San Ardo time trial Report
By Jim Langley
Okay, okay - I know - and YOU know, that San Ardo is a ROAD RACE, not a time trial, but you're going to have to cut me some slack on this one. Somehow, and, I'm still not entirely clear how it happened, I turned it into a time trial, much to my humiliation, disgust and downright misery.
So, there I am about 15 minutes before the start and I find teammates Gary and Larry and we're spinning around warming up and things are hunky dory. I feel the need and head for the porta-potties and commence taking care of business. Mind you that the starting line is less than 10 feet away from the crappers. Also note, that as I entered the plastic-fantastic relief station I double-checked and there wasn't a single 55+ racer anywhere near the starting line or even any master riders like me grouping behind the packs soon starting.
Now, I don't know about you, but I like a potty that has a handle on the backside of the door so you can settle onto the throne without blowing a knee out using your legs. Alas, no handle on this unit. No worries, I grab the latch, which sorta works as long as you hold tight. First, I have to remove my jersey so I can get the damn bibs off.
That's a little tricky, though. If I'm not careful, the pockets will dump and my GU will land in the pile of poo. Then, there's the issue of what to do with my only full-zip team jersey. Naturally, there's no hook on the back of the door to hang it. And, I certainly can't put it on the tinkle-treated floor. But, I'm an old hand at this game and I gingerly balance the jersey on top of the TP holder and get down to some serious pre-race weight-loss.
Deposit delivered, I suit back up, exit stage left for some fresh air and take another long look at the staging area. Sill no 55+ racers in sight. But, that's not surprising as I still haven't heard the starter call the race. It looks like the women are starting and some juniors after them. I decide to try to find Larry and Gary and ride up the street a bit. Nope. I check my watch. Still a few minutes before our start. But, where are all the guys?
Still clueless, I finally decide to ask the starter who is now getting into his car, which is when I get the wonderful news that he started my group "a long time ago," apparently exactly when I disappeared into the dumper. Unbelievable. This is the first time in all the VeloPromo races I've ever done, going back to 1982, that they actually started one early - and nobody thought to send me the memo. (In my defense, another guy in our group missed the start, too, but he saw the group heading out of town and was able to chase and catch.)
What to do, what to do? I decide anything's better than hanging out at the start, so I slam my Cervelo onto the 53, get down on the drops and hit it as hard as I can. Maybe I can catch them. Only a couple miles out I see the first juniors. They're so small and rail thin, and not working together, but individually they're all going at a pretty good clip. I move way left and holler encouragement as I pound by trying to eek every bit of speed out my bike and body. Next, I overtake a more organized group of juniors and urge them on, too. It's awesome to see kids out racing.
I'm remembering the San Ardo course now from years ago when I last raced it. Wide open roads, no traffic at all, fairly gentle rollers, wind, wind and more wind, and some seriously thrashed pavement, that keeps kicking me hard every 50 feet or so due to the unavoidable raised cracks. Already, my legs are burning from the all-out effort, but my back is screaming from the nasty bumps. I can't keep this up if I can't relieve the pain. I decide to ride an even bigger gear and jam even the flat sections standing up to stretch out my back and take the bumps with my knees. This works, and I'm able to keep hammering at over 24mph.
Soon, I see a large pack, which gives me hope. I start picking up stragglers from other races first. They're too blasted to even respond when I tell them 'good job - keep it going,' as I motor past. Maybe, just maybe, that group up ahead is my group. I know better - the women started after us - but I try to trick myself into believing. As I catch the back of the pack, I see that it is the women. I'm about 15 miles in and about now, it would be so nice to sit at the back for a bit, but the motorcycle official won't let me. He sees me coming, lets me pass, gets on my wheel and starts telling the ladies to move over and let me through. It takes a significant effort to get around them, but I manage and then worry that I'm going to die any minute and suffer having them blow by me. They're so tightly packed and so smooth, surely I can't stay ahead of them fighting the wind alone.
Somehow, though, I start feeling a little better. I keep shifting gears, standing and sitting to change muscle groups and pushing it as hard as my legs and lungs will let me. I take a look back and see that I've put major distance on the girls, which makes me feel a little better - being able to stay ahead of a big organized group is a good sign. A few more miles and I cruise through San Ardo, where there are actually some local kids standing in the road cheering in Spanish obviously delighted to have a fun distraction on this overcast Saturday morning. Pretty cool. Later I see some collecting ejected bottles, too.
Glancing at my computer as I pass the scene of the "crime" (the starting line) I see that I've ridden the lap, 21 miles on terrible pavement with a headwind most of the way around, in well under an hour. I tell myself, maybe there's still a chance I'll catch someone from my group, and I attack the easy climb that starts lap 2. The feed zone folks give me some love, which helps steel me for the work to come. It feels like my left quad is blown, a very sharp pain just above the knee. My back is on fire. I have two mini cramps on both sides of my stomach just below the ribs. But, surprisingly, I'm feeling pretty strong, like I can absolutely kill this course one more time - and I feel like killing someone, namely one VeloPromo starter too numb to make sure everyone was lined up BEFORE starting the freakin' race early.
Up the road I spot some more stragglers. I can't use them as it's illegal, but none are in any shape to join my time trial anyway. They're in survival mode. Some have turned back even. I use the same technique I used on lap one and ride the bump sections standing and pushing a huge gear to avoid the impact on every crack. I also big gear all the climbs. On one, the race photographer jumps up and helps motivate me to finish the effort over the top to give him something worth shooting.
I'm tiring, though, and I'm starting to lose faith that there's any chance of catching my group. I get negative and start doing the math. Four or 5 groups between mine and when I started means that I took my first pedal stroke at least 20 minutes in arrears. Even Cancellara who rides the same Cervelo I do couldn't make up that distance. Still, I'm not about to quit now. I think of my high school cross country coach who told us that if he ever heard one of his "boys" quit - even on a weekend training run - he'd put us on the practice squad. I push more, trying extra hard to relax my upper body, breathe rhythmically and get more oomph into my legs. I keep my back way flat and ride a perfectly straight line. I see that up the road there are now stragglers every hundred yards or so, targets for me to focus on and pick off - exactly what I need about now.
I catch everyone and keep seeing more and try to take it up another notch. I'm gasping instead of inhaling now and I can no longer ride a straight line. My legs are so ruined I can't push the big gears sitting so I stand and sprint, sit and spin, and repeat. There's San Ardo! The finish is just up the road! I pass a few more guys and then 2 more, and I see a wonderful sight, their numbers are 700s, meaning that I have caught 2 guys in my group - who started at least 20 minutes before me. Not bad. I absolutely destroy them passing about 10mph faster then they're going as if they're guilty for the early start.
Unfortunately, I don't see any more of the 700 club until I finish. But, at least they're still congregated around the finish, which opens the possibility that my 42 mile individual time trial might have been almost as fast as their group race. That possibility isn't as satisfying as actually racing with them, but it's the only thought that eases the guilt of missing the start in the first place and letting the team and Coach Mark down.
Rolling over, I ask how the race went for them and Larry tells me I should be happy I missed the start as most of the group took a wrong turn at the end and lost their chance at winning. Bad luck for Larry and me, but luckily for Team Bike Trip, Gary WAS paying attention when the pack veered off course and he didn't turn but instead sprinting down the home straight for second place, his best finish of the year! Great job Gary!