Monday, July 21, 2008

Watsonville Criterium, 45+

By Dennis Pedersen

Methylprednisolone Adverse Reactions:
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of muscle mass

That's what I read on the package insert for the medicine my doctor prescribed to treat the huge swelling and rash I experienced after being stung by a wasp on my ride home. Not what we usually associate with a drug in the steroid family. I only mention this so as to set your expectations, because my legs actually felt fine... it was my lungs, and my brain, that failed me in this race!

Last year I finally figured out that I'm a sprinter, albeit a small one at 150 pounds, and have been trying to figure out which courses suit me best ever since. I have raced this technical course, set in a nice residential neighborhood near downtown, in 2005, 2006 and 2007, with fairly promising results. Watsonville's twisty, tight, fast 3/4-mile criterium course, with a short hill, seemed to match my power profile and lighter weight, but now I know better!

My teammate Joe Platin was first to sign up, and Geoff Drake also did, even though he was recovering from a chest cold. I knew this race would be fast, but I was hoping that our interval workouts had prepared us well. And even if I couldn't deliver for the team, a climber like Joe might be able to. Or if a strong break developed perhaps Geoff could join it and do well with his amazing endurance power. Bases covered, right? Well, the best laid plans...

I had scoped out our open-category 45+ age-group competitors beforehand, and knew that Larry Nolan (Team Specialized Masters) would be tough to beat, or even hang with. But that didn't mean we couldn't have fun trying our best. Since our small field was combined with the 35+ race we also needed to know who to watch there, so we could go with any promising breaks.

We lined up on that pleasant afternoon, serene in our belief we would do fine. Mark Knutson (Team Santa Cruz) was there as well. I was right behind Nolan, determined to watch his wheel. Geoff and Joe looked comfortable too; that ended just seconds after the official blew his whistle and the pack sprinted off at full speed and up the hill for the first of 24 laps!

I was, in fact, right with Nolan for a while, but then on the back stretch I heard him shift gears and move forward. I didn't think too much of it, but by the end of that lap, on the hill, I saw that he had somehow vaulted all the way up to the front!!! Gasp! That reminded me to move forward in the field instead of trying to sit in the middle of the pack, a mistake I had made in 2006 and didn't want to repeat. The many tight turns, wind, and the hill, all create gaps in the peloton that we then have to work very hard to close. That is very tiring. It is better to set a hard, but more consistent, pace near the front, thus avoiding the constant redlining efforts of those stuck in the back.

It was too late for me: We had gaps forming even on the second lap, and pretty soon the size of these gaps increased. Joe and Geoff were looking good, and I was feeling strong, but when I moved forward I saw a gap form ahead of me, and I then had to sprint to close it. Then another gap formed, and again I had to close it. It was like trying to climb up a rope that was no longer secured, like in a cartoon!

Up the hill on lap 3 or 4, Geoff had a gap ahead of him (he had done a better job of being near the front!), and I had to really dig deep to get around him and keep the pack within range. I couldn't look back, but heard later that Geoff "pulled the plug" because his lungs were just not clear enough yet. Bummer.

After a few turns I had caught back on just as, you guessed it, the guy at the back let a gap form ahead of him. I needed some recovery and couldn't get around him, so I had to draft a bit and hope for a slowdown. I had lost Joe, and couldn't afford to wait for him, and it turned out that he dropped out, or got pulled, soon thereafter anyway. So, I ended up working with this guy for a few laps. We did take turns, and after a while somebody else joined us from behind. The three of us rode our butts off for a couple of laps until they dropped out. I was so exhausted I could hardly see straight. There is just not enough time to recover on this course, unlike at Coyote Creek where the longer laps allowed us some recovery time. In short, Watsonville favors time-trialers, not sprinters! I rode alone for a lap or so, losing ground, but then I too got pulled. I was kind of relieved!

My race was just 21 minutes long! I joined Margie, Mark, Scott and Chris on the sidewalk on the hill, where they'd been cheering us on, and watched the carnage continue. Two of my pre-race 35+ picks, Eric Easterling and Brian Bosch (both of Sierra Pacific Racing), had teamed up and formed a break that stayed away. Even Nolan, who tried to bridge up, couldn't catch them. Soon there were only two or three guys left in the 45+ field; if I had managed to stay in I would have been guaranteed a podium spot!

I briefly considered entering the Elite 3 race to get a full race workout, but didn't have time as we were going to my nephew's graduation party. Instead I rode a 50-mile workout on Sunday to punish myself!

So, what did we take from this race? No trophies, but lots of lessons. We were all surprised: Geoff and Joe by the furious pace, and me by the apparent ease some of them (e.g. Nolan!) had in moving forward. I was again reminded of what my friend Chris Tanner says: It's better to be at 95% effort and well-positioned than at 75% but poorly positioned, though I usually associate that with a sprint finish. Had I worked harder on the first lap, like Nolan did, to move forward instead of conserving energy for a sprint, I might have finished that race and been on the podium. Instead I spent a lot of time fighting the wind bridging multiple gaps, trying to ride even faster than the guys up front but starting from far behind them... a recipe for failure.

Oh well. There's always next time!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Coyote Creek Circuit Race Report 7/14/08

Coyote Creek Circuit Race Report (45+ & 4's)
By Eddy Price

Yesterday four of us (myself, Joe Platin, Dennis Pederson and Bob Montague) raced in the 45+ open category at the Coyote Creek Circuit Race in South San Jose. Dennis was the obvious choice for our leader and protected rider as he won the 35+ 4/5 race last year and is our best sprinter by far. One hour after finishing the 45+ race, I competed in the open Cat 4 event.

The race was a 45 minute timed event on a 1.8 mile clockwise loop starting with a gradual one hundred foot climb followed by a fast drop, two consecutive right hand turns leading to a very long straight run followed by another two right hand turns and finishing near the top of the hill.

The race started very fast but settled down after 20 minutes and everyone seemed content to contest a bunch finish. I felt comfortable on the climb riding the smallest gear I could and never used the big chainring on the hill till the last three laps. Joe and Dennis were always near the front, Bob was somewhere in the middle of the pack and I sat at the back of the pack. Every time I moved up riders would force their way around me and very soon I was at the back again, wasting a lot of energy in the process and having nothing to show for it. Because there were only four turns on a very long loop, there was very little whiplash effect at the back and that is where I stayed for most of the race.

Joe's job was to stay near the front of the race and watch over Dennis who was always in the top five to ten. I figured Bob and myself could do something near the end of the race; leading Dennis out for the sprint, closing the gap to a lead group or attacking solo to incite the group to chase and giving Dennis a free ride during the chase.

With three laps to go there was a small break up the road and sensing hesitation in the pack, I went hard up the left side of the road and crested the top of the hill alone. One rider bridged the gap to me and shouted "let's work together and stay away" and we entered the long straight section of the course together. Very soon Dennis bridged up to us with the pack chasing a few seconds back. I went one more time down the left side of the road but was quickly countered by my breakaway companion and Dennis. The pack caught us near the end the straight and it was all for nothing. I was totally spent by the effort and knew there was nothing left in my legs for the sprint but I would rather finish last in the group helping someone on my team as compared to riding just for myself and going for a top 15 finish.

The last two laps are still a bit foggy in my head (maybe oxygen depletion in the brain!) but I know Bob went to the front and pulled the pack along at 30 miles per hour on the long straight back section of the course. I know Dennis finally bridged up to the small break on the last lap but then everyone in the break sat up and waited for the main group.

Dennis had wasted a lot of energy in that chase but still had a top six placing in his legs when the lead-out rider for Webcore-Alto Velo pulled left and suddenly slowed down right in front of Dennis, cutting Dennis' front tire and taking him out of contention. The lead-out rider claimed he was tired and had nothing left in his legs to pedal but it seemed to me that he hit is brakes because of how fast he slowed down. He did not gradually slow down like you do when you stop pedaling, he slowed down really fast and Dennis had no chance to react. Webcore-Alto Velo had the most riders of any team in the race and they also have the fastest sprinters. They shouldn't need to resort to dirty and dangerous tactics during the sprint.

I am not sure of how Dennis finished but I am sure he would have been in the top six, Joe was in the top twenty and Bob and myself finished in the bunch. We covered ten laps (18 miles) in 43 minutes for a 24.2 mile per hour average and one thousand feet of climbing.

I felt good that we actually animated the race and executed team tactics "on the fly". Without actually planning a reaction to very race situation, we worked together perfectly as the race unfolded, reacting "on the spot" when the need arose without hesitation or "analysis to paralysis".

As temperatures soared to the low 90's I lined up with close to 100 riders for the start of the Elite 4 race. My legs were not as sharp as the previous race and the pace was much faster. We covered ten laps in 41 minutes for a 24.7 mile per hour average and at the end I had nothing left in the tank and finished near the back of the main group.

I had pre-entered a third race, the 35+ 4/5 race starting two hours later. The temperatures were approaching the high 90's by now. I warmed up on the rollers for 30 minutes but felt so spent, I called it a day and drove home. If the temperatures were a bit cooler I would have had a chance at that third race. Riding almost an hour and a half at 24.5 miles per hour was all my body could take.

I have two weeks until the State Championship Criterium in Minden Nevada. I will be racing in the 50-55 category. It is too bad that the road race is the day before the Crit because the last time I raced the Districts, the Crit was first and the Road Race was second. Riding a Crit the day before a Road Race doesn't tired you out, in fact a short fast effort when you are rested is the perfect warm-up for a Road Race but not the other way around and if I have any chance of finishing the Crit with the main group and not get pulled as a lapped rider, I will need to be fresh. I finished 15th in the District Crit in 2006 and was the last official finisher, so my goal is a top 15 finish again.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Death Ride, 2008
Gary Griffin

The last time I did the Markleeville Death Ride was in the early 80’s, the ride was called the “Pain in the Passes,” and there were 300 people who participated in the mass start but only 60 who finished. A training camp for pro racers used the ride as the final day of a tough week of mountain training; my wife was pretty sure she recognized Davis Phinney in the group. Earning the ride patch that year made me feel pretty elite. This year, my second time to do the Death Ride, was a lot different. There was the lottery to enter, the commercialization, the shift from mainly race teams to recreational riders, but most of all, it was the sheer number of riders. When I started the ride, there were only a few other riders on the road and the only clue of the hoards I was to encounter was that the side of the road was a parking lot and I had to leave my car four miles from the start. It seems that starting 15 minutes before the 6:30 cutoff time made me one of the last to start. After a few miles I started climbing the first pass, Monitor, and started passing groups of riders. Soon the groups became a sea that stretched for miles in front of me. The rest of the day was spent either finding the best path to weave around slow riders or standing in line at a rest stop. None of the climbing was at all difficult, with only a couple of steep switch backs on Ebbitts Pass and I finished the ride less tired than I am when I get home from doing Soda Springs repeats.
By the time I got to the last of the five passes, Carson Pass, the temperature had climbed into the mid 90’s. At the rest stop near the foot of the pass there was a volunteer on a ladder spraying riders with a hose. I declined since I had spent the past week, which happened to be afflicted with a record heat wave, adapting to high temperatures and I felt fine. On Carson Pass the pace of the endless line of riders slowed to a crawl and passing was difficult since, unlike the other passes, this one was open to cars. The paradigm was that I would catch up to a group of riders, wait for a break in the motor vehicle traffic and then sprint around the group before traffic caught up with me. This wore me out pretty fast so for the last few miles to the top I gave up and just stayed in the procession of slow riders. I was tired and ready for the ride to end but consoled myself with thoughts of the fast, cool descent down Carson Pass which would bring me back to where my car was parked. When I finally got to the top, I collected my “Five Passes” pin, had a congratulatory ice cream bar, filled my water bottles and started the descent. I hadn’t gone a quarter mile when a thunderhead swept in and, with a single crack of thunder, the rain started. For a few minutes it wasn’t too bad, but then it started pouring rain and sleet and the temperature dropped to the mid fifties. The ride brochure had warned that the weather could change quickly in the Sierras, but of course I ignored that and had no protective clothing. I pulled over and stood under a pine tree for a while but soon the tree started dripping rain and it was obvious that this storm was not going to end soon so I rode the last fifteen miles of the Death Ride soaking wet and with fears of hypothermia. As I pulled up to my car and fumbled to unlock the door with shivering fingers, I noticed that I was within site of the rest stop where, a couple of hours earlier there had been a long line of hot riders waiting to be hosed down – ironic.
It was my own fault that I didn’t have a better Death Ride experience. I should have started earlier so that I would have been mingling with faster riders by the time I topped the first pass instead of threading my way through stragglers all day. But still, I cherish the memories of the first time I did the Death Ride and would like to relive the feeling I had of doing something extraordinary with a small group of compatriots. Maybe it’s time to start reading up on the Everest Challenge Stage Race.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coyote Creek Circuit Race, 45+

Outfoxed and out-gunned. That kind of sums up this race for Team Bicycle Trip. But we showed moments of inspiration and teamwork that made me proud to be a part of it!

Ed Price, Joe Platin, Bob Montague and I all signed up in the 45+ open-category Master's Race. We tried to get a carpool going, but circumstances prevented this, and since my circumstance was that Margaret went with me to watch I was quite pleased! We were going to help set up a volunteer fund-raiser afterwards, so I couldn't stay for the extra races Ed wanted to enter. Instead we watched the start of Stage 8 of the Tour de France on TV while I had my usual breakfast, and we drove my car over the hill with my new bike on the roof rack. I considered riding my commuter bike just in case I had another crash... but I can't be worrying about that, right?

The weather was pleasant, though gray and still somewhat smoky from the wildfires, when we arrived in south San Jose. Ed was warming up on his rollers, while Bob and Joe were ready to warm up on the course's outside lanes. I quickly signed in and got suited up (Margaret did a great job of pinning my number on; a job she dreads!). We got in a couple of warmup laps and followed that with a few moderate jumps up the 1.8-mile course's 100-foot climb. We would race for 45 minutes, starting at 8:25AM.

I had scoped out the list of pre-registered athletes, and knew we would have a chance in spite of the tough competition from teams like VOS, Morgan Stanley and Alto Velo/Webcor. But we needed to race smart, and we exchanged some ideas on what we each could contribute. As we lined up with the 30 or 40 other guys I felt confident in our abilities. I even wore my heart-rate monitor for the first time (in a race) in at least a year, just out of curiosity.

The first few laps weren't too bad, but I did see that I was often in my L3/L4 heart-rate zones (mostly 160-170 bpm), meaning it was still pretty quick. There were four prime sprints announced, but it seemed that there was a break with two guys ahead of the main pack every time, so I didn't contest any. The race went pretty smoothly for me, except for one time when an Alto Velo rider, that some of us had cautioned about riding too near the cones earlier, moved into me... without any ill effects. I managed to get to the front and stay there most of the time, following Joe's wheel some of the time, while keeping an eye on some of our competitors. Margaret cheered me on from the sidewalk, which was sweet.

But with 5 laps to go they announced a last prime and at 4 to go the break up front was now four guys... I guess they sneaked off without me noticing. It appeared to be a strong break with the big teams represented... but none of us! I didn't panic, but started looking for other teams who could bring the break back, or allies to work with if that didn't happen. I didn't see any of my teammates pulling them back at first, but then Ed took a dig up the hill on the right, and I tried to draft him up to them as he shifted to the left. I held his wheel on the downhill, and tried to sling myself around him and up to the break. A couple of guys followed, one from ZteaM and one from Giant Berries, so we got to work bridging the gap. Man, it was hard work, but we made some progress. Then Bob flew by us on the back straight, way off to my left so I couldn't grab on, but I was able to move over and draft his train a bit around turns 3 and 4 and to the hill before he blew. Awesome pull Bob! Some of us crested the hill at a nice pace and I flew downhill, through turns 1 and 2, and caught the break on the back straight. Yowsa, was I breathing hard!

Now I could see who was in the break: Rick Martyn (VOS), Bob Parker (Alto Velo/Webcor), John O'Neill (Team Clover), and... Don Langley (Morgan Stanley). If I'd known Langley was racing, in his U.S. Champion's stripes, I would have stayed home. Just kidding... I can deal with losing!

As soon as I caught the break they looked back and started zig-zagging around to disrupt any chase. I was pretty close to popping, but managed to hold Langley's wheel... barely. He looked back again and then they all sat up... just like at my last race; what rotten luck! Though I am reminded of the sprinter's humor my LGBRC friend Chris Tanner sent me, including this gem:

"You might be a sprinter if... breaks always sit up just as you catch on."

OK, I doubt they sat up just because of li'l ol' me, but it's fun to think so! Anyway, everybody took a break of sorts, if that's possible at 30 MPH, except Rick Martyn, who took a solo flyer down the road. They let him go and maintained a quick pace that still allowed the pack to get closer. Just past the last turn, on the climb's first step, we were all back together. That would have been good news if my heart-rate wasn't already in my L5 zone, at 186 BPM. Oh well.

And that's when they punched it. I was still gasping like a fish out of water, but I managed to follow at a quick enough pace that the main pack didn't swallow me up. In fact, I was sort of trailing off the back of the leaders as they all sprinted up the gradual climb. I looked to my right and saw that I was holding my own against an Alto Velo guy, but not really closing in on the leaders either, even though my heart hit 197 BPM in the attempt! I put my head down for a second (in pain!), looked up, and saw the tail of somebody's bike in my path... SLAM, BANG! My front tire ground into the sharp gears of his cassette and was instantly shredded, forcing me to stop on the left side of the course, just short of the finish line. Curses! And Joe, who had held my wheel exactly according to plan, had to slam on his brakes to avoid me, which pretty much destroyed his chances in the sprint too. Sigh.

It turned out that Stanley Terusaki (Morgan Stanley) had led Mark Caldwell out for the sprint, and then slowed down as you'd expect. But he slowed down so fast that Ed later said it was as if he had hit his brakes! Perhaps he was just trying to force some gaps to protect his teammate's lead, and he was tired, but that was over the top. Even so he did stop by to make sure I was OK, as did a few others.

But the good news was that nobody was hurt, and, man, we sure did a great job of working together to improve our results. None of us just rode in painful circles, content to allow events to unfold around us. No, we were out there using our heads to maximize the return on our efforts. We could have coordinated some of our efforts a little better, but I honestly feel we did a fantastic job. Heck, even Caldwell, who won, was critiquing his team's performance after the race... there's always room for improvement.

For me personally, this race was another example of how far I've come since I first raced these guys. Back then I couldn't even hold their wheels, now I am bridging up to their breaks and even getting the better of them at times. And I even trained through this race. All it takes is a constant dose of Coach Mark's painful intervals.

Next up: Watsonville Criterium! Be there!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pescadero Road Race, June 14, 2008 [Masters 35+ 4/5]

Pescadero Road Race Report
By Eddy Price

Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it.

That sums up my experience at this year's Pescadero Road Race held Saturday June 14 under cool and calm skies. It was the hardest 53rd place of my racing career. Yes, I placed 53rd out of 75 riders in the 35+ 4/5, a race I won in 1998 (although I was ten years younger and the racing then was not as fast and the fields were smaller).

Everything went smoothly leading up to the start of the race. I arrived two hours early, picked up my number and pinned it on, warmed up on the rollers for 60 minutes and stretched thoroughly.

On the initial two climbs up Stage Road I felt good but on the descent of the second climb I got stuck behind a poor descender but chased back on with a group of about ten. The initial climb up Haskins tore the field apart and at the top I found myself in a group of ten and we worked together the rest of the race.

Our group of ten dwindled down to four on the second climb up Stage Road and I felt strong until the last climb up Haskins. My three companions left me at the very bottom of the hill and I struggled up to the finish, losing a whole mile per hour average in the process (but no one in my cateogry caught me).

My right hamstring started to cramp riding back to the start line and I massaged it with no effect. Taking a pin out of my race number, I stuck the pin into the tendon of the hamstring at its origin (a trick I learned from watching a Russian runner at the New York Marathon ten years back) and the cramp subsided. Painful? Not at all. I even thought the pin was missing its mark because I could not feel it pierce my skin.

I felt very satisified with my effort. I was able to work with my group througout the second lap and almost never missed a turn at the front. I felt strong on Stage Road as our group diminished in numbers. The effort was almost as satisfying as winning ten years ago (I said ALMOST).

It may seem crazy to get up at 4 am and drive 50 miles to race 48 miles with 75 men I don't know and may never meet again, but that's what racing is all about. On the second lap, our group of ten was racing as if our lives depended upon it. For two hours and nineteen minutes all that mattered was getting to the finish line as fast as possible. I don't think we spoke a word to each other for over an hour, it was that serious. We were in combat and the stakes seemed like life and death. All of my worries and fears in life that keep me up at night or wake me up early in the morning were put on the back burner and the only thing I was thinking about was the race itself... when was it my turn to pull, what gear should I be in, what was the best line for the next turn, how soon before the next climb, when can I take a drink, what direction is the wind coming from, where is the best place to draft, who seems to be the strongest rider etc. Time is compressed, an hour seems like ten minutes and sometimes time is expanded and ten minutes seems like an hour.

When your'e in the grove, you are in the moment and absolutely nothing else enters your mind or matters. Heck, the world could be ending but you tell yourself it can wait till the race is over with.

That is what racing is all about.