Dunnigan Hills Road Race Report
By Jim Langley
Oddly enough, the Dunnigan Hills Road Race isn't really about hills, it's about wind, but there is one important bump right at the end it's good to know about. We 55+ guys raced 1 lap around the 46-mile loop and I spent most of the day hiding, which was relatively easy since the flat terrain attracted one of the largest fields of the year, more than 3o strong.
Mostly the course follows frontage roads skirting Highway 5 and we faced stiff cross and head winds. A few strongmen tried to get off the front and some were able to fight the wind alone for a good distance but we eventually pulled everyone back. My plan was to stay in the sweet spot and not do any work until late in the race. I was thinking before the race I might attack from the gun or go halfway in, but it was so much more difficult out in the wind, I gave up on those ideas and decided to wait.
About the only interesting event in the early part of the race was barely avoiding going off course as we began to follow teammate John Pollard's pack, that had missed a turn. Luckily for us, John and another rider realized their mistake and headed back, just in time to prevent us from making the same goof. Read John's report to see how his race turned out.
I actually almost didn't enter this race because of the lack of hills and I expected it would be a fast, flat contest decided by the sprint. I don't have much finishing speed so my plan was to apply a little "tenderizer," in the form of almost all-out attacks, to soften up the pack's legs and hopefully improve my chances in any dash to the line.
About 10 miles from the finish I made my first big effort, standing and giving it about 90% for a minute and then sitting and looking back to see what effect it had. It opened a decent gap but the guys closed it quickly. After a brief rest, I attacked again, and this time one of the Hammer Nutrition guys came with me and one other guy and we put a little pressure on the bunch behind with a few miles of pretty smooth pacelining. But, the wind prevented us from adding any distance and the pack slowly absorbed us.
I drifted back for some rest and to recharge my batteries and watched my computer. When it read 40 miles, meaning only 6 to go, I hit the front again, standing and powering away at almost maximum effort in my top gear, 53/12. I did this about 5 times and every time the guys drew me back, but they never counterattacked me, so I was always recovering when they were chasing and attacking when they were trying to recover, giving me a slight advantage even if I was working much harder.
With the bunch all together we passed the 2-mile marker and then the 1-mile sign and, worried that everyone was setting up to sprint, I tried to attack again. This time, 2 Hammer Nutrition guys were on me and they pounded past and made the hard right leading to the finishing straightaway. This road looked more like a driveway than the course and I might have missed it had they not led the way. At this point, I thought I'd blown it and that the finish was going to become a large pack sprint, the worst scenario for me. After all, if the Hammer guys had hammered by so easily, obviously there must be a bunch of faster sprinters just behind them biding their time for the right moment to pounce. (It never occurred to me to look back and see.)
Not wanting that to happen I marked the Hammers and saw that we had to get over a small hill, an overpass over I5. This made it impossible to see the finish so I had no idea how far out we still were. All I knew is that the finish was ahead somewhere and I didn't want the red-and-white Hammers to beat me to it. Still in my 53/12, I couldn't get quite enough leg speed up the overpass but I managed to pass the guys in front and had a clear view of the VeloPromo finishing tent. I could not see the line but I knew it had to be near the tent.
I had lugged my engine getting over the hill but was able to wind it up coming down the backside and I was still out in front. I was fully expecting at any moment to hear the sound of the cavalry charging past and relegating me to pack-fodder status. I was even slightly holding back trying to save something in case I had to make one final effort or get on a wheel. It was about then that I spotted the line not 20 feet ahead(!), way before the tent, and I tried hard to speed up. But, 2 guys timed it better and caught me right at the line. Maybe if I'd realized the finish was so close, or maybe if I'd had an 11-tooth cog, I might have won, but I'm very happy with 3rd and especially happy I was fit enough to almost control a flat road race, something I've never been able to do in the past. Overall, Dunnigan turned out to be a lot of fun and a great confidence builder, too.