Dunnigan Hills & San Ardo RR Reports
By Ed Price
I'll start with Dunnigan since it was just last weekend - and then cover the previous weekend's race at San Ardo (scroll to the bottom).
Dunnigan was one of the hardest flat races I've done in some time. What Dunnigan Hills lacked in climbing, it more than made up for in wind and heat. It should be called Dunnigan "Winds," not Dunnigan Hills. Fierce wind. Central Valley wind. The kind of wind you get riding up the coast of Highway One about noon on a typical summer day. Two long sections of sidewind, one long section of headwind and finally a long section of really strong tailwind. The sidewind tore my race to pieces.
I knew Dunnigan was going to be a hard race when about half of the field (including me) missed the right-hand turn to head north. One of the most basic rules of the group training rides is "never lead unless you know the way." About mile eight, I noticed that riders were starting to turn around in one's and two's and head back in the opposite direction we just came from, never a good sign. It took about three quarters of a mile for the remaining pack to realize we had strayed off course and turn around.
We found the turn we should have taken and headed north into a fierce wind. I thought my race was over right then and there. The riders who knew the course and took the right-hander we missed were almost out of sight and I could see a big pack way way up the road. I felt like quitting and turning around right then and there but we chased and chased and chased. I knew John Pollard took the right way because he was not with my group and our plans to "race together" were dashed before we even had a chance.
I don't know how, but we finally began to catch rider after rider who took the correct right turn. The headwind was fierce and the effort those riders made by themselves severely taxed their strength and they were unable to keep up with my group as we passed them. We finally caught the big group but it was the 55+ category who started five minutes behind us, not my race. They had slipped by us when we missed the right-hand turn to head north.
After much discussion, I determined my group was all together at this point and that no one was up the road anymore. My group pulled away from the 55+. After a few miles, the 55+ riders came by us and pulled away. Then the juniors came by us and pulled away. After a few miles more, my group started to put down the hammer and we passed the juniors and then went straight by the 55+ riders. Finally the 55+ riders caught my group again and we rode together briefly. I was not paying attention when my group rolled off the front of the 55+ riders and by the time I saw the danger, it was too late. I chased and chased and got within 25 yards but the wind was too strong. 12 riders were up the road about 30 seconds and I was in "no man's land."
I let the 55+ group catch me and stayed off the back just enought to stay out of trouble with the motorcyle ref that was watching us (and me) very closely. Finally we hit the last ten-mile stretch with the wind at our backs. I broke away from the 55+ group with another rider from my race several times but I could never make it stick. I saw Jim Langley attack the 55+ group over and over again and wanted to help but I knew I could not.
With about three miles to go, the motorcyle ref told me and the others riders in my group (four total) to drop back and let the 55+ riders sprint for the line. I left my four companions in the last kilometer and finished 13th, about a minute down on my group of 12.
Next year, I will not miss that turn again.
San Ardo RR Report
This was my 12th year racing San Ardo and it was by far the fastest, almost 13 minutes faster over 67 miles (covered in just under three hours). I could have raced the 45+ 4/5 event but wanted the challenge of riding three laps and competing against guys 17 years younger than me. I fulfilled my goal of a top six placing the very first race this year at Cantua Creek (4th) , so the pressure was off and I could focus on helping my team in races or race a harder category if I wanted to.
There were a number of teams with four to six riders who controlled the group and although the pace was fast (23mph), we didn't lose very many riders as we approached the long uphill finish. Starting from the very back (and yes, I should have been closer to the front) at the bottom of the hill, I slowly worked my way up the field, having to dodge a few riders who were rapidly slowing down in front of me. Hitting the brakes hard twice, I forced my way around several riders who were purposely swinging off and slowing down after leading out their favored sprinter. That's bike racing and I should know by know what to expect. A group of about 15 riders were pulling away from the field near the top of the climb and I joined them as we turned left onto the finishing straight. I finished 16th and it was a good two seconds before the 17th rider came in. Our newest team member, Mike Bodge was 2nd overall and 1st in the 35+ 4/5 "B" race (raced together but picked seperately). Great job Mike!
The important lesson for the day; if you start a sprint at the back it better be a very long and unobstructed way to the finish line. Long it was, but unobstructed it was not and I know that hurt my chances of a top six placing. Maybe next year.