Friday, September 5, 2008

University Road Race 45+

By Mark Edwards 8/24/08

Mark riding up Hagar RdUniversity road race… I love this race! I’ve never podiumed, I suffer terribly, and rarely are the results correct. So why do I love this race? Many reasons, it’s my home course, we always have lots of friends come by to cheer us on, and there’s lots of climbing.

This year exceeded all others combined. We set up two Bicycle Trip tents, had at least half the team there at one time or another, had the most family and friends I’ve ever seen at one of our races (I don’t think I ever went more than two minutes without hearing someone cheer me on – that was amazing!), and… they even got my place correct.

Snacks provided by The ButteryAnd then, a real highlight, Joe Platin (racer extraordinaire and team sponsor) brought by an amazing array of great food prepared by The Buttery which was enjoyed by all.

I got to the race a bit early to cheer on our guys in the 35+ 4/5. I watched Scott ride the best I’ve ever seen in this race, while Matt impressed all of us climbing with the leaders (he’s gone from out of shape to a formidable climber in a surprisingly short time), and Bob showed that once his legs catch up to his heart – no one will be safe.

I’ve raced the 35+ 4/5 twice and the 45+ Open three times. I’ve been competitive in the 35+ 4/5 group, but never in the 45+. For this race the 45+ is combined with the 35+ 1/2/3 group. This combined field puts everyone at the mercy of some of the top climbers in the NCNCA. Historically it’s been an incredible amount of suffering for really lousy results.

Would it be different this year? Has my training prepared me for the inevitable surges and attacks? Never mind that this is probably the most demanding course of the season.

As usual, the starting roster was a who’s who of climbers in our District. All my main rivals were present and accounted for. We talked casually waiting for the starter’s gun, trying our best to hide our nervousness. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, this course is going to hurt. Bad.

The gun went off and Geoff, Jim, and I surged off the line. The pace was quick, but manageable – at least for a lap or two. This race has a way of splitting up very quickly. If you get caught behind a gap your race can be over before you even get started. Jim and Geoff were staying near the front - smart positioning. I assumed my usual position, somehow managing to hang at the very back of the lead pack. I’m able to avoid getting gapped, but I’m always nervous that a gap will open ahead of me and I’ll end up in trouble.

Over the first climb, I then tucked in behind the largest rider I could find and did as little as possible on the descent. The turn on to Hagar, starting the 1 ¼ mile climb, always starts with a surge. I moved to near the front and allowed myself to drift back as the guys accelerated. They peloton usually backs off just as I near the rear of the pack, and they did it again this time. Perfect! I stayed in the lead group and expended less energy than most.

Each of the next four laps saw the pace pick up, with the forth passing in a scorching 7:12! I’m still amazed how fast we climbed that forth lap, unfortunately that was the last I saw of Geoff and Jim (actually I did see Jim one more time).

Throughout the race Scott was keeping me apprised of my position relative to the other 45+ guys ahead of me. A couple of times I had to chuckle as he urged me on with news I was only 45 seconds back. Heck, I could barely turn my cranks, let alone consider accelerating.

Up until about lap 7 I was with the main group. After that the 35+ guys started to pull the group apart. At this point I couldn’t figure out if all my competitors were around me, or up ahead with a handful of 35+ guys. Scott tried to keep me informed, but it’s a tough race to track, and I’m not sure how capable I was of understanding his updates at that point. I was in serious oxygen debt and not thinking especially clearly.

By lap 11 I was struggling with negative self talk. I wanted to quit, questioning why I do this to myself. But then, as I crested the climb near the pool, I saw Jim and his group working together. That gave me a push to keep going. As I passed, Jim gave me a cheer that carried me up the next climb.

Suffering through the next couple of laps, I wasn’t sure what to make of Scott’s update on lap 13. He said Jon Ornstil was cracking big time and if I could pass him I’d be in 6th place – good enough for a T-shirt!

I kept pushing, trying my best to ignore the pain, when Jon came into view. I was going to catch him on the flats near the pool parking lot. Perfect. The short flat section is probably the only place on this course where I have an advantage on Jon. On the descent he could sit on my wheel, he’s stronger climbing, but I’m heavier and stronger on the flats (plus he’d killed himself off the front for several laps with one of the 35+ monsters).

I mustered whatever I could and went by him too fast for him to attempt catching my wheel, it worked. I crested the summit with him no where near.

My final lap, driven by panic that some one was bound to catch me, was actually one of the most painful. But I managed to hang on for 6th place.

I’ve got a year to get ready for University ’09.

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