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!