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.