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!

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