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.

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