Psssssss, psssssss, psssssss, psssssss, psssssss... that was the sound my deflating tire made just 1 and 1/3 laps into my 20-lap Category 3 race, and my fortunes deflated along with it. This happened as I rode in the fast-moving pack of cyclists and hit a small pothole just downhill from the hairpin that was Turn 1 of our 9/10-of-a-mile course on Santa Cruz's Beach Hill, near the Boardwalk. I'd really targeted this hometown race and now I was out of it after just a few minutes!
All was not lost though; I could still take advantage of the "free lap" rule which allows us to repair the flat tire, usually by replacing the whole wheel and tire as a unit, and get back into the race in our last placement. I just had to act very quickly just before the pack came back. I dashed up the pedestrian ramp connecting Pacific Avenue and 3rd Street, bike on my shoulder, beating the peloton back to the start/finish line. I could do it! I had a whole lap to swap wheels and get ready to rejoin them! I ran across the course to the officials and made sure they had my number, then ran to the pit area, saw nobody I knew, and went to the Team Santa Cruz awning. "Anybody got a 10-speed Shimano wheel I can borrow?" Blank stares, an offer of a Campagnolo wheel, then Mark Knutson remembered he had a spare in his truck... "Can I borrow it?" Sure. "Now?" Yes, I could! And off he rode to get it. But as much as I appreciated Mark's effort my heart sank as I now saw my hopes of getting back in diminish. Sure enough, the peloton rushed by again while I waited, and there was no chance I'd be able to swap wheels and catch up to them now.
Quite a few people belatedly offered me spare wheels I no longer needed. I ain't supposed to cry, but I was sure bummed as I sat and replaced the pinch-flatted inner-tube. I usually pump my tires to 120 PSI, but kept them lower this time for lower rolling resistance. Never again. I used to have some spare wheels, but was forced to put them on my 9-speed commuter bike to replace the old ones which had about 32,000 miles on them. Sigh.
I'd also signed up for the Category 1, 2 and 3 "Master" race for guys 35 and older. That was my "Plan B." I'd scoped out the competition the day before, and the long list of top-notch racers was daunting. I'd told Team Bicycle Trip Captain Ed Price that I would only do this race if I felt good after the Cat. 3 race, and wasn't emphasizing it in any case, a decision he deemed wise. But now it was all I had. I'd invited family and friends to watch me race, and now I'd really have to suffer to put on a good show. Well, nothing builds character like suffering, they say!
Margaret and I had plenty of time to watch my teammate, Jim Langley, finish strong in the Cat. 3 race (some video here). I had really looked forward to working with him, but now I was just cheering him on as he took big pulls at the front of the pack to bring back some breakaways. He made a lot of friends in the peloton that way! But he was so tired from the race that he couldn't do my later race too. So I knew for sure I'd suffer alone. At least we had a big team presence in the 35+ 4/5 race, with Steve Rosen, Joe Platin, Robbie Abundis and Ed proudly wearing Bicycle Trip kit. They all finished well in their race, as did Bryan King (5th in Cat. 4, and our new chicken mascot!), and I started to get ready for my execution, uh, I mean, Master race.
We tried to line up for our start but had to wait for for stragglers from the Cat. 5 race, where my teammate Robert Gaukel got his own share of suffering at the hands of rookie Robert Amatelli, a natural talent who can go far if he wants. The usual big teams awaited me; big-legged guys with big names like Larry Nolan in the rainbow-striped sleeves of a World Champion, Kevin Metcalfe (Team Specialized Racing) and Michael Hernandez, (VOS racing) and Michael Hutchinson (Morgan Stanley) in his National Champion's jersey... you get the idea. I wasn't nervous, but certainly not full of optimism either.
As you'd expect, the first lap felt like a series of full-on long sprints, with our recovery consisting of the time it took us to slow through the turns. Well, actually almost all the laps were just like that! We'd been doing about 2:06 laps in the Cat. 3 race, but now we were down to as fast as 1:49! (Kevin Metcalfe's MotionBased data shows we averaged 23.55 MPH, and the last lap was 26.1 MPH... even with hills and a headwind!) I would gasp for air, tuck in behind the guy in front of me and try to maintain my energy at every opportunity. I went from riding mostly with my hands comfortably on the hoods to being in the drops the whole time as the strong WNW wind and high speed made every economy imperative. And from switching between my 42-tooth chainring and 53-tooth, to just staying in my 53-tooth.
Occasionally the pack would string out in single-file as the pace went ballistic for a prime sprint, and twice the pace slowed down very briefly. I was wheezing at times, and my legs burned much of the time, but somehow I was able to hang on towards the back of the pack. If I didn't do all of Mark Edwards's painful workouts with our teammates I wouldn't have lasted more than a lap or two. No exaggeration. I tried moving forward, but every time I did I'd soon find myself back at the tail again. I had very little reserve so I couldn't afford to take chances that would waste energy. Even a minor mistake, like a poor shift, could have sent me off the back into oblivion.
I was pretty oxygen-deprived, but I distinctly remember hearing my name called out from the crowd, and "go Bicycle Trip" at other times. There were a lot of locals watching, and teammates, friends, my wife; all around the course. Very cool! And very motivating... you have no idea.
On the last lap I slowly moved forward in the pack, to about the middle; maybe the cheering brought some last hidden energy reserves out! And as we hit the hill up 3rd Street for that final effort I rode around a few more guys. I was hoping to keep my top-10 streak for the year alive, at least! It seemed possible, but...
As I rode through a gap between two guys spread across the right side of the road, the guy on my right, in Morgan-Stanley kit, decided to move back to the left just as I called out "in the middle" or something to that effect. That didn't stop him and he collided with my shoulder. He shimmied a bit but held on, as did I. And he apparently still had plenty of energy to cuss me out too! This was eerily like what happened at Menlo Park... I wonder.
No time for arguments, I surged ahead and caught another guy or two for 18th place. But that was not worth a tongue-lashing! On the cool-down lap I sought out the guy to apologize for the incident. He cussed me out some more, calling it a "stupid rookie move," then calmed down when he saw that I understood the issue and meant well. We parted amicably, surprisingly! The whole thing really ruined my race though... where I should have been proud of hanging in with this crowd of berzerkers (only 38 of the 66 starters even finished) I was merely made aware of how far I have to go to be competitive; there I was, sprinting for 18th place. Sigh.
Our teammate Steve Rosen got some very nice video of this race. Check out the video!
Enough with the self-pity; back home we went for a quick party!!! I had invited some co-workers who didn't doze off when I described my races, some family members, whether or not they dozed off, and... I meant to invite the whole team but somehow that e-mail never left my keyboard. More apologies! At least I got to invite those still spectating. We bought live crabs on the wharf, sped home and soon enough I was eating to make myself feel better and enjoying another aspect of the good life; food, friends and family. I am a very lucky dude!