guy from Action Sports told me they wouldn't work because they didn't have a sprinter. Instead VOS used very clever blocking tactics to slow us down; kind of fun to watch, but not helping me any!

I knew trying to bridge up by myself to the two would be suicidal, so I held back until I couldn't stand it any more. I took a few short pulls at the front to try to motivate the other solo racers to work together, but we were totally uncoordinated and nothing came of it. I guess I burned a match or two needlessely, because the break wasn't as far ahead as I feared. As we neared the turnaround I saw the two riders headed back, and I had heard Action Sports and Morgan-Stanley agree to reel them in. Yay!

The pace picked up after the U-turn, and we flew down the road. We had no trouble getting volunteers up front, even solo racers (except me; I was furiously saving matches now!). In 10 miles we caught Martin and friend, totally spent at the start of the climbs to the finish line, and we started the final approach in earnest. I stayed near the front and soon was drafting Thomas Coulter (Morgan-Stanley) up the first hill. I stayed with him as he surged a bit on the second hill, but soon the hill made its selection, and some guys dropped off while others passed me. I was surprised to be near the front, but my gasping breath and burning legs told me I was at my limit; whatever else happened I could only maintain my pace. Just yards before the finish Brian McCleary passed me (in electric blue), only to be passed in turn at the line by Alan Nielson (in white). Photos tell the story here (I'm in the white/yellow jersey, with blue helmet). I finished 9th. The results weren't very accurate for many people, but they were for my group of finishers at least, and for Ed's finishing group.

I suited down in Ed's coupe, and ate some raisins, figs and a protein bar while I waited for my teammates to finish their race. Ed came back first; he'd taken 4th! And Vladan 5th, Joe 6th!!! What a sweep, of sorts! And Steve and Gary had done well too, in about 10th and 11th, with John about 15th. I felt pretty good about my placement too, my best ever in 45+, but wished I could have done the team more proud. Maybe next weekend, at Snelling Road Race!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Geoff races CCCX #1

On Thursday night I logged on to discover an e-mail from Dennis: “Racing CCCX #1 at Fort Ord this Sunday!” At that point it wasn’t even a consideration, but I quickly contemplated the upside: the race was just a half hour away, and I could carpool with Dennis. Then I considered the down side: I had not ridden my mountain bike for two months, and had not raced mountain bikes for the better part of a decade. My off-road skills were at an all-time low ebb.

Clearly, my preparation was perfect!

On Saturday I pulled my mountain bike off the hooks in the garage and applied my highly advanced form of bicycle mechanics, which involves liberally spraying everything with lube, wiping off the excess, and lighting small votive candles. I also swapped out the front tire, which was quite bald and dated from the dawn of mountain biking.

At the start, I sucked up to the leaders and hung on in order to learn the course. It was pretty fun, with lots of woops and even some man-made berms. Before long I found myself in second, behind Billy Hall of VOS. At one point he turned around and said, “Want to work together?” I was just about to answer when my chain was violently subsumed into some nether region of the crankset. I dismounted, pulled the chain out, and resumed chase. This grim situation repeated itself a few times, and Billy finally said, “I think you have a cable tension problem.” That would be a monumental understatement, Billy!

Apparently there was contagion involved, because I soon saw Dennis, off in the bushes with the same malady, a choice string of expletives emanating from the poison oak. Soon after, I thought I had gone off course, and was turning around to ride backward toward civilization when Dennis came zinging past. “No, it’s this way!” he said. It’s great when teammates can function like such a well-oiled machine!

Prior to the race, Mark had sent me one of his exquisitely detailed e-mails telling me how to pace myself, whom to watch, etc. I had re-read this about 10 times prior to the race, and was following it faithfully. But now, due to my mechanical mishaps, it was clearly time to improvise. He had recommended waiting until the fifth lap to try something. I considered this, but when I extrapolated my current frequency of mechanical disasters over the remainder of the race, I didn’t think a last-lap attack would give me enough of a margin to conduct further trailside repairs. So with two laps to go, I attacked as hard as I could and managed to get a gap. At this point I just tried to maintain a steady pace, intoning quiet prayers to the mechanical dieties. On the final climb, I just thought, “Please, please, don’t suck the chain, please please…then…CRUNCH!” The previous episodes of chain suck were impressive, but this one was colossal, a virtuoso affair of splintering carbon and warped aluminum. I stood to one side of the bike and jumped on the pedal in a counterclockwise direction as hard as I could. Voila! On to the finish!

I wouldn’t call it a graceful or elegant win, but it was a win.

Dennis came in soon after, taking third. The Bike Trip had dominated the podium with style and panache. Or not!

Geoff Drake

Monday, February 11, 2008

CCCX Cross-Country Race #1, Fort Ord, 2/10/2008

My first race of 2008, and Geoff Drake's first mountain-bike race in 10 years! Yes, both of us entered this fun cross-country race held on the dirt trails of the former army base just north of Monterey. Later we learned that Tim Sawyer was now racing Expert too, after winning the overall series in Sport last year (Jose Hernandez raced too, but in Sport 35-44). So we had three men from Team Bicycle Trip entered in the Expert 45-54 race!

The Beginner and Sport races were all in the morning, but the Expert and Pro races started at 1:00 p.m. which meant that Margaret and I had time to have breakfast out at the Capitola Wharf House (I had their "Tugboat" which is pancakes with eggs and bacon; yummy!). Geoff was even kind enough to pick me up at my house so we could carpool down the coast, which was great because I got a chance to describe the course to him. I was convinced he'd be a favorite to win, based on how strong he climbs during our training rides. But he was worried about his back giving out which is a major concern on these long and bumpy trails. Even I get a sore back there!

The weather was absolutely perfect for racing. Geoff and I registered, got suited up in our brand-new Bicycle Trip kits and warmed up a little with Tim. I made sure both of my large water bottles had energy drink in them... two hours of hard racing demands that we refuel, and the bumpy course makes it difficult to try to eat anything solid.

As always, the start was on a short section of paved road that then led us onto the dirt trails for a total of five full laps. At the start line we scoped out our competition. I felt sure the three racers from VOS, including Billy Hall who beat me last year, were the ones to watch out for. There were about 12 racers in our group, and we joked around while nervously awaiting our delayed start.

As we started, some of the VOS guys pulled up front, with Geoff following and Brad Williamson (Family Cycling Center) on his wheel, literally; Brad ended up scrubbing Geoff's rear tire, though without crashing! Tim quickly shot ahead and took the lead onto the start of the dirt trail, and I was sixth or so, right behind Geoff and Brad. The sandy soil was dry, but the previous rains gave us great traction. I thought the pace really picked up here, but Geoff felt it didn't turn nasty until later.

We hit the first "big" climb (relatively; none are that big) without much change in our positions, and I tried to draft as there was a headwind too. We then rode along the ridge to the east edge of the reserve, where they are building a new development, and found that the trail they added there last year now has cool banked turns! We passed the finish line with 5 to go, dropped down the other side of the ridge and hit the rutted climb back toward the top of the ridge. Suddenly Brad lost his chain just as the climb started... I went around him and tried to stay behind Geoff. This climb is tough, and a bit windy, and the VOS racers passed Tim, followed by Geoff.

Soon Geoff and the VOS guys opened up a gap to Tim and I, but Tim pulled me along for the rest of the first full lap. When we got to the big climb before the start for the second time I passed him and said I was ready to take a pull into the headwind, but when I looked back he had fallen well behind. I thought he might have blown up from pulling after the start, and I was constantly on the edge too, wheezing at times, but I found out later Tim was having chain problems... more of that later!

I soon dropped down to the finish line and started my second full lap. At this point in the race we have typically split up into groups or individuals of similar ability, and I was alone most of the time. On the long descent returning us back adjacent to the paved road I passed Erik Thunstrom who had crashed hard. I found out later he had been drafting somebody closely, and didn't see a rut that flipped him off the trail and head-over-heels into the bushes, and poison oak no doubt! Those are the twin dangers out there: Drafting other riders in the wind helps a lot, but hides obstacles. And there is poison oak everywhere you look. I used Ivy Block to prevent any itchy rash, and I highly recommend it.

I passed Geoff who called out to me that his chain was sticking whenever he used the middle chainring. That "sucks." He also told me he was convinced we could catch Billy because he was tiring visibly on the steeper climbs. That motivated me, and I pushed myself hard along the ridge, back up the rutted climb and I caught Billy on the ridge heading to the west. I was stoked! So stoked that I didn't pay attention to my gear choices and crossed up my shortened chain so badly that I had to stop to fix it! Argh! That cost me almost a precious minute! We all need to fix our chains! Fortunately Geoff was able to keep the chase up, and it was great knowing that he could contest at the end in spite of his own chain problems.

I then mostly just tried to recover from the harder climbs, while pushing as hard as I could to stay close to Geoff and Billy, but they were out of sight on the twisty, overgrown trails. I passed a few racers from the younger groups, but was mostly alone with my thoughts, humming a Phil Collins song to myself ("Billy, Billy don't you lose that number, 'cause you're not anywhere that I can't find you").

I didn't know what was going on up ahead, due to the limited line-of-sight, but on the fourth lap Geoff attacked Billy all-out and opened up a gap on him. I drafted a few guys from other groups; some seemed to have totally bonked. I tried to save a little energy for the finish, and kept an eye to my rear just in case. On the fifth lap Scott Calley of VOS came in sight, but I carefully applied just enough pressure to keep him at a comfortable distance without blowing myself up. I was sore and totally drained as I cruised across the finish line. Whew, was I happy to finish, and to discover that Geoff had taken 1st while I got a 3rd place medal; my first ever as an Expert! But I was still bummed about my chain jamming, especially when I saw that Billy beat me by only 26 seconds; less than the time I lost fixing it. But Geoff probably lost more time than that with his chain, and still won... he's clearly "the man!"

You can see the official results here, and photos here and here. VOS is strong, but not invincible, and we will be seeing a lot more of them in the future, both on- and off-road. In fact, next weekend Team Bicycle Trip will be battling them at both the Cantua Creek and Pine Flat Road Races!

While we waited for the podium girls to arrive (they never did), we drank water, shared war stories and collected our medals. Geoff got cleaned up a bit after we warned him of the poison oak, and we drove homeward, proud of our Expert 1st and 3rd medals. We both checked in with our spouses, and it turned out my good friends Chuck and Stephanie were going to drop by so now I had a nice dinner out to look forward to. It may even have included a celebratory Mai-Tai!