Friday, June 6, 2008

17th Annual Dash for Cash Criterium, 5/31/2008

After my nasty crash on Memorial Day, my only real goal in this race was to not crash again! The sooner I got back out there in the mix, the sooner I'd again feel comfortable racing. Also, I'd pre-registered long before, and who wants to waste money?

My Bicycle Trip teammate Vladan Strbac and I were both signed up for the 45+ age-group with Category 3 and 4 racers, and the 45+ open-category race. Larry Broberg was racing concurrently with us, albeit as a 55+, so there was certainly some potential for teamwork as well.

Since the frame of my Giant TCR C2 was broken in the crash, I had to revamp my old Specialized Allez Elite commuter bike for its role as my stand-in racing bike. I removed its lighting system and thousands of miles of accumulated gunk in preparation, but kept its clunky, though bullet-proof, 25c commuter tires on. I also bought a new helmet because my old one was damaged.

We met in the gray, chilly business park that was the race venue in Pleasanton. Same as last year, the course is a smooth and wide city block, flat, with four turns connected by some gently undulating straights. A wind blew from the northwest, so the finish line would present us with a headwind from the left. The race is well organized and they even provided lots of complementary bagels, fruit and coffee... and an announcer with an awesome Scottish brogue. The atypical trophies are really, really cool too.

Master 45+ 3/4 Race

It was chilly, windy and overcast as we lined up for the 40-minute 45+ 3/4 race, starting at 9:25AM, and I was happy at our brisk pace when we started racing. The "Dash for Cash" principle is that most laps have an intermediate "prime" sprint with a prize; usually $30 in cash or some merchandise. That would motivate people to push hard for most of the race, and make a breakaway potentially lucrative (relatively). But I was way too timid to be trying anything like that so I just held back and watched the action while I stayed nice and clean.

None of us did much until the last few laps, and I somehow found myself able to move forward a bit. Approaching the last turn I was maybe 10th or so, and as we pivoted into the headwind I was able to pass several guys and even got close to the front-runners who were tiring from the long sprint. I was very briefly in 4th ahead of Shin Umeda (Alto Velo/Webcor) but he threw his bike to put me in 5th. Vlada was 15th, and Larry 4th in 55+.

Not too bad! I didn't crash, I was ready for more racing and I even gained another point or two toward my Cat. 2 upgrade! I now have 12 to 15 of the 25 points needed... not entirely sure as the points awarded depend on how many riders start in a race, which isn't always noted precisely in the results.

Master 45+ Race

We rested a bit for the 45+ race start at 11:05AM, and I huddled in the car for warmth as it seemed colder than earlier... I even slammed hot coffee just before the start. The race was faster, as you'd expect with the higher-ranked Cat. 1 and 2 racers added in; 26 MPH average! But we also slowed on some laps so I was able to rest a bit. Again, I didn't contest any primes.

But a break of about a dozen riders formed about 27 minutes into the 40-minute race, and the gap grew over the next couple of laps. None of us were in it, so when Vlada rode up next to me and pointed to his rear wheel I tucked in behind him and held on for dear life as he pulled me forward and into no-man's land. Whew, what a ride! About 50m from the break he sat up, exhausted, and I had to try very, very hard to bridge the remaining gap. Unh, must... close... gap!!! It was very hard in the wind, and I was not sure I could make it, but just then a Victory Velo rider who had drafted me went around me and beckoned me to follow him. It was no easier, and it was all I could do to maintain even a small gap to him as he closed in. But even though he caught the break before me I did manage to close the last few feet. Yay!!! But all I could do was sit in and hope they didn't attack... I needed a lap or two for recovery.

The break was powerful, but I could see little organization. One Morgan-Stanley racer told everybody to "take short pulls," but I was too tired and apparently most of the others were too, because we were gradually joined by others, one or two at a time, who bridged across from the main peloton like I did. And soon the whooshing sound from behind increased as the rest rejoined us. We were caught, and all that hard work was for nothing.

At one point there was some swerving across the course, like in my Memorial Day race, and some guys on the inside of turn 4's entry swerved out and met up with those of us riding the more conventional outside line. In the process Ernie Gallardo (VOS) and I bumped elbows. Eek. But we both held on and could talk nicely about it after the race too. Just one of those things.

A couple laps later we set up for the final sprint, but my legs were too tired to contest it so I just coasted across in 32nd. Darn. But the experience had been a lot of fun, and proved once again what a great teammate Vlada is! He finished 16th, Larry 4th, again, in 55+. Had the break stayed away I would have been very, very well positioned for a strong finish!

We went to Nation's Giant Burgers for lunch where we all, I kid you not, had the same exact chicken sandwich! A fun way to cap off my return to racing.

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