Monday, March 31, 2008

Orosi Road Race Report

Orosi Road Race, March 29, 2008
By Mark Edwards

Is Orosi really the toughest road race in the NCNCA? For years I’ve been curious about Orosi. Several racers have told me it’s a climber’s course, it’s beautiful, and it’s the hardest race of the season. 60 miles, nearly 6,000’ feet of climbing, lightening fast narrow twisty descents and flat headwind stretches. It’s got it all.

Scott and I made a last minute decision to make a red eye round trip to see for ourselves. He picked me up at 4:00 AM and off we went.

The registration area was very low key. Threatening rain, out in the middle of no-where, long tough course, and early season kept the field small. Our 45+ race would be combined with the 35+ 1,2,3. I think there were about 25 of us at the start.

The long three mile promenade was relaxed and social. The long opening climb would change that…

30 minutes of climbing has a way of splitting things up. We didn’t appear to start too terribly hard, but the pace never dropped, even though the grade ramped up. Roughly 10 minutes after starting the climb the lead group was down to 6 (5-45+, 1-35+), and I was barely hanging on.

Somehow I’d managed to hang on as we topped out and started 15 or so miles of rollers. These guys were working together, and working hard. In a group that small you can’t hide. Also, in the world of the 45+ super climbers, you don’t want to get the reputation of a wheel sucker. These guys respect hard work and will reward it. Suck too many wheels and you’ll find yourself targeted and attacked until you’ve popped. Pull your weight and these guys will actually work to help you stay with the group. Sweet.

So work we did. The 35+ rider with us was a diesel, and the rest of us did our share. Several times I was worried that, even if I didn’t pop in our pace line, I would be in serious trouble on the second 30 mile lap.

We sat up once back down in the flats. We had about 5 miles before starting the big climb again. Just before getting to the climb a group of 6 guys caught us. I was stunned, it’s not like we were taking it easy (except the last couple of miles). Those guys must have taken some pretty big risks on the super steep, narrow, twisty descent (never mind the huge drop off on the left).

As the climb takes its first serious turn upwards the pavement deteriorates. In fact, I was thinking it was even worse than Copperopolis. Out of the saddle, nearly sprinting to keep in contact, my back tire was off the ground as much as it was on. Traction was sketchy at best. Fortunately this section is less than a mile in length. Copperopolis’ reputation for the worst pavement is still intact.

Jon Ornstil has long been a measuring stick for me. Not that I’m anywhere near his ability, but he likes the same type of races I do. Each year I try to move a couple of places closer to his finishes (usually 1st or 2nd). In both Pine Flat and Copperopolis I managed (for the first time ever) to actually finish ahead of him. I’m thrilled to have done that, but never believed it was anything other than a couple of lucky days. At Orosi the proper order would be restored. Jon was on, and he hadn’t made this long drive to finish in the pack.

A third of the way up the big climb, the second time, we were down to seven (6-45+, 1-35+). Jon was pulling like a freight train. Half way up Jon, Kevin Susco, and the 35+ rider pulled away. Four of us worked to try and limit the damage. Or more accurately, 3 of us worked. Our forth rider, Leon Pitts, is a teammate of Jon’s and was there to keep an eye on us and stay fresh.

90% of the way to the top Carl Nielson and I lost contact with Leon and Max (the 4th rider). Carl and I held the gap to 50 meters, but Jon’s group, powered by the 35+ rider was now out of sight. Just meters from the top both my calves cramped, damn! “There goes my race”. But Carl slowed at the same time. I limped over the top and caught Carl’s wheel for the level rolling section ahead.

Carl took a pull, but it seemed slow to me. I’d recovered a little, but what was going on for him? I pulled, he pulled, I pulled, when I turned for him to come around the next time I couldn’t see him. Carl rarely pops before me; I knew I was on borrowed time.

I was still feeling on the edge of cramping, but I was okay as long as I didn’t stand. I chased and finally caught Max and Leon. We were coming up to the hardest of the remaining climbs. I figured it was my only chance to drop Leon. If I could separate him we’d all be doing the same work. I attacked the last steep climb, luckily I didn’t cramp. I went over the top totally drained. A glance over my shoulder showed that Leon was six inches off my wheel, but Max was no where in sight.

At this point Leon agreed to work with me. Jon had an insurmountable lead and Leon and I didn’t want to get caught. So we teamed up and hammered towards the finish.

As we made the final right turn, 2 miles of gradual climbing lead to the finish. Leon and I decided to forgo the typical cat and mouse, track stand, surge tactics and go mano-a-mano to the finish. Let the strongest man win.

We slowly ramped up our speed until we were both breathing hard, at about 200 meters Leon jumped out of the saddle, but it appeared his legs buckled under him. I had a little left, so I tried to take it up another .5 mph. I couldn’t hold it, but it was enough. I finished third. Kevin got first, Jon second.

So is Orosi the toughest? Well… it was probably my toughest, but I’m sure that was primarily due to the highly motivated and tough field. Like they say, “The racers make the race”.

Ronde Van Brisbeen - Brisbane Highlands Circuit Race, 3/30/2008

Part Deux of my weekend racing saga... though not as tragic as a Norse saga, it had it's own share of disappointment. Team Bicycle Trip had nine (9) racers in the 45+ age group of combined Category 3 and 4 racers. Nine! Including the 2007 Brisbane Highlands Circuit Race 45+ Cat. 4/5 champion, Mark Edwards! I would definitely have picked us to win if I were a bookie, yet the best laid plans...

Team Captain Eddy "The Snake" Price and I powered up the peninsula in his Cougar on that cold but beautiful morning, drinking coffee and talking a mile a minute; we were psyched! Not only did our chances for this circuit race look great but I was also in contention for a podium spot in this 2-stage race weekend after my nice 5th place in the Saturday criterium, which was Stage 1 of the "Omnium" (the circuit race would be Stage 2 and the two results combined for an overall winner). Ed vowed to work hard to help me with whatever he could do to help me, while I and the rest of the team worked to help Mark.

We got to the venue in time to watch Robbie Abundis in the 35+ Cat. 4 race where he got a solid 31st-place finish with the pack. The course was much tougher than Saturday's; about 1.7 miles with 100 feet of climbing per lap on a smooth looping road in a valley next to Mt. San Bruno. And the wind picked up again, though a bit weaker. So it was great to see him do well. Matt Werner and Bob Montague, too, rode strong, in the open Cat. 5 race.

Ed warmed up on his rollers while I warmed up by riding around. Mark, Geoff Drake, Jim Langley, Scott Martin, Joe Platin and John Pollard showed up and we had a quick summary of Mark' s ideas for tactics (Vladan Strbac arrived later). There were some great tips on how to close or create gaps as needed, when to go with a break or not, and much more. Each of us had a specific role to fill too. Originally I was to help create gaps and hopefully lead Mark out at the finish, but Mark instead suggested that I just save myself for the leadout. This was awesome, but I also knew that having a bunch of guys in the same uniform was no guarantee that we'd work well together as a team. But Team Bicycle Trip has trained and raced together so well before that I was certain we'd shine.

We all tried to be at the front of the pack at the start so we could begin our tactics immediately. Like usual my Nordic upbringing worked against me and I politely let half the pack in before me. The start, at the top of the hill, was fast down the curving hill and I had to work forward a bit at first. While I was just supposed to sit in and rest, I felt I could also try to make some small contributions to help Mark for the Stage 2 win. I also wanted to mark my competitors for the Omnium, but I felt the hilly course was better for me than those big sprinters so that shouldn't distract me too much.

It was great to see the team working together, and I was truly impressed at how well they all did in following our script. I even heard some guys talking about Mark and us. At one point I was following Scott when he slowed down annoyingly -- he was supposed to do that, so great work Scott! And I made a few of my own gaps at times. On one lap I found myself at the front and able to promote a gap to Jim and another guy who were off the front up the hill. Then Joe shot forward spectacularly to join them and instantly a Peninsula Velo guy said "there are two of them up there now." That shut down the break, but it also reminded me of how powerful Joe is.

We had a few hard climbs but I truly felt great the whole time. Sitting in the pack with that headwind up the hill really helps! But that could also mean that our competitors were doing likewise. Jim tried to tell me something on one of the last laps. I had a hard time hearing in the wind, but I later learned that he was offering to lead me out, though I would probably have declined anyway and stuck to our original script. I had a hard time seeing who was working at the front, but certainly my teammates were there a lot, and I saw Mark sitting in a lot too so it looked like everything was going perfectly to plan. However, there were cracks starting to form that I knew nothing of.

With 2 laps to go Geoff was off the front and forcing a furious pace that must have taken a lot out of the pursuers. Mark was next to me and I said to him "this is good!" I was still feeling fresh, though I had to take a few calming breaths, and I was excited at the prospect of Geoff possibly soloing to victory, while we still had Mark as an ace in the hole should Geoff tire. I tried to open a few gaps without getting dropped myself, because I was still holding back a little in case I needed to lead out Mark.

On the last lap I was near the front on the downhill. On the climb I saw Geoff way up ahead, maybe 100 yards or more, and I again tried to open up a gap. But then Geoff moved off course... what happened?!! I moved forward because the chase group, I was fairly sure, had no Team Bicycle trip jerseys in it. I passed Geoff sitting in the main pack... OK, how did he get there? Thoroughly confused, I moved forward and saw Jim also sitting in and Mark was, inexplicably, nowhere near the front. There was an increasing gap to the leaders and none of us were with them. It was like our team vanished! The finish line was getting closer and I got worried that all nine of us were missing the decisive move!

I noticed that Darryl Smith (ICCC) and Jess Raphael (VOS) were ahead of me, and I was marking them for placement in the 2-day Omnium results. I resolved to move ahead, plans be darned, and at least stay with those two guys. Perhaps Mark was moving up behind me and Jim or Geoff could help him. All I knew for certain was that I would never want to be any further back at that late point in the race, regardless of my role!

As I closed the gap big Jess was dropping off the pace on the climb, but Darryl was still up front. I drafted Jess for a few seconds but he was letting a gap open with no VOS guys ahead of him. He was at 100% already and sounded like a steam engine! I quickly decided to move around him and soon I could see the barriers that marked the finish line area. Time to get moving! I closed the last gap to the back of the lead pack and tried my best to keep going. I passed a few guys and was making headway, but I was in my 42-tooth chainring instead of my 53. Not ideal. I ended up in my 42x12 as I desperately flew to the line to salvage whatever place I could for the team. I briefly caught Steve Mielich (SJBC), but he threw his bike at the line for 8th place, while I got 9th!

What happened? I couldn't believe that I ended up being our best finisher! Well, I was able to piece it together after our cool-down lap. It turned out that Mark and Scott had decided to go to the Orosi Road Race the day before; 60 miles long with 6,000 feet of climbing! I had no idea any teammates were even remotely interested in going there. Well, that explained why Mark was too tired to contest the finish. I don't know that I would have finished any better than I did even so, because I clearly held back enough to be able to sprint at the end. Unfortunately Jim thought we had a teammate in the lead pack so he held back... he might have been able to contribute or even go for the win himself. And Geoff's mysterious disappearance and reappearance? That was Ed who pulled off course! Geoff had been caught while Ed was up ahead and about to be lapped! Mystery solved.

[I later learned that everybody except Ed and I knew about this plan and they had discussed it while carpooling to the race, but the important message that I was the leader wasn't specifically mentioned to me. Oops.]

After our race Ed, Vlada and I watched Bryan King race in Cat. 4. He kept in a perfect position the whole race and finished strong in 24th. Great job! It also turned out my parents had watched the whole race, unbeknownst to me. I also discovered that I finished 5th in the overall Omnium results for the weekend... but the podium only went down to 3rd place! Oh well.

Still, it was an awesome experience, in spite of the lack of a podium finisher from our team. Teamwork isn't something that we can learn instantly, and we have more work to do. But we delivered 90% of our plan, and that is a great testament to the quality of our riders. I am proud to be a part of Team Bicycle Trip and in the future I know we'll also deliver the most important element of our plan; victory!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Brisbane Cat 5 Circuit Race

I thought you might like to hear about my race today. I got up before the birds and had a light meal. I was the designated carpool driver, so I took the already loaded Tahoe to my first pickup spot in Rio Del Mar at 5 am. I was disappointed to find that my first teammate, Rob was dropping out because his wife was sick. Oh well, on to the next stop. Denny's in Santa Cruz. Once there I picked up my teammate Matt, and we headed off to Brisbane. Matt strikes me as a strong rider from our team workouts, but like me, he is a cat 5. We talked about a variety of things on the way to the race, but our pre designed strategy from the coach seemed like it was going to be a bust. I had hoped to have two teammates in the race, all helping each other, but with one of our members dropping out, I had reservations about my ability to hang with the group on the climb. I told Matt that he should ride his own race and leave me to fend for myself.
Once we got to the event site, we changed and rode a couple of times around the circuit while waiting for registration to open. Once registered we got our numbers pinned on and commented on how cold it was. We continued to ride the circuit to warm up, and I suspected that the climb was going to make things tough for me. Race time was approaching quickly and we returned to the car to shed everything we didn't need. On returning to the starting area, we found these race organizers to be very punctual, and guys were already lining up in the gate. Ours was the first race of the day, and I think it went off right on time. The race was scheduled for 50 minutes and the plan was to post the number of laps remaining about halfway through the race ( once our lap time had been determined). The stated rules were that going off course was grounds for disqualification, along with falling behind more that 1/2 lap on the peleton. For me, this was cause for concern. As we approached 2 minutes til start, a race official came along and told me I had my number on wrong and needed to realign it. A guy next to me was trying to help, but I recognized that I wasn't going to get the job done in time. I told the race official not to worry, "I wasn't planning to win", and he let me go off with the bunch.
The circuit began at the top of a hill and began with a gently sweeping downhill to the right. The group took off at a brisk pace and I had no problem staying in the peleton. The road continued to sweep to the right and down, but eventually came to a fairly sharp left turn. Our first time through 3 or 4 guys went down here. I really couldn't figure out why they went down, except they seemed to not know how to turn their bikes. Matt warned me of a couple of other guys in the group with the same problem, who had yet to go down. The road continued straight on and down to a very sharp right hand turn, ominously banked by hay bales. None of the group went down here, but the inability of many of these cat 5 riders to turn a sharp corner was again evident. The group slowed and streched out and I found that as we turned up the hill, I was one of the 15 or so who got dropped. I began a very hard chase, but soon realized that even if I got back on, I would have expended too much of my energy doing it to stay there. The road was heading steadily upward and I resigned myself to settling into a pace that I could maintain. There were a variety of riders around me coming to the same conclusion, and for now we continued on as individuals whose egos were bruised but not broken. I was somewhat apprehensive to see that both of the guys that Matt had warned me of earlier were in this group with me. As we got bake to the end of the first lap, I realized that none of this group was any stronger than I, and that our only hope to work ourselves back into the race was to work together as a team. I tried to take the lead in this, but there were only a couple of guys willing to work together. The rest were still riding as individuals and attacking us. The three of us who were working together, chased down all of the attacks and continued on for several laps. At one point I tried to give one of these individuals some guidance on how to approach the corners. He thanked me and ask if it showed that this was his first race. I laughed and told him that it was probably all of our first race. Somehow, I think this dejected him and he dropped out soon thereafter.
As we continued to circle the circuit, we overtook a number of riders and found others on the side of the road who had dropped out. Our group picked up a few stronger riders and continued to work sporadically as a team to get back in the race. I was concerned that we were falling too far behind, but we didn't get waved off the track. As we entered the bell lap, I knew that there would be some attacks. I decided to sit back and wait as long as I could for the important one. First, a big guy took off on the downhill, but I wasn't worried about him because he couldn't corner and he couldn't climb. I just let the rest of our group pull me back onto him. A couple of more moves amounted to nothing by the time we were halfway up the final climb. But then two of the stronger riders that we had picked up from the late drops made a move. I told the one guy I had been working with most closely that we needed to chase that one down. He took off with me on his wheel and we ran them down. My boy had burned his matches though in getting us up to them, and as I looked around, I saw that there were still a number of guys hanging with us. I could see the shadow of one dude on my wheel and decided to wait for him to make his move before making mine. In one way, that was the right thing to do, but it probably cost me a place at the finish. As the guy came around me on my left, a kid came around him to his left. I went right away, but the kid had a good sprint and too much of a head start for me to catch him by the line. Pissed me off. I would have nailed him, but I failed to mark him and actually don't even know how long he had been riding with our group. My mistake on that one, but I did have plenty of juice to take second in our group's sprint. It felt like I hadn't finished last, and I knew I hadn't crashed. So, in at least those two ways, I had exceeded my expectations for this race.
I found Matt and was told that he had been feeling pretty good as second wheel on the next to last lap. Unfortunately, he was dropped shortly thereafter, but continued to ride strong enough to finish 18th out of 63 registered entrants. I think they had about 8 no shows and a number of riders who were disqualified for falling too far behind. Of the 45 finishers, I placed 30th, and was actually quite pleased to do so.
My review of my strengths and weaknesses in this race leads me to several conclusions. The first is that training under Mark's direction will help me to continue to improve my strength and fitness. I continue to be impressed with his professionalism and the comaraderie that he has fostered among the team, although I expect he may at times wonder why Ed has saddled him with this fat guy. This leads me to my second conclusion, which is that I believe that if I continue with this training and additionally continue to adjust my body composition ( lose weight), that I will be able to hang with and begin to deal out some punishment in at least this level of race. I also think I have to focus on my group riding skills, so that I can become more comfortable being in the middle of a pack as well as learning how to move through a group. My descending and cornering skills were better than most of the riders I was faced with today, but I was possibly dropped earlier than I should have been because I am not comfortable enough in the group. I also think that my strength and fitness were equal to the group. I was never really pushed by the guys I ended up riding with, and I think it is only my power to weight ratio that kept me from being able to keep up with the leaders.
All in all, it was a fun day. I learned a lot by racing and by watching the later race with 8 of the team members in it.

Rhonda van Breezy Beens

Circuit Race, M45+ 3/4, 30 March 2008

early in the race, Scott & Vlada in the pack

Geoff in the pack, close to the front

with about 7 laps to go, Mark & Geoff on the front

Geoff & Mark on the front, 4 more to go

heading into 4 laps to go, Jim chasing the leaders

Geoff & Mark on the front, heading into 3 laps to go

Mark in 2nd wheel, behind Geoff (off camera), Jim in about 6th wheel, going into 3 laps to go

heading into 2 more laps to go, Geoff & Mark off the front in a 4 man group

Vlada hanging in the group

Geoff off the front going into the bell lap

And the winner is.....????

...............none of our guys....oh well.

Dennis sprinting for 9th

You guys put on a great show.

Rhonda van Breezy Beens

Brisbane Highlands Circuit Race, Cat. 5's
Matt Werner

Rob Montague & I raced with the Cat 5's. Seemed like the peloton pretty much split in half in the 1st or 2nd lap, and Bob found himself in the 2nd group, schooling some of the young ones who were having difficulty making their bikes turn corners, 3 of whom eliminated themselves in the first minute by taking the left hander too wide and hanging up on the curb.

I managed to stay with the front group and worked on positioning. I was pretty comfortable on the uphill section, keeping my cadence high and following wheels that were moving forward. I was generally able to stay in the top 10 to 15 places, and found I could move forward on the downhill by taking an inside line when the group seemed to want to swing wide and take the long way. On the penultimate lap I identified another rider who was using the same trick, grabbed his wheel, and found myself sitting 2nd wheel on the downhill, tucked in & coasting, trying to rest my legs for 2 more times up the climb. This seemed like a good thing, until near the bottom we suddenly got swarmed by a bunch of guys with a lot of momentum, and quickly lost position before the haybale turn.

On the final lap we went into the final climb pretty hot, & I just didn't have enough to stay with the group. I went by the 2 guys who got dropped with me, caught another at the top of the hill, & went by him for 18th place. Not too shabby for an old guy in an all-ages cat 5 race (which I later learned had been won by a 19 year old).

Bob came in a minute or 2 back, fulfilling his 2 goals of finishing and not crashing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ronde Van Brisbeen - Brisbane Marina Criterium, 3/29/2008

My alarm woke me up in the dark morning to the sound of light rain. The forecast called for dry weather for our bike race, but here it was, wet all over! My teammate Vladan Strbac and I were already signed up for the 45+ Category 3 and 4 race at 11:00am, and Robbie Abundis was racing the 35+ Cat. 4 guys at 10:00am, so I wasn't about to let some moisture stop me. I made cooked buckwheat cereal for breakfast, shared some time with Margaret, called Vlada to arrange carpooling, and away I went.

Vlada and I had lots of time to discuss tactics and stuff after we left his home in Scotts Valley. He had raced Brisbane Marina before and stressed the importance of being near the front all of the time, watching for breakaway groups. This was more important than in most crits because the course is very narrow and twisty in several places, with a tight U-turn and wind thrown in. We agreed to take turns going with any breaks that formed, and I would try to lead him out if the peloton stayed together for a sprint finish, as he had done for me at Menlo Park.

By the time we got to Los Gatos the roads were dry and they stayed that way, thankfully. But it was only in the 50s and cloudy, with winds at 10 MPH. We got to Brisbane's marina about an hour before our start, and watched Robbie race... until the wind created big gaps in the peloton, with him on the wrong side, that forced him to abandon. Oh well. But he did volunteer to stay and take some photos of us (thanks Robbie!). Vlada was well prepared, dressed warmly and warmed up on his rollers, while I shivered into my skinsuit and made a very feeble attempt at warmup; even shorter than my usual 10-15 minutes. I think I rode for about 3 minutes!

The course was only about 0.6 mile per lap, 50 minutes long, and I knew and respected a lot of the entrants. The race would be pretty fast. But some of the usual big names were absent so I was also optimistic about our chances. This crit was actually Stage 1 of a 2-day "Omnium" stage race. I was signed up for both days so I could also have a shot at standing on the Omnium podium on Sunday afternoon. But the Sunday stage was the Brisbane Highlands Circuit Race and the climbs on that course would be tough; I had to ride conservatively to save some energy for helping out the team on Sunday!

The race started off pretty fast for the first 13 minutes or so, probably because a break formed that people up front worked hard to catch. I was again near the back as I had trouble, again, clipping in at the start and wanted to ride easy at first anyway. But instead I had to put my nose down and work my way through the pack to get to the front which I did right before the break was caught. Vlada had been up there the whole time... he's good at this!

We raced pretty clean, though the U-turn was tricky and apparently one guy crashed over the curb on the exit. I noticed lots of guys, including Mark Patten (who ended up dropping out), would stand and pedal hard out of the tight turns while I stayed seated all the time to save my legs, and stayed in my 42-tooth ring almost the entire race.

For a while we stayed together but then another break formed, this time it was just two guys; one was Jess Raphael (of VOS Racing), the other Darryl Smith (ICCC). I didn't know that, but I could see them by the U-turn and knew they were working together well to stay away so I kept an eye on things to see if a chase would form, and even took a few pulls at the front myself like I did at Menlo Park and Snelling. Am I too impatient? Well, I wanted to make sure Vlada had a chance too, and if I had to wait for others to do the hard work...

The announcer mercilessly counted down our few remaining laps. I was hyper-alert to any opportunities. With 3 laps to go we all slowed down, the gap to the break getting even bigger.

Out of turn 2 I got bored with the zig-zagging of the big guy from Summit (Bernie Silviera) as he watched for others to pull... I just punched it smoothly and went around them all into the left-hand turn before the U-turn and kept going. This spot was perfect because the tight turns made it easier for a solo rider to carry speed. In just a couple of turns I had a huge gap! I'd kind of hoped that Vlada would grab my wheel and I could bridge him to the break, but perhaps the time gap was too big by then anyway.

Alone in no-man's land -- I was doubtful of my chances at staying away, but was at least hoping to either tire out some of the big sprinters behind me or help catch Jess and Darryl. Either outcome improved my and Vlada's odds, so I stayed in my zone and kept at it. I noticed Patten had dropped out, with many others, and they were now watching the finish from the sidelines. Before the last turn I looked back and saw nobody chasing... would I really get 3rd place so easily?

Coming around the last turn I heard the announcer excitedly calling out my name while the spectators screamed at me. Wow, what's all the fuss? Well, I guess the gutsiness of my solo effort for nearly 3 laps inspired them to root for me, and then... wooooosh!

Two guys flew by me just before the finish line! Argh! I didn't even see that coming; the spectators had been trying to warn me! At least the guy who threw his bike at the line didn't get me and I finished in 5th, the last podium spot!

Vlada and I rode a couple of cool-down laps and waited around for the official results. I stood proudly, with sore legs, on the 5th step for the podium photo, albeit somewhat dejected too, and happily accepted the $10 payout and nifty cycling cap.

Tomorrow we do it all over again, but with a big hill thrown in! Until then,

Friday, March 28, 2008

Podium Pics - Bay Area Geezer Games

Bay Area Senior Games, 10k TT
16 March 2008

Langley gets the gold in 55-59 race

Werner takes silver in the 50-54 race, surrounded by a Pen-Velo sandwich

Monday, March 24, 2008

Copperopolis Road Race Report

Milton, California 3/22/2008 - ideal racing conditions

By Mark Edwards (with notes from Jim Langley, Ed Price, Geoff Drake and Scott Martin at the end)

Photo by Dan Merrick

Copperopolis. The mere name strikes fear into the hearts of road racers. And with good reason, this is one tough race. From the early days of cycling, road racing has been a test of man versus the elements. The Spring Classics and Grand Tours are prime examples of just how far the human spirit can go in the face of extreme adversity.

Copperopolis is arguably Northern California’s best attempt to replicate the hardships inherent in the great European races. Races for the hardmen.

Geoff, Jim, Scott, and I distracted ourselves with stories of crashes, kids, and training as we made the long drive from Santa Cruz, arriving a bit over an hour before our start times to a collection of some of the best West Coast road racers.

We signed in and started our warm-up. I usually describe the race course pavement as similar to the really bumpy part of upper Highland (top of Eureka Canyon). Only in Copperopolis, it goes on for miles. First timers generally smile knowingly. 10 minutes into our warm-up Geoff turns to me and says, “This is way worse than I imagined”.

Geoff and I went off first in the 45+ 1,2,3 at 11:05, followed by Scott, then Jim. Scott and Jim would be subjected to 2 laps on this meat tenderizer of a course, while Geoff and I were to be treated to 3 laps, for 63 miles of California cobble.

My main concern for this race was hanging with the leaders over the first big climb. I’m not sure, either all those hill repeats are working, or the climbers were feeling charitable? Either way, Geoff and I went over the top with about 30 of the 40 starters. The long plateau following the first climb was filled with attacks and counter attacks. The group wasn’t letting anything go. We did leave a couple of guys hanging off the front for extended periods, but never let them gain more than a couple of hundred meters.

Our second run up the big climb was more like riding a pogo stick than a bike. As my legs had fatigued some, I wasn’t as able to absorb the jolts as efficiently. Once again the pace was manageable for most of the group. We crested with about 20 guys. Surprisingly, Larry Nolan was still with us. Not to take anything from Larry, besides a World Champion Track guy, he’s a smart and strong road racer. Watching him propel more muscle up that hill than any two riders’ possess together, gained instant respect from all us skinny types. He was given lots of encouragement, which he probably didn’t hear over his breathing. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone breathe that hard for that long. More power to him.

The third time up the hill was strangely consistent with the first two times, but it took its toll. 11 would go over the top together, 3 would get gapped (but back on within 5 minutes), and the rest wouldn’t be seen again. Geoff was part of the chase group of 3. I wasn’t sure of his chances of getting back on, I was bummed. It had been fun riding with him. But, no sooner than I’d started morning the loss, did I feel a hand on my back. Geoff was back!

Again there were repeated attacks. Of which it seemed we’d chased them all down. We were about 5 miles from the finish when the peloton was taking a breather (in other words, no one wanted to work). As we fanned across the road, myself, Geoff, and another guy were at the front. I heard a comment behind me that there was a group off the front. WHAT? You’ve got to be kidding. I thought I was paying attention, I couldn’t believe this was going to play out just like last year.

I decided instantly that this wasn’t going to be the way this race was going to go. I commented out load “let’s go get ‘em.” Geoff went right to the front and took a pull. He was pulling off to the left just as we came into a 90-degree right hand turn. I wasn’t planning an attack, but I did want to kick things up a notch, so I dove deep into the corner and accelerated. I stayed in the saddle, but I was putting decent pressure to the pedals. After about 10 pedal strokes I looked over my shoulder to get the next guy to pull through.

Guess what? Yep, no one was there. I couldn’t believe it, those dorks! Come on guys, didn’t you come here to race? So I put my head down and put in another 20 seconds hard, still no one chased. Crap! Now what do I do? So I went a little farther, still no chase.

Now, when I’d decided to go after the breakaway they were about ½ mile ahead. Way too far to bridge, but not too far for the peloton to pull back with some effort. But solo? Do I sit up? Do I keep going?

I had about 400 meters on the peloton and 400 to the break when it dawned on me that Geoff was blocking for me (I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad J). So I took it right to the point I’d hoped I could hold for several more minutes.

The second climb on the course starts with about a ¼ mile ramp, levels of for an 1/8 mile, then climbs pretty good for another mile. As I was going up the ramp I could finally see who was in the break. Mark Caldwell and Neal Stoughton. Oh great! Now what? Probably the two most experienced and accomplished racers out there. And here I am, my first 1,2,3 race and I just bridged solo into a headwind for 10 minutes. These guys were going to have me for lunch.

I was coming up on them fast. What was that about? Were they resting? Only to blow me up on the climb? I’m getting closer…what do I do? Get on their wheel? Go by them?

At the last minute I decided to go right by, they jumped and caught my wheel (in hind sight, I should have attacked, ultimately I think they were both pretty fried). So now they’re on my wheel. What do I do?

Well, I can try an play cat and mouse with two of the best in the business, maybe beat one or both in the sprint. A big maybe. Or maybe we screw around and the peloton (yea, they’re still back there chasing) catches us and I take my chances with 13 other guys (many that I’ve never beat before). I decide that a guaranteed 3rd, or better, in such a prestigious race would be my biggest cycling accomplishment yet. So, I’m going to just pull like crazy.

Now, I was well aware I was delivering these guys to the finish fresh, but I wasn’t going to make it easy. I attacked and got a 10’ gap, they closed it. So, I attacked again, same result. Then, as the top of the climb came into view, I attacked again. They held on, but there was some pretty heavy breathing happening behind me. As I went over the top, knowing the eventual outcome, I gave it my all. Big ring, pedaling all the way down that crazy bumpy, twisty, narrow descent. They might be sucking my wheel, but they were going to have to work for it.

At 1 KM to going I went into TT mode again. I knew they were resting, but didn’t like my other options. At about 300 meters I attacked. Too far, but I’d hoped that I’d coax them into going too early and maybe surprise them at the finish. They came around me at 150 meters and I tried to chase. The snap was gone from my legs, but they were fading too. I pulled back onto their wheel as we crossed the line. Neal, Mike, me.

Neal was heard responding to a friend’s comment that “…that guy that bridged up and pulled you to the finish…” with “if you call that a pull!”

I took that as a compliment.

Jim and Scott took 4th in their respective races, while Geoff suffered a serious mechanical, limping in at 14th. Too bad, as he should have had a great opportunity to measure himself against Larry Nolan in the sprint. Next time.

Now I know why this race has such epic overtones, and why everyone was treating it with such reverence and dread. What a course! A big climb (done three times), a road surface that rivals Paris-Roubaix, screaming descents, great scenery…this was the full package.

Mark and I stayed close for the first couple of laps. By the third time up the climb, my quads were getting wonky, and I let about a 50-meter gap open. Problem is, with these guys, 50 meters is an eternity. Fortunately, I managed to horsewhip a couple of other guys into chasing, and we got back on. At that point I rode straight up to Mark and put my hand on his back to let him know I was back in the game.

With half a lap to go, I took a pull, then Mark pulled through and…opened a gap! I went straight to the front again, got down on the drops to emulate someone who was actually trying, and proceeded to slow the other 10 riders to a leisurely century pace. To my amazement, no one came around. So this is what it’s like to block—sweet!

It gave me immense pleasure to watch my coach disappear into the distance while I rode at the front of the chase group and kept the other knuckleheads going just 18-20 mph. Fun! I was on the verge of yelling “Go Mark!” but figured that would be poor style….

With Mark gone, I started to recover and was second in our group over the final climb. I really let it unwind on the descent, hardly touching the brakes, with big Larry Nolan on my wheel. When I got to the bottom we were flying toward the finish, but when I resumed pedaling, I discovered the rough road had dislodged the chain—front and back! I tried briefly to pedal it back on, then surrendered to the fact that I would have to pull over, yank the rear wheel out, and dislodge the chain from where it had wedged between the dropout and small cog. While I was doing this, the other members of the group flew past. Bummer!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to suffer the ignominy of having the rest of the field pass me, too. I fixed the bike and managed to ride in alone, to the finish, for 14th—the last rider of the group that had led for most of the race. Too bad—I was feeling like a top 10 was in the offing, but I’ll never know….

On balance I have to say this race was a great experience for me, despite my troubles. I managed to make the important field split and ride with the final group of 14 for most of the race (which ended up containing the three podium riders). Since I haven’t done a road race since the early ‘90s, that was cool.

And while it was Mark’s awesome move that earned him a podium spot, I like to think I helped a bit. I think that’s what you call a vicarious experience. And it was my pleasure!

Notes JIM LANGLEY, "Mark's description of his race is quite similar to how ours (55+) ended. After setting the pace on all the climbs and attacking repeatedly all the way in I couldn't shake 2-time winner John Elgart, Scott Hennessey and David Stockwell and they came around me at the line. I was disappointed at not being able to outsprint at least one of them, but I don't think if I'd sat on them the outcome would have been any different. I felt my best shot was trying to attack and attack and tire them out but they chased me down every time. Still I'm very happy to have been arguably the strongest rider in our race and for being right there in first with the finish line in sight before they came whizzing past. I'll see them again and try different tactics and maybe I'll get it right. You're not going to beat national champions unless you get every detail right and I'm learning with each lesson. Oh, a quick tech note: Mark and I raced on Dura-Ace wheels with tubeless tires (not sew-ups, but tubeless road tires) -- and we both felt this made a significant difference in comfort on those rough roads. My pressure was set at about 87 psi BTW."

The Copperopolis Road Race was held this year under beautiful sunny weather, warm but not hot, and very little wind. I started way at the back, almost dead last at the bottom of the climb. I slowly worked my way up the field and at the top, bridged to a group of five riders. I could barely hold their wheels through that first lap, even getting within a minute of what looked like the main field near the end of it. The second time up the hill, I left that group and bridged to another group of three by the top of the climb. I bridged two more times, leaving my group and catching the next group of two or three riders. The last person I caught left me on the final descent and I finished 19th in about 2 hours and 14 minutes.

I rode very conservatively in the begining, maybe a little bit too easy but I have blown up on the climb before only to lose gobs and gobs of time later on. All in all it was a great day for our team, Mark was 3rd in the 45+ open race, Scott was 4th in the 45+ 4/5 A race, Jim rode very well in the 55+ race. I heard John Elgard saying after the race "that Jim Langely attacked us the whole way after the second time up the climb". He said it was really hard and for once, he felt like the 55+ field was racing to win, not just for second place, which is what I am sure they have been racing for in the past. I Love hearing that.

Reports SCOTT MARTIN, "The 45+ 4-5 A race at Copperopolis was also a good one for Team Bicycle Trip. Coach Mark recommended I sit in for the first lap, which I did. On the second and final lap, I was supposed to force the pace on the steep part of the main climb, but apparently the rest of the pack didn't get that memo. Nine guys rode away from me but then eased off on the false flat near the summit and I scrambled back on. On the final climb, 2 guys escaped and I found myself in a 5-man chase group. We couldn't catch them on the crazy descent. I hung on for 2nd in the sprint and 4th overall."

Side note: "While warming up, we spotted a guy in an Astana jersey riding the course by himself. Levi getting in some training miles? (Levi has won the race in the past.)"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Langley and Werner Race the CA Senior Games

Sunday, March 16 was the Bay Area California Senior Games, which any athlete over 50 was invited to compete in towards qualifying to race in the Senior Olympics to be held next year. Recent joiner to the over-50 club Matt Werner, and Jim Langley attended and raced in the Over 50 and 55-59 categories respectively, of the 10K time trial (yes, only 10K). Here's a brief report with pictures to be added when possible (we hope).

It was a very fun event, low-key but run very professionally. The start was on the far end of Canada road, not where they do the other time trial. The reservoir was on our right when we started off and the course essentially took us down into a little dip, back up a gradual climb to the turn around, back into the dip and up the start/finish again.

We rode out and back, out and back, which made it exciting. They closed the road and even had metal barriers lining the course at the start and turnarounds so riders couldn't go wrong and so that the 10 spectators in attendance couldn't step onto the course. Matt and I were amazed at how organized it was for such a small event. They even had an official finishing chute with timing clock to the side and huge FINISH banner overhead -- and a nice podium.

They were also very strict about the starting order and times. I stupidly warmed up too long and actually missed my start. I was taking off my leg warmers and it suddenly dawned on me that if we were going off at 30-second intervals I was going to be late. I got over to the start and some official saw my number and hollered to the front of the line, "here's 238!" "here's 238!" The racers in line let me through to the front and off I went just a few seconds late. Pretty lucky, and it fired me up to go much harder than I had planned for the first leg, but on such a short course I don't think the fast start cost me much.

I saw Matt out on the course and he was flying considering he was one of the only guys out there completely old school, not even using aero bars. I had the whole kit, the bars, aero lid with shield and a tri-spoke wheel. It was windy so I knew Matt was at an aero disadvantage but he was going super smoothly and looked strong and put in a really nice ride taking second and earning the silver. I had a fast ride, too, and took the gold in the 55-59 and rode the fastest time of the day at 14:55 (thanks coach!).

I think my favorite part of the day was watching the 84-year old men's winner climb up onto the podium. He had to be helped up onto the top step because his legs didn't work very well, but he was sure happy to be out there competing and he looked just fine hammering in on his bike when Matt and I cheering him home. I also noticed that a guy in the 70 to 75 event had shaved legs still.

When some of you other folks become geysers, I recommend checking this event out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Land Park Crit, Cat 4, 3/15/08

I love going back to Sacramento, I attended UC Davis for college and my best friend owns a house ½ mile from Land Park in Sac. I did this race in 2006 as a Cat 5 and it was one of my first couple crits. The course is challenging, not your typical 4 corner business park race, but a 1 mile loop with a chicane and two 90 degree’ish turns (one left, then one right) thrown in for good measure that really support a good bike handler and explosive rider. The course is wide open, flat as a pancake and has some dot bots in the center of the lane. It comes down to the sprinters or a solid breakaway that can negotiate the turns better than a pack.

Saturday was supposed to be rainy and windy, but when I woke up it was sunny and looked like one hell of a day for racing. Dennis, this is for you! My breakfast was Cheerios and bananas with a double cappuccino and some tasty orange Cytomax. I signed in and started my warm up with an hour to go before my race. Normally I tend to go easy on warm-ups, but this time I put some effort into it. Lately I’ve found that I really need a good hard effort to get wound up and get my LT system active. I spun out at 200W on my trainer in the grass by the finish line (did I mention Land Park is a beautiful park filled with golfers (great 9 hole course!), dogs and residents enjoying a nice Saturday morning) for 15’ watching the women’s race before mine. I mixed in 4x400W for 30” with 2’ easy spin, and to top it off, 2x600W for 30” with 2’ easy spin as recovery. I felt a tingle of soreness from the workout, but really ready for some action!

An easy lap when the women’s race finished refreshed my memory of the course, and we lined up at the start. A full field of 100 racers listened to John from 3rd Pillar give his memories of Kristy and Matt, and we did a neutral lap in their memory in silence. This whole event really hit me hard, I raced with Matt in the past couple races, and their memory lives strong in Nor-Cal cycling communities. RIP my friends. For some reason, some felt the need to gain position on the neutral lap??????????????

As far as teams, I was alone. Davis bike club had a couple members, as did Zteam and Chico Corsa (including my friend Colby Elliot (Chuck “Bodfish” Elliot’s Son)) but nothing like the stacked Dolce Vita or Roaring Mouse teams from Snelling or Merco RR.

The race started and a couple attacks went off, nothing solid. Lots of guys screaming “keep your line” in the turns, but I tried to stay in the top half of the field, especially when going into the hard chicane after the backside. The group would stack up and slow to an almost crawl if you were in the back, and the acceleration out cost a lot of energy. About half way into the race I found myself in the back half of the pack, and Colby went off the front. I would have gone with him, but I was too far back. He is a strong rider, and highly skilled from his days as a pro MTB racer. With another rider he could have succeeded, and I would have loved to been that person. Maybe we should have talked earlier! He got caught just as I moved up to the front and helped to catch a counter-attack of 3 riders when he was reeled in.

One thing about this race, the announcement sucked!! I didn’t know we had 5 laps to go until we were on our final lap!!! The pace picked up and 3rd Pillar moved up. I was about half pack (weened to around 70-80 riders.) On the back stretch I was able to move up a number of spots, and got a good line through the chicane. On the left after the chicane the 3rd Pillar rider in the lead crashed (and hard) and caused some riders to slow, moving me up again. Going into the the last right I had good line, and I sprinted out of it towards the right edge of the road. I passed a couple guys with about 200M to go, but found a wall of riders ahead. Luckily (?) a rider in front of me ran into the guy on his left opening a gap to his right, and I shot through it and continued to the line. I passed a number of people in the final straight, and ended up finishing 8th. An Alta Alpina rider won. The field sprint seemed slow to me as I put a lot of ground into the group, but I was just a little behind the action.

This race was much more comfortable than Menlo Park, the time I spent at the front was the easiest, and I felt I had a lot left in my tank at the end of the race. I spent too much time playing conservatively which I realize is against my best interest since I am alone and have nothing to lose and I really hate things being easy for myself or others! This race was much safer than Menlo Park as it was more technical, but there will still crashes as no-one likes to see. I’m still a total newbie to tactics, I was able to do well in Cat 5 thanks to my fitness, but Cat 4 requires more tactics and smarts. I hope to develop this over the next year and move up to Cat 3.


P.S. I wanted to thank Aaron for his amazing expertise in helping two of my friends get the perfect road (Giant OCR 1W) and mountain (Giant Trance X1) bikes. We represent*THE BEST* shop in town, and our results show it! It's an honor to ride for this shop and with the people on the team. Thank you to everybody! You have all made our single passion a team effort for excellence and it's an honor to ride with you!


Menlo Park Tri-Flow GP, Cat 4

Your standard 4 corner office park crit, should be easy right? Not even close. Dennis said this race should be for the sprinter, so I get all excited. This race ended up being a constant barrage of sprints out of corners and full road wide rider blocks which made moving up hard. My race avoided the really hard crashes that plagued the later races and sent one too many riders on a one way trip to the hospital. I played this race *WAY* too conservatively, spending a majority of the race in the back half hammering hard out of the turns to just stay on the pack. Unfortunately, no one made any hard attacks and the field slowed constantly enabling pretty much everybody to stay on. Last lap, pace picks up. I moved up a bit and went into the final straight watching the winners sprint it out. Not one to go out easy, I tried hard and was able to pick up a number of spots to end up 25th. Not too bad, but I could have raced a lot better. What I really enjoyed was coming back with “my” golden retriever Ballast and getting to watch and cheer on Larry, Dennis and Vlada for their race. They all raced very well with Dennis placing 10th (watching his sprint never gets old, it’s impressive!!!!) and Vlada and Larry playing excellent team mates! We had fun chatting it up afterwards, seeing my friends not get involved in the crashes, and meeting the families of my teammates. What did I learn? Energy spent to gain position is worth energy lost for the final sprint, in spades!!!

After my race I went on a great ride through New/Old Almaden to Hicks road and into Los Gatos, what a day to be on the bike. Got 30+ miles to add into my 20+ or warm-up and racing. If anyone wants to try something new, I know a lot of rides through Marin and Los Gatos that would make even coach Edwards and Jim “Monster Man” Langley seem mortal =) (I think!!!)

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Man, this pretty much sums it up:
"It's scary," said J.J. Kammeyer, the 11-year-old occupant of the rear seat of a tandem piloted by his father, John. "You don't really want to die when you go bike riding. But anything can happen."
"Everyone has close calls," his father said, placing a hand on his son's shoulder. "There are good and bad drivers and good and bad cyclists. But a little mutual respect will go a long way."
(from SF Chronicle)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tri-Flow Menlo Park GP, 45+, 3/8/2008, Dennis Pedersen

Ambulances and firetrucks greeted Margaret and I when we got to the race course, in a business area adjacent to HWY101. The night before this race I had slept poorly, thinking over some ideas for tactics that my Bicycle Trip teammates Vladan Strbac, Larry Broberg and I had discussed over an informal team dinner at Seabright Brewery. And generally worrying about how our open-category 45+ race would unfold. It seems my worries were justified, though not in the way I had expected. It was a nasty way to start the criterium season.

Because my race didn't start until 2:00pm Margaret agreed to go with me, which is always nice, and so would my parents and brother Mark. We had started the day very pleasantly, with some extra sleep, and breakfast at Capitola's Wharf House. I had steak and eggs. The weather was simply gorgeous too, and all of this helped calm me down. We hopped in my car, which I had loaded up the night before, and sped over the hill.

We managed to get a parking spot right near where Vlada was warming up... it turned out he was actually just keeping warmed up while awaiting his 35+ 3/4 race's restart. Several bad crashes had delayed the start, and now they had to wait for the emergency vehicles to clear the course from a bad crash in his race too. Nobody likes to hear that, especially a racer getting ready to go out there and duke it out with some of the best racers around. After another 7 laps of racing Vlada managed to get 19th in the ensuing sprint finish (though it looked more like 10th to me), while Robbie was in 53rd. Very nice!

The course there is extremely simple; a wide city block with four turns and a bit of wind from the north. There were only a few scattered Bott's Dots and small potholes, some cones marked a storm drain and there was some gravel on the outside of turn 3 where teammate Robert Gaukel had told us he had flatted on the last lap of his Elite 5 race earlier in the afternoon. That's it. But I had just read a thread on the NCNCA Forum about the dangers of these "safe" courses, and that agreed with my own experiences, including my previous races on this course. Robert's race was filled with crashes, even though the field was only 50 riders.

I fully expected our 75-rider peloton to start the first lap at full speed in an attempt to open up gaps like last year, and I had told Vlada I would cover the first attack. So I tried to get to the front of the start line after a warmup lap. Well, I ended up a few rows back, and when they blew the whistle some guy walked his bike through the cones ahead of me and blocked me. That was rude, and I had to hold back before I could fumble for my pedals. So much for a jack-rabbit start! To top it off, some guy went down hard two guys ahead of me at the end of the first lap and I barely managed to squeeze by to the left of the downed riders. A close call already!

Fortunately no big gaps opened up, and the small ones that did form were shut down pretty quickly. But I wasn't at the front yet and couldn't see everything, and the pace was pretty hard for the first few laps. I was almost maxed out from working my way forward in the single file row of guys and I started to worry that a break had split off. So when I finally got to the front I spotted Vlada and asked him how many were off the front. "None," he said. Whew, I got lucky!

Then another guy crashed, apparently in the gravel Robert had warned us about. Sigh. But somehow I was able to stay clean and even recover from my earlier efforts. Some gaps did open up later where I would need that energy. The pace really did go down at this point too, and while we ended up averaging over 25 MPH most of the race wasn't too bad. I could even steal a wave to Margaret and hear the cheers of Bryan King (who got 25th in Elite 4) and my parents in turn 1. Thanks folks!

After one of our six prime sprints (!), as the guys at the front sat up and spread out over the course, I saw a few guys jump from the left side using the lull to try another attack. Sensing a threat I maneuvered through the distracted stragglers to make sure I could go with them or keep the pack together. Either result was better than watching them leave. In the process a slower guy (in Morgan-Stanley kit, I think), moved into me and called me a "f'ing idiot"... I thought that was uncalled for, and I suspect he may have felt so too later, because I never got a lecture from anyone.

Another much bigger gap formed later, and I saw that three or four guys attacked, with VOS and Alto Velo (I think) both represented. Again, I surged forward hard to catch them, pulling the peloton into the headwind on the front straight. Just past turn 1 they looked back and sat up when they saw that there were still guys like me willing to work hard to chase them. I was almost blown out again, but was able to stay near the front, pleased that I helped keep the peloton together. I liked our odds better in a field sprint, but would have been OK with joining a successful breakaway too!

As the announcer, the notorious Michael Hernandez, called out "5 laps to go," Larry and I rode together for a lap but I could tell I needed to move forward. I had to ride in the gutter at times, but it worked. I spotted Vlada ahead but he caught an opening that I couldn't squeeze into and I lost him. But I went around toward the front by myself and he then hooked up with me with a lap to go somehow, which speaks volumes to his experience and cool head; right on schedule! Our teammate Joe Platin was skeptical that plans ever work, but here was an example of plans working out perfectly! Now we just had to deliver results. Vlada started pulling me forward along the left edge of the pack, in the wind. I was barely working in his powerful draft as we moved forward. It was amazing. Just before turn 3 he sat up and looked for me to pass, and it took me a few seconds to realize that. I thought he would drop me off after turn 3. But I got it and was able to hitch a ride behind somebody else as we went around turn 3, then another guy through turn 4. But then I looked ahead and saw I still had to pass a bunch of guys in only 200m; too many!

Just then another crash, just like in the first lap, exploded right ahead of me! Two guys, one of them Peter Tapscott, a talented long-time racer, went down very hard (more info here). I barely got past by almost brushing the curb on the left, my wheels shaking (from my shaking hands?). Vlada later told me he had to bunny-hop his bike over them behind me! Somehow I stayed upright and was even able to accelerate past a few guys on the right, in the wind, to finish in 10th, my third top-10 finish in three races this year! In tough open-category 45+ races no less. I guess I don't suck so much any more! Vlada was 40th, because he sacrificed his race to help me... what a great teammate! Larry got our best finish; 3rd in 55+!

I realize now that I was hesitant at the finish; instead of drafting in turn 4 I should have been attacking... even in this group I can sprint well. And that might also have kept me ahead of that crash instead of behind it. As it was I "left some of it on the track," as the velodrome guys say, and finished with some untapped reserves I could have used in the sprint. Live and learn. I am sure part of it was my nerves from all the crashes even our experienced group was having. Vlada also said he regretted the decision to drop me off at turn 3 as that was too far out; waiting until turn 4 might have been better. Hard to say. And what's with all the crashes? I think it was early-season inattention and cabin fever combining to create dangerous conditions. And the "safe" course, as I mentioned earlier. (On a side note, the very next day one of the Elite 4 racers, Matt Peterson, was among the two killed on Stevens Canyon Rd by a Sheriff's Deputy. Very sad, and very close to home.)

After the race we hung out and watched people drag thousands of dollars worth of broken bikes away for repair while we listened to Michael wisecrack and hustle the dwindling crowd. The 35+ 1/2/3 race, which I considered entering after my friend Mark Deterline cajoled me, looked faster than mine, but Michael threw in a funny "Lanterne Rouge" prime in which two guys fought hard to be the last over the line, and then had to chase hard to catch back on... I don't think the 'winner' ever did!

We then packed up and dropped by my parents' house in Cupertino for heavenly traditional Danish sandwiches, with shots of akvavit and genuine Carlsberg beer. What a great way to finish off an exciting day! Next up: Brisbane! Hopefully I can repay Vlada and my other teammates for their help then!

Photos and more on NCNCA Racing.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Merco Credit Union Foothills RR, Cat 4 - Steve Rosen

I had a few apprehensions about doing this race - due to some family stuff that happened this last week, I had not been able to get in much training - and getting blown out at Snelling last week was a bit disheartening, to say the least.

Then I had to consider that I was racing with a bunch of young-uns - some were less than half my age! That's only because the Masters 35+ Cat 4 and the Masters 45+ open races had filled up so fast - Bryan King had sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago, letting me know the only race I could do was his race - the regular Cat 4 group.

Since this race had a "desirable" profile (i.e., no huge climbs - just rollers, similar to San Ardo or Henleyville, or the recent Cantua Creek race I've done), I figured, "Oh, why not?" - and promptly signed up...

At the start line, the race announcer told us we were going to get an extra-long wait period after the Women's Pro/1/2 group took off just before us - he explained they had 3 laps (of a 24-mile course) - and we only had 2, so they figured we would be going faster than them - and it turns out he was right - even with the 10-minute delay in starting, we still caught them near the end of our first lap!

When they told us to start our race, I was somewhat dreading what lay ahead - I had visions of Snelling all over again - these were just Cat 4 guys - but they were YOUNG Cat 4 guys - and there were a lot of big teams - 9 Roaring Mice, 9 Third Pillars, 6 Webcors, 6 Godspeeds, 5 Bezerkleys - you get the idea...and since this was an NRC race - the first of the year - I expected it to be even more competitive than Snelling.

My only solace was that the wind was not nearly as strong as the week before - it was a much more gentle, about 5 to 10 mph - and not the 20 to 35 mph gusts we had to deal with at Snelling - and this race actually shared some of the same roads as Snelling - if you put the 2 courses together, you get a figure eight...

But much to my surprise - and delight, the pace for those first few miles was almost like a Masters 45+ 4/5 race (the kind I usually do) - in fact, Bryan wasn't even sure we were actually racing at first!

I felt pretty good for most of the race - I was keeping myself in the top third of the pack the whole time - if you allowed yourself to get stuck in the middle of the pack and totally protected, you'd quickly drift to the back of the pack, as streams of guys on both sides (it was a closed course, thankfully!) moved their way to the front. I quickly figured out the best place to be was on the outside, so I could hop onto one of those side streams, keeping my position near the front - it meant I had to do a little more work (not as protected from the wind, not as much draft), but it was worth it.

This group was a bit sketchy, with guys yelling out about every little disturbance - "Potholes!", "Slowing!", "Water bottle!" - I mean, come on, guys - most of that stuff is no big deal - just roll over the bumps in the road, including the water bottles and bots dots - it's not like your bike is going to suddenly collapse and self-destruct! The group seemed just a bit too verbal, Bryan and I agreed...

I also saw more than one guy playing "bumper cars" with his neighbor - you really need to pay attention to your position in a large pack - and our pack was quite large - 100 starters - the largest I had done in a very long time - but it was a total blast, I must say! We even had some humorists in our group - on the back side of the course, as we passed by a very large pile of manure, one guy yells out, "Welcome to Smelling!"... :)

Also, our pack had a very hard time going through the corners at speed - I was amazed at how slowly guys would try to negotiate through the turns - and this is why you wanted to be near the front, to avoid the yo-yo syndrome in the middle and back of the pack. It seemed to me a lot of these guys only did road races - and had never done crits, where you need to hit a corner hard and fast every 30 seconds or so...

We had a few hard attacks – but none of the attacks stuck - one or two guys would pop off the front, the pack would let them dangle for a few minutes - then the pack would promptly gobble them back up again. It appeared all the big teams were intent on this being a big bunch sprint at the end - the sprinters were all salivating, it would seem - but with those few hills near the end, I was looking forward to mixing it up with them - and I think Bryan had similar thoughts.

Getting back to the Womens Pro/1/2 group that I mentioned earlier, we caught them just before the finish line on the first of our two laps, near an area with a few small hills – there was general confusion in the pack and I had unfortunately fallen asleep and let myself drift off towards the middle of the pack. Some guys were yelling that the race was neutralized, while others were attacking like crazy at the front! A few guys in front of me allowed a gap to form, but I quickly jumped around them and caught onto the back of the pack – but my left calf had a funny feeling in it – almost like it was going to cramp, mostly from the hard effort – but I was lucky in that the main pack slowed down a bit just after the hills and I was able to go relatively easy and stretch my leg out – and the pre-cramp feeling finally subsided on the back stretch of the 2nd lap.

Since it was obvious this was going to come down to a bunch sprint at the end, after those small set of hills, it was critical to make sure you got positioned properly as we started up the first of those small hills. But as we made this hard left turn about 2 miles from the finish area, Bryan and I got caught behind some guy that crashed in that left turn! Arggghhh!!

Fortunately, neither of us went down, as Bryan turned onto the dirt embankment to the guy’s right and I started to swing around to the guy’s left – but Bryan got stuck in the soft dirt and I got cutoff by some yahoo who took the corner way too fast and didn’t hold his line – so I had to come to a complete stop and stepped out of my cleats for just 5 or 10 seconds – then I had a little trouble getting my foot back into the cleat, not losing more than another few precious seconds or so – but the main bunch was now smelling blood and had dashed on down the road - damn opportunists! Oh, yeah - I've done the same thing, I guess... :)

I saw Bryan take off after he got his cleats back in and asked if he was okay – but apparently, he didn’t hear me and didn’t know that I was also one of the guys that had been derailed by the crash. He hooked up with a couple of other guys, and I chased after them by myself, but was unable to bridge up to them – and they were unable to bridge back to the main pack, though they got fairly close. So Bryan and myself and another dozen or so guys just time-trialed back to the finish line – I put up a nice finishing sprint, throwing my bike over the line, as if I had just won the race – which might have happened, if not for the unfortunate crash in that left corner turn. Sigh... next time... At least I accomplished my main goal – not getting dropped in the first lap like Snelling the week before – and I successfully stayed in the main pack, often in that top 15 or 20 guys at the front for most of the race.

Bryan and I both had the same game plan for that final 2 miles – after making the hard left turn, we were going to both sprint up the next hill to get positioned in that top 10 to 15 guys. After that hill, the roads get more narrow - and they twist and turn and go up and down – meaning there would be very few opportunities for other guys to move up in the field. Finally, we were both going to unleash our killer sprints at the end and go for a Team Bicycle Trip 1-2 punch – but alas, ‘twas not to be the case – not this time...

But I felt pretty good after the race - given my limited training in the last week or two, combined with the young Cat 4 studs that surrounded me, I felt I could be just as competitive as anyone in that kind of race. Next time, we'll get some better results, I'm sure...