Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mt. Hamilton Road Race 45+ 1,2,3

By Mark Edwards 5/25/08

“So, how’d Hamilton go for ya?” I’ve been asked several times since last Sunday. In a word…rough. I expected it to be hard, the starting field was a veritable who’s who of the 45+ super climbers, but my recent good luck had boosted my confidence.

The Mt. Hamilton road race opens with 19 miles of climbing 4,200’. Survive this and you’ll be rewarded with 43 miles of rolling (another 2,000’ of climbing), desolate, windy terrain.

We began our ascent at what seemed a moderate pace. That was until I started watching the pavement roll past my tires. Actually we we’re flying. I felt okay, but that was 5 minutes into an 80 minute climb. Soon our starting field was down to 13 and my confidence was slipping. One of the riders would slip off the back, and then fight his way back on. It was impressive to watch. On his last time to catch the field he pulled in ahead of me, then allowed a gap to open. I needed to cross that gap, but with 5 miles left to the summit, I knew that if I made it, I’d pop very soon afterwards. So I let the group slide away. I’d thought I’d be working with the #13 rider, but he blew dramatically. So it was solo for me the rest of the climb.

Earlier 3 riders had attacked and stayed off the front until the top. At which point a very impressive rider, up from So. Cal., rode away from Kevin Susco and Rick Martyn to take the KOM. Jon Ornstil had attacked the chase group and split them apart. I was too far back to see the 3 leaders, but had a front row seat to watch Jon’s total destruction of the chasers. The last of the chase group went over the summit about a minute ahead of me.

The descent, while beautiful, was dangerous. I’d been forewarned, and shortly after going over the top came across emergency crews tending to a fallen rider. I slowed way down. I was already out of contention, so why risk it? About half way down Ted Thomas had somehow fought his way back. He’d been dropped fairly early, but he’s not one to give up, he screamed down the descent to catch me.

Ted and I worked for probably about 15 miles before we caught two riders. We attempted to get the four of us working together, but it wasn’t to be. After a very frustratingly slow half hour, I attacked on the second small climb. Two riders tried to chase me down, but I went over the top with 500 meters on them.

I wasn’t sure how much farther I had to go, but it turned out to be a long way. I’m guessing it was somewhere between 12 and 15 miles.

I knew going into this race I was too heavy to compete with the best climbers, at 8.5 lbs over my ideal climbing weight. But, that same weight would benefit me now on my solo time trial to the finish. I dropped into my most aero position, shifted into a big gear, and cranked it up to around 300 watts (no power meter, but I’m pretty familiar with this power output from repeats on Branciforte). Initially I just didn’t want my former 3 ride partners to catch me, but as I finally got into a grove, I was just enjoying flying along faster than I’d thought possible.

I was reeling in riders from other categories every few minutes, rocketing around them a good 5 to 10 mph faster than they were going. It seemed the farther I went, the faster I could go. It was a blast!

I rolled across the finish in 10th place, receiving a high five from Jon Ornstil. My former partners crossed the line nearly 10 minutes after me. All that work may not have improved my placing, but I finished feeling I’d left everything on the course. I would have rather been able to hang with the climbers, but my strong finish after a very tough race was a nice consolation.

Someone please remind me next year that 8.5 lbs is worth about 1:58 on that climb...

SugarCRM Memorial Day Criterium, Elite 3

Last weekend, at the Panoche Valley Road Race, I was standing on the top step of the podium, grinning ear to ear. But yesterday I was sitting on the pavement in pain, gasping for breath, as my competitors finished the last lap of my race without me. Man, life, and bike racing, sure has its ups and downs.

San Jose Bicycle Club's Memorial Day bicycle race has been a mixed bag for me. I won in 2007 but crashed in 2006 (talk about binary) just as my friend Rob Jensen had in 2005. This year I had pre-registered for two events: The "Elite" Category 3 race, and the "Master" 45+ age group of combined Category 1, 2 and 3 racers. That was a bit of a stretch, but with our friend Carole staying the weekend she and Margaret would want to do some shopping and that gave me the free time to overdo it. I figured I'd get a good workout, but didn't count on getting worked over!

I arrived at the race venue in Morgan Hill's business district just before my teammate Bryan King's Cat. 4 race finished, but somehow I missed getting any photos of him because I got stuck in a slow line at sign-in. He did well, and we chatted a bit as I got ready for my Cat. 3 race's 9:40AM start. Maybe I had a premonition; this was an 18+ age-group race after all, not the crusty old veterans I usually race with. I decided to leave my old wheels on the bike for this race, just in case there was a crash (wheels are usually the first thing to be destroyed). I remember looking at my Team Bicycle Trip skinsuit and thinking I'd hate to see it get torn up too. Didn't update my will, but you'd think I was leaving for a war.

Bryan volunteered to operate my camera, and I dropped off my spare wheels in the pit area. I got one lap of the course for warmup (plenty for me!) and lined up. I was surprised at the youth all around me. Geez, I'm getting old. But I figured I could keep out of harm's way thanks to guile.

The race was moderately fast at first, but several small breakaways formed, I think of two or three guys at most, and that upped our efforts as guys chased them down. The intermediate "prime" sprints were hotly contested, perhaps because some were worth as much as $250, and this also provoked an increase in our pace. I just sat in, as I had no teammates and was treating this partly as warmup for the Masters event anyway. I felt great drafting in this large 75-rider pack!

The peloton seemed to be running smoothly, with just a few wobbly riders who stood up to sprint out of slow turns, and some guys yelling "inside" as they got themselves squeezed into the curb in turns. Tip: Make sure you are clearly the "inside" guy well before the turn. Don't just yell it out at the last second while trying to make up some positions. If you need to yell "inside" you are probably already making a mistake.

Anyway, I was feeling fine, and smiling at my camera as Bryan cheered me on. With 3 laps to go he yelled at me to move forward. Excellent plan! I was executing on this nicely, and while the tension in the pack was palpable we were still fairly clean. I noticed several teams trying to set up leadouts for their chosen sprinters and decided to latch onto one. I started with a Metromint leadout, but the young sprinter lost his leadout for some reason. Perhaps the increasing speed (we averaged 26.8 MPH, up to this point!). I then switched to a Wells Fargo team leadout, but they also got separated, then to a third leadout (maybe Trek Bike Stores) near the front. I was well-positioned and working hard, but not too hard, at 85-90% effort. Perfect.

On the last lap, we were really moving and soon hit 35 MPH! As we rounded turn 3 into the sweeping back "straight" we had to skirt the row of cones on the left, as we'd done every previous lap. I'd been comfortable there but this time some of the leadouts were swerving across the course, I guess to prevent others, like me, from latching on? I guess it worked, because as we came even with the last cones the guy in front of me got squeezed into them and clipped a stack of 5 or 6 cones with his left pedal, dropping them directly into the path of my front wheel. It happened so fast that I only had time to hold tight and steer as straight as possible. Slam!!!

In an instant I went over the handlebars and body-slammed full-length on my back onto the pavement. 35 MPH to 0 MPH in 0.1 second! I was completely stunned and had the wind knocked out of me. In an instant I was surrounded by the Course Marshalls and soon the E.M.T. (named Katherine, I think) was checking me over. No obviously-broken bones, but, man, my back felt like it got hit by a 20-pound sledgehammer! I was scraped up some on my back, left hip and calf, had an odd puncture wound on my left forearm, my left heel really hurt (it must have hit the ground first) and blood dripped off my nose. It took me a while to get my breath back too.

My bike was thrown 20 feet down the course, and soon we discovered my beloved new Giant TCR C2's carbon-fiber frame was cracked almost through on the downtube just behind the headset. The saddle and some other minor things were scuffed, but the wheels were fine and my skinsuit nearly so; go figure!

Bryan was being his usual awesome self and brought his car over so he could take me to the E.R. at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Gatos. The bumps in the road really hurt my back and I thought of how David Zabriskie had cracked a vertebra in the Giro d'Italia a few days earlier. When we got to the E.R. the Doctor pressed my spine and it was fine; only the muscles around it were sore. Whew! But my heel hurt pretty badly, so the Doctor authorized an X-ray of it that fortunately showed no cracks. An E.M.T. flushed out my deep puncture-wound, cleaned up the scrapes and bandaged me up.

Carole drove Margaret to the E.R. and then continued home while Bryan dropped Margaret and I off at the race site so we could retrieve all of my stuff and drive home. I was already feeling better, and just kept feeling better thanks to Margaret's tender care! I escaped with the usual scrapes, cuts and bruises, and some expensive equipment damage. We'll see how much a new frame ends up setting me back. Sigh.

At least I'm feeling way better now, and I have no doubt I'll be back in my scuffed-up saddle soon... hopefully tomorrow. Uh, wait a minute; that's crazy of me... why do I keep racing bikes? All I could think of was how I didn't want to miss my next workout ride, or next weekend's race, so I guess I'm an addict!

Mt. Hamilton Classic Road Race (55+) - May 25, 2008

Mt. Hamilton 55+ Road Race,
By Jim Langley

This was an interesting race, some good, some that could be better. The good part was that I broke away on the only real climb on the course with John Elgart, so, for about 8 miles, John and I were off the front working together. The bad part was that the 4 guys chasing us, caught us about 10 miles from the finish and it came down to another sprint. But, the good part was that I didn't lead it out this time. I waited, and waited and just when I thought I couldn't wait another second, maybe 300 yards from the line, someone else took off and I got to sprint from the back. I managed to hold off one guy, pass another and almost got one more right on the line but he got me by a tire width when we both threw our bikes. So, I got 4th. It was John Elgart, Richard Shields, Larry Wolff and me. I think I beat David Stockwell in the sprint and one other guy.

So, the good news is that I didn't come in last in the sprint like at Copperopolis, and I didn't lead it out. Also good, I think I beat David, who beat me at Copperopolis. It's also good news that I almost, almost, almost took 3rd... 1cm and it would have gone the other way. So, that's all cool. It's annoying though being strong enough to ride away on the climb but not being able to stay away. When John and I were trading pulls off the front I made the mistake of thinking I might actually get second place and that was a dumb thing to think on that course with such a long downhill finish into a headwind.

Anyway, I got a neat T shirt and $10 and a gift certificate to some restaurant over the hill (John got $160!). And, the course was beautiful. The driving was brutal, though. I left my house at 4a.m. and the race only lasted from 8:20 to about 11:00 - with the podium, et. - with the rest of the time spent driving back and forth on Mines Rd. I got home at 3:30!

But, overall, it was a pretty cool experience. I'm in awe at what Mark and Scott did, though in racing the full course. Our course was all on the backside of Hamilton. We completely avoided the climb up Hamilton and only raced 38 miles with only a 3-mile climb. Their race was epic starting with the tough ascent of Ham and then having to make it all the way through the valley.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Panoche Valley Road Race, 45+ open

They made me suffer, and suffer, and then suffer some more. They made me burn matches I didn't know I had, and then dig through the cushions of my sofa looking for more. The heat and very dry air sucked all of the moisture from my mouth, and even three large bottles of water couldn't keep up with my losses. A salty dust from lost electrolytes coated my skin, though I barely saw any sweat because it evaporated too quickly. Yet I convinced myself to keep pedaling, and that if I could just stay with the race leaders at the end it would be worth it. Fear that I'd let my Bicycle Trip teammates down was what kept me going!

I got up that morning at 5:15AM, and stepped on the scale: 155 pounds. Sigh; I'd gained several extra pounds from eating out too much (think "salt") that I'd now have to lug up over the 55-mile course's 2,650 feet of climbing. On the other hand, the meteorologists forecast nearly 90-degree heat at our race venue by Blossom Hill Winery, and that area, a gorgeous valley south of Hollister, is notoriously dry. The water my body had soaked up the previous few days might actually help me in the heat. Plus, the pressure on me was lower because Team Bicycle Trip's other 45+ open-category racers, Mark Edwards and Jim Langley, and I would all be riding in support of "our man," Geoff Drake.

My teammates Gary Griffin, Joe Platin and John Pollard, who were racing in the 45+ Cat. 4/5 race, and I, carpooled to FlapJack's Country Cafe, a local race sponsor, for a huge, yummy, country-style breakfast. Bob Montague (racing 35+ Cat. 5) met us there at 7:00. It was everything I had hoped for: A huge plate of pancakes with lots of walnuts, banana and butter, swimming in a pool of syrup. Oh, two eggs, orange juice and coffee too. It was absolutely delicious! (Read my thoughts on race-day breakfasts.)

After we signed in with the nice Lion's Club volunteers and suited up, we warmed up just a little, as we were already pretty warm, and discussed tactics. Mark was pretty sure the peloton of this increasingly-popular race would stay together, unlike in 2006 and 2007 where the various climbs separated us into ever-smaller groups. The reason was that the big teams, like Morgan-Stanley, ICCC, VOS and Alto Velo/Webcor, had many more riders registered, and the larger 50-rider field would give the advantage to bigger groups of riders, thanks to the "draft" they create. That would require a change of tactics because I, the sprinter from our team, would be more comfortable fighting with the other teams at the finish line. Even though I have long felt that this course, with it's shorter climbs and flat finish, would be my best bet for doing well in a hilly road race, I doubted I would last long enough with the "big dogs" to contest the finish... I hadn't in the past.

As big as my breakfast was, it only provided about 1,100 calories, half of what I would need, so I would run out of gas without the sport drink (two big bottles) and gels I brought with me. I had extras for my teammates (what a domestique!), but they never requested any.

We lined up with the big names at the start line, ready for our 9:20AM whistle. It was warm, and when we started nobody pushed too hard for a few miles. The tailwind helped. I moved forward as we approached the first big climb, and saw Jon Ornstil (VOS) do the same. After a few feints, somebody up front drilled it hard, and I was soon in the "hurt locker." I think Geoff was one of the guys pushing the pace. It hurt, a lot... I believe Mark took a turn too. Soon I was breathing so hard my rib-cage hurt, and my mouth was bone dry. The guys around me must have pitied me.

None of the attacks lasted too long though, and I was fairly sure I could last through the second climb, at least, and maybe a bit more, but not so sure of the extra climbing this 45+ race called for. I thought maybe Jim and I could block for Geoff later, if he could get into a strong breakaway. Soon the second step was behind us but on the third big climb, where Mark and Scott dropped me last year, Jim gasped out that he was through. I was shocked. He's a stronger climber than me, and I was hanging on, albeit on a razor's edge (and glad I used my 39x25-tooth gears instead of my 42x25!). I encouraged him by pointing out that the summit was just ahead, maybe 100 feet, but the heat had taken it out of him. I had to pedal on smoothly or risk losing their draft, so I left him behind.

I soon spotted the place I crashed in 2006, and suddenly it dawned on me... the worst of the climbing was behind me! But I knew there were still about 38 miles to go with much climbing. No rest yet.

As we coasted through some mercifully-downhill sections Geoff told me Mark was unhappy at the slow pace... eh? Slow for them maybe, but I had been at my painful limit for very long periods of time, much of it in my lactic-acid "L5" zone or even higher! I silently thanked Mark for getting us to do those weekly L5 workouts at UCSC. No way would I have lasted without that training. No way. And this made me consider the possibility that Mark was right about our tactics too; I might be there to contest the finish after all. I knew from those workouts that even while riding in L5 I have a strong sprint left in me, so I was cautiously optimistic.

Our turnaround this year was at 27.47 miles, just past a rural store with old men resting on the porch in the shade. Fun! But the fun ended as we headed west again, right into the headwind. It seemed several guys tried to attack out of the tight U-turn; the pack surged with each new attack, but none stuck because of the draft advantage the guys behind the leaders had with that headwind. Even so it was painful, my back and hands hurt too, and I was soon gasping for breath again and nearly out of water!

I made plans to grab a water bottle from the volunteers manning the feed zone at mile 37 and stuck one of my empty bottles in my jersey pouch to make room in my second bottle cage. Geoff had to help me. The course climbs back up to the feed zone, and there were several more attacks, I think one was from Steve Archer. I secretly started hoping for a flat tire! That was about the extent of my reasoning capabilities at that point, due to oxygen deprivation!

But it got worse just past the feed zone as gaps formed during the bottle handouts. I grabbed a bottle (without dropping it!), stowed it, and immediately had to close a gap, a task that put me into the red zone. Then the gap opened again, bigger... I was cross-eyed from effort, my legs didn't respond, I was finished, done, demoralized! The prospect of a long solo ride back loomed in my mind. NOOOOOOOO!!! Somehow, the image of that, and fear of letting my teammates down, made me give it one more try. It took me 20 seconds but I made it, and they didn't attack! If they had known how close I was to my limit...

On one of the climbs back Kevin Susco (Alto Velo/Webcor) tried to attack too, but was quickly marked by Morgan-Stanley and he backed off. Then it was Mark's turn to inflict pain, and he moved up to the front. At that point I was relieved just to be breathing again, so when he attacked I still had my head buried and didn't see him go off the front. Mark was joined by Rick Martyn (VOS) who won my race in 2006, and also by Mark Caldwell (Morgan-Stanley).

I was still recovering, and when the pack slowed in response to this unseen (by me) breakaway, I drafted some Alto Velo riders to the front. Just in case there was another attack I wanted to be near the front! Well, they tried to form a paceline to chase the break, because they didn't have a teammate in it, but they were rather uncoordinated. Some riders had a chuckle at this, and also by my apparent desire to help them... I was actually just sitting on them and hoping to build a margin for error, but Eric Saltzman (Morgan-Stanley) explained to me that I had a guy in the break... ah-hah! It all became clear to me, and Geoff told me to just sit in, which made sense. If I recovered enough and Alto Velo got the chase going in earnest I could always block, per our original plan. But for now I used the precious reprieve to just breathe!

But Caldwell apparently didn't like his chances with the break and refused to pull when it was his turn. With the failure of this paceline assured, Martyn left, and Mark was left alone off the front. He too came back into the peloton, very disappointed. I'm not sure why Caldwell wanted to kill the break. Perhaps Martyn is a better sprinter, and would have won a three-up sprint finish?

[I later learned that Mark and his breakaway companions were off the front for a long time; about a full hour! During this time, that passed for me in a haze, Mark attacked them on every climb, working hard to tire them out because they are both good sprinters while he's a climber. This took a lot out of them, so in the last 3 or 4 miles they decided they were too tired to compete with him at the finish and dropped back into the peloton, organizing a chase with their teammates and shifting their hopes to their teams's other sprinters.]

With the pack together again, though now reduced to about 25, the pace was much easier. Geoff and I mostly sat in. As we approached the final few miles there was a gradual increase in speed, but nothing major. So when I spotted the winery building rooftops behind a ridge line, I was feeling much better than before. I cautiously moved forward a bit and kept alert to the usual antsy moves. Protect your front wheel!

The continuing headwind was from the right, so the smart guys hugged the left side of the lane to avoid giving anybody shelter. Soon it was jammed and guys were spilling over the center line. Danger! Well, I make my own way, so I looked ahead, saw the cones marking the last 300 or so meters and just powered smoothly to the far right into the wind, all alone. By doing this I at least forced them to shift several feet over and then match my speed if they wanted my draft. I was passing them quickly and was in the lead with a big gap as we hit the final, wider 200 meters. I expected a swarm to overtake me, but I buried my head for the long sprint and never did hear the tell-tale whoosh of impending doom, because it never came! But I did hear my teammates cheering me on as I crossed the line five bike lengths ahead of 2nd place Eric Saltzman (who beat Mark at Wente), followed by the swarm. Yee-haw!

I guess that since I am relatively unknown nobody was marking me. That gave me the element of surprise. By the time they realized I wasn't fading from my long sprint on the "wrong" side it was too late. I may not be that lucky in the future! [And I now know that I owe even more to Mark than I first realized. Without his hard attacks in the break I wouldn't have been there to contest the finish.]

My 55-mile race took me 2:37 total time, at 21 MPH average. (Results on USCF, photos and more on NCNCA.)

The downside of winning was having to wait around for the podium presentation, and I had time to drink two big bottles of water and a regular (!) Coke. I needed it. I felt bad for my teammates who had to wait around, though I was glad of their company. But the $125 in cash, neat T-shirt and ceramic bottom-bracket bearing kit were an impressive prize! What a quality event!

After Gary dropped us off in Aptos I drove home where Margaret greeted me with Queen's Bicycle song... how sweet! I repaid her support by taking her out for dinner at her favorite restaurant! What a special day!

Now, two days later, I'm starting to recover from the race, but I haven't lost the excited buzz I felt from the win... I still play it over in my mind and smile. This is by far my biggest cycling victory ever, and I owe so much of it to my friends on Team Bicycle Trip!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Davis Double, 5/17/2008

Instead of racing at Panoche and watching Dennis give lessons on how to win a bike race, I decided it would be a great idea to wake up at 3am and ride my bike for 11+ hours in record setting heat for the Davis Double century.

The weather reports said it would be 102 deg in Davis, hotter in the Cache Creek valley, so I started at 4:15am to get an early jump on the heat. I met up with some nice guys from Fremont Freewheelers club to ride with, and we stuck together through the dark working well together for the first 30 miles. At about mile 45, just after Cardiac Hill by Lake Berryessa a tandem and group of fast riders passed us, so we jumped on. I stuck with the tandem and fast riders, picking up another tandem and some other riders, and skipping some rest stops to not lose time until the main climb came, Cobb Mountain. It's about 4 miles long with 2000 ft climbing, and about 2/3 of it is exposed with no shade. It feels like Bonny Doon road, but with the sun bearing down and temps rising it was really tough! I made it up and over and was one of the first dozen to make it to lunch (I had dropped the tandems and most others on the climb). This gave me a little extra time to eat and hydrate before the tandems rolled out after lunch, but it was still a quick stop. At mile 135 came the hardest climb, not because of the length, but the fact it's completely exposed and along a highway. At the top, it's only 60 miles to home and all downhill/flat... but it was scorching hot and I knew it would be a challenge. I was with 2 tandems and a couple good friendly riders, so I felt like I was in a good spot.

The next 40 miles were tough and hot so we all slowed down quite a bit. Each rest stop got a little longer as we cooled down and hydrated. By mile 175 I was alone, either dropped by strongest riders, or ahead of those suffering more than me. At mile 180 I was considering calling it quits, but the cute nurse tending the kiddie pool full of ice water told me I was a stud and that she wishes all her single friends could meet me. That was all I needed to get home (well that, and another 60+ oz of H2O).

I felt great physically except for the heat, it really slowed me down. I ate just right, moderated my effort, drank an amazing amount of water, spent as little time working off the front alone as possible, and finished 45 minutes faster than last year even with record heat! That night I went out with a bunch of friends who said I was a complete idiot for doing the ride, but then bought me beer(s) to congratulate me on being "hard core".

Time: 11:17.27
Distance: 203.3 mi
Work: 6067 kJ
Norm Power: 187 Watts
Avg (Hr/Max): 137/174
Speed (avg/max): 18.1/51.1

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Panoche Valley Road Race 45+ 1, 2, 3

Dennis shows a clean set of wheels to win in Panoche Valley

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Berkeley Hills Road Race 45+ 1,2,3

Berkeley Hills Road Race, May 11, 2008
By Mark Edwards

How on Earth do I write a race report nearly every week and not have it sound like all the weeks before? How about?…


Hot digity dog! My feet still haven’t touched the ground. Berkeley Hills is one of the oldest and most prestigious road races around. This year they changed from a 45+ 1,2,3,4 to a 45+ 1,2,3 - bumping up the depth of strong riders in the field. (last year you might remember I flatted 5 miles from the start and never got to experience Momma Bear, Baby Bear, and Papa Bear – the 3 main climbs per lap).

Geoff and I would be racing together, while Joe and Scott would be taking on the young bucks in the 35+ Cat 4 race. After a mostly silent ride up – leaving at 5:00 AM on Mother’s Day does tend to be a bit brutal – we arrived in plenty of time to get ready and warm-up.

Our first couple of laps were for the most part uneventful, other than 3 flats caused by pot holes, one crash when the road narrowed, and a strange stopping of our group by the moto referee. Seems the Cat 4 group was approaching and the officials decided to neutralize us and let them pass. There were loud objections, but really, what else could the officials do? It was unfortunate because the surges that occur in higher category races are designed to wear down the field – it’s an intentional slowing. But, generally, the overall speed of the higher categories is faster. And, sure enough, within two miles they neutralized the Cat 4’s and we blew by fast, never to see them again.

Going into this race I was very focused on doing well. I’ve had a great season so far and really wanted to claim the top podium spot in big hard race. I knew the Morgan Stanley and Webcore teams came loaded for bear and would be watching each other. I was hoping I could assume a low profile and do as little work as possible until the final climb. I figured the race would be decided on Papa Bear, the longest and steepest climb whose summit was also the finish line.

Riding near the rear of the peloton has its risks, the weaker riders generally congregate there and tend to ride erratically. Many accidents happen near the back. But there are also some very skilled and safe riders, sprinters and others that don’t climb as well, bringing up the rear. The advantage for me was being able to watch who was strong, who was attacking, and not getting sucked into the energy sapping games happening up front.

I also really enjoy watching my teammates and other friends race, it adds a very fun component to the race experience.

As we approached the final climb I pulled up along side Geoff, I said that Jon Ornstil seemed to have been saving himself and looked like a good wheel for what promised to be a quad cramping, lung searing, near death dash up the 7% final stretch.

It wasn’t a minute later that a dozen guys attacked the base of the hill! And boy did they attack! Now, I’m a good climber, and I can climb pretty fast, but these guys hit it so hard I was nearly stunned into inaction (Geoff throttled back as he felt their acceleration was unsustainable). But I was already on the move and went with them. I knew from the first two times up Papa Bear that this climb lasts longer than you think, and almost any strategy would likely go too soon.

We weren’t half way up when all the original protagonists had faded, leaving me on the front. Not somewhere I wanted to be this soon. Besides being sure I was way too far from the finish, there was a steady headwind that made you feel as if you were riding in molasses.

What to do? Well, there wasn’t much I could do, so I put my head down and tried to nail the hardest pace I could hold to the finish, wherever the hell that was.

About 2/3rds of the way up, the finish line tent came into view, great! Except… boy did my legs hurt. I slowed, I didn’t want to, but pulling hard into the wind had clearly drained my reserves. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a Webcore rider, then another… bummer… here comes the inevitable swamping when the patient peloton over takes the bonehead who’s been pushing the wind for them. But, I’ve gotten better about looking over my shoulder at who’s coming up, and guess what? Myself and the two Webcore riders, Kevin Susco and Scott Frake, had a nice gap on the chasers.

Well… third place would be a real accomplishment in such a well known competitive race. Especially behind Kevin and Scott, my pre-race picks for likely winners.

Scott went by me with Kevin on his wheel. I knew I had to jump on Kevin’s wheel to have any chance of holding off the hungry mob nipping at our heels. But did my legs have enough in them? As Kevin went by I jumped and was pleasantly surprise to find a little life left. But, what’s happening? Kevin’s dropping off Scott’s wheel, has he popped? Is this intentional to create a gap, keeping me from challenging Scott?

Once again I summoned the engine room for more power. I came around Kevin and grabbed Scott’s wheel. Kevin didn’t seem to be able to go with me, a good sign, but could I take Scott? Scott was really laying out the torque, it was 100 yards to the finish and I’m sure he was tasting victory. What was that? Did Scott just downshift? Yes! All right! I’ve got you now.

His downshift indicated that his legs were loaded and failing to respond. It was now or never. I came out of the saddle and gave one final push. I was past him and accelerating, I cruised over the line with room to spare. Scott’s effort had left him unable to fend off Kevin who nipped him at the line for 2nd.

I had felt good the entire race, but as soon as I crossed the line and sat back down, bam! Spasms in both quadriceps, I was on the verge of cramping. I like it much better when the cramps come after the race.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

East Bay Cycling Criterium Masters 45+

I have been inordinately nervous about this race. Every time I talk to people about it, they have looked at me funny. Until today, I had never done a criterium, so I have had absolutely no idea what to expect. Experienced racers tend to shake their heads and look down. They tend to mumble and appear to be recollecting past criteriums that had less than pleasing results. Newer racers tend to mention that they don’t do races with the letters “CRIT” in them. They then go on to mention crashes. As a matter of fact, almost everyone mentions crashes. One of the guys at the bike shop yesterday went so far as to say, “If you are going to race in Crits, you are going to be in crashes!”. After today, I would have to say that he is probably correct. But I would also say that if you are going to race at all, you are putting yourself at some risk of crashing. And, at least for today, in this one race, I didn’t find that risk to be particularly greater than the risk of a fast group ride. If I am going to enter and finish enough races to qualify for an upgrade, I think I will have to do some crits.
I took the advice of Jim Langley and rode the entire race in my drops (this turned out to be excellent advice). I also was hyper aware of what was going on around me at all times. Finally, I probably didn’t ride as aggressively as I might have because one of my primary goals in this, my first ever Crit, was not to crash. I am most pleased to report that I achieved that goal and even found that I was able to meet another goal that I had yet to achieve in my previous races. I finished with the main pack without getting dropped. I am not going to trumpet that achievement any further here, as the course was completely flat and I think that only the very unprepared were dropped.
Vlada and Larry were also in this race, Larry racing as 55+, and Vlada and I racing as 45+. The course was a completely flat rectangle around a business park with one sweeping turn and three regular corners. We went in a counterclockwise direction, so all the turns were right handers. They started us off with a whistle and the first few laps were at a reasonable pace. I found that I was making mistakes going into the corners. I took them too tight and lost speed and my peleton protection from the wind in doing so. I started to try and just follow a good wheel through the turns and when I could remember to do that, I found I was using much less energy and the pace was not hard. I must be slow on the uptake however, because I continued to find myself picking my own line on too many occasions going into the turn. I am sorry to say that this sapped a lot of my available energy and prevented me from being fresh at the end. I was often chasing back on coming out of turns, but I felt good and failed to recognize the toll that was being taken.
I tried to keep Larry and Vlada in my sights in hopes that I could be of some use to one of them towards the end. They were both in front of me and even though I could work my way up to them on the straightaways, I almost always lost 10 to 12 positions through the corners. With about 6 laps to go, there was a mighty surge coming out of the second turn. All at once, I found myself on the verge of getting dropped. I was 20 – 25 yards off the back and feeling the pain. I watched a guy next to me drop off the back, and then a couple more. I was at the crucial point for myself in this race. I put it in a harder gear, stood out of the saddle and began to chase. It was hard, but I caught on to the group before the end of that lap. At this point I needed some recovery, and I feared that another surge was coming soon. Luckily for me, there were no attacks as the group was working out its strategies for the finish. I got to rest until there were only three laps to go. I looked up and saw Vlada only a couple of wheels in front of me. I was feeling pretty well recovered, and I decided to move up and see if I could offer him a leadout.
That’s when the shi… hit the fan. Going into the first turn, there was a massive slow down. I don’t know why it happened, but I just paid very close attention to my wheel and where I had to go to be safe. I came out of the turn alright, but I had lost Vlada and the group was surging hard. I jumped to stay on and chased down the straightaway. There was a lot of disorganization in the group because of the surge and the disturbance at the corner. All of a sudden, I found myself up against another rider; bar to bar, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. We both maintained our composure and managed to separate safely, but I think that some other riders went down around us. I think we were lucky that no one else hit us at that point, and I know that I am thankful for Jim’s advice about staying in the drops.
I chased back on to the group, but the energy expenditure combined with the close calls had sapped my will to compete for a high placing. I really didn’t want to crash in my first crit, so I decided to be satisfied hanging on the back rather than fighting my way up in the group. Larry finished in front of me and I believe placed 5th (out of 15) in the 55+ group. I placed 33rd (out of 60) in the 45+, and Vlada was a little behind me, having been caught up in the slowdown at the corner. I believe he placed 5th in the 35+ race earlier in the day. Even though I was a middle of the pack finisher, I was pleased with the way the race went and at least for now, I think I may be willing to keep doing them so that I can become capable of giving Dennis that leadout he has so graciously asked for.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cat's Hill Classic Criterium, Los Gatos, 5/3/2008

Psssssss, psssssss, psssssss, psssssss, psssssss... another race, another flat! What rotten luck. After flatting out at the Santa Cruz Classic a few weeks earlier, I'd learned my lesson and this time I was prepared: I had commandeered a usable spare wheelset from my beat-up commuter bike, test-ridden them a few times, and put them in the neutral pit area by this course's start/finish line.

Cat's Hill is one of the oldest races in this area and is held in a beautiful neighborhood by downtown Los Gatos. Incredible old Victorian homes, lovingly restored, contrast with the broken and patched concrete streets dating from the 1920s. The Wall on Nicholson Street, with a crazy-steep grade hitting over 20%, is a unique feature, deciding race outcomes through tiring legs and mechanical problems (like dropped or broken chains, and critical missed shifts) not usually encountered in more typical races. I'd raced here three times before, so I knew what to expect (a new speed bump turned out to be inconsequential). But my mixed results made me unsure if the course suits small sprinters like me.

Margaret and I had planned to meet with friends and family there like we've done before, and wish my parents "bon voyage" for their trip to Denmark. But a sore throat nearly derailed my plans. I took the day off from work on Friday in hopes I'd be able to fight off the cold, and on Saturday morning I felt good enough to race. So after a huge breakfast of pancakes with syrup, bacon, eggs and coffee we drove over the hill through beautiful weather to Los Gatos.

The town didn't seem as crowded as in past years, maybe because they scheduled the race a week earlier to not fall on Mother's Day weekend. So it was easy to find parking, get signed in for my Category 3 race and warm up on my spare wheels. Margaret helped me drop off the spares in the pit, and I had time to ride a little on my racing wheels before lining up for the 11:00 race start.

This race is always fast and we shot off to start our 20 laps of torture. In the past I only raced 12, and even though I just sat in I was soon gasping and hitting up to 187 heart beats per minute; a rate I can only sustain for short bursts. My average was 171. The Wall is always hard, though I tried to take it easier than in the past. I always use the 35 MPH downhill section on Bachman Street to recover a little so I'm ready the next time we hit The Wall.

We all rode a hard but steady pace, with only a few minor attempts at breakaways. Team tactics aren't as common in Cat. 3 races as in the 45+ open category races I often do. That's an advantage to guys like me who race alone but can sprint, because I don't have to constantly worry about teams setting up breaks that I might miss. Except for a couple of problems on The Wall and one Metromint racer who crashed in turn 1 nothing much happened... other than our constant trips up The Wall, followed by our attempts to recover from them.

In spite of my cold I felt pretty good. The many friends and family cheering me on certainly helped! My parents, brother and sister, and our friends Al, Jennifer, Diana and Kim were all there. And with 3 laps remaining I started to move forward.

With 2 laps to go I'd moved forward some and was cautiously optimistic about being able to be well positioned on the last lap. But in turn 2 I heard the hissing sound of a quickly-deflating tire that turned out to be mine, again. Sigh. I coasted to a stop at the base of The Wall and remembered that the "free lap" rule, that allows me one lap to fix problems with no penalty, expired at 5 laps to go. I was out of luck; the spare wheels were off limits now. My 18 laps, covering 16.6 miles in 44:16 minutes (22.5 MPH average), were for naught.

With my sore throat and now-tired legs the 35+ 1/2/3 race open to me at 1:20 would be impossibly hard. Had I flatted sooner I could either have swapped wheels and been in the Cat. 3 race's finish, or at least have been more fresh for the later race. As it was I was stuck in the middle with no good options.

So after crying on everyone's shoulders I was happy to just watch others race and then go to lunch at Pedro's where we had Margaritas and heaps of chips, and I had a chicken platter. We watched some more racing and hooked up with teammate Larry Broberg and his wife Priscilla. Later we went up the hill from Main Street on College Avenue to Testarossa Vineyards for some wine tasting. Perfect weather for sipping Chardonnay on their picnic tables overlooking the entire valley. Then off to my parents' house for dinner. Except for the fact that my nose was starting to run heavily I started feeling better!

Now I have to figure out what to do about these annoying flat tires. This time it was a cut that sliced through the tire and tube. Perhaps I should consider heavier tires, tubless tires with their special wheels, or even old-fashioned sew-ups. But there's no perfect solution, just good compromises.