Sunday, January 25, 2009

Early Bird Road Race Open 45+

By Mark Edwards 1/24/09

Christmas stars? Or emerging 2009 Powerhouse?

Even casual early season racers have to be scratching their helmets on this one. Is it possible that, from our team’s humble partying roots, the “friendliest bike shop in town” has grown into a serious competitor in the NCNCA?

It’s tough to say, but I doubt any of the established dominant teams will be laying out strategies this year that don’t address the Bicycle Trip threat.

I’ve always wanted to do the Early Bird Road Race, but have been deterred by the weather. The race flyer’s warning of black ice, rocks, a technical steep fast descent, and the two hour drive kept me home and warm the past several years. But this year’s mild temperatures, combined with Jon Ornstil’s high recommendation of the course, convinced me to brave the expected rain and give it a try. I’m happy to say 7 of my teammates felt the same way.

Six of us would be starting the Open 45+ race, Geoff, Miles, Jim, Russ, Dennis, and me, while Matt would contest the 35+ 4/5 and Scott the 45+ 4/5. The fog was low at the start and the roads were damp, but not enough to spray off the wheel ahead. We quickly rose out of the fog, and even got a glimpse of the sun. Today our luck would hold, no rain.

The Early Bird Road Race is an out and back course. You climb gently for 19 miles, then hope you’ve got the legs for the final two mile 9+% ascent to the turn around. After which, out of the saddle, you accelerate and charge down the steep twisty two miles. Once off the steep stuff, you look for guys to work with to keep your pace high for the return trip.

The climb elicited uncharacteristically labored breathing from several of the usual podium contenders. But this is only January; many guys won’t find their form for another couple of months. Cresting the climb, VOS had Rick Martin off the front, followed by San Bruno champion Clark Foy. On Clark’s wheel was cagy Jon Ornstil, Rick’s teammate. Geoff, myself, and another rider would form the second chase group.

After a prolonged chase, the three of us became five as Jon and Clark were absorbed by the advancing freight train the three of us had become. Jon sat on the four of us, he wasn’t about to help us chase down his teammate. He would be hoping we’d fail, but if we did succeed, he’d likely be fresher than the rest of us. It’s a good solid plan.

Rick finally came into view, his long solo risk almost paid off, but not today. As we pulled Rick back, Geoff and I launched a couple of attacks, followed by VOS throwing down a few of their own. The attacks were a long shot for anyone to get away, but they do tear up the legs and gave us a glimpse at who might have something left for the sprint finish.

The finish line comes after a two step climb. Neither of the climbs is overly steep or long, but they are just tough enough to diminish the drafting advantage over a flat sprint finish.

There were a couple of hard surges to attempt to stretch things out a bit, but this was an experienced group of six, everyone was paying attention, and no one was caught out. Clark had moved into the lead a bit early, but he’s so strong you had to respect his early move. Rick, clearly one of the stronger sprinters in the group, had moved onto Clark’s wheel, with me on Rick’s, and Geoff on mine.

Rick surged ahead of Clark as Clark appeared to fade. Then there was this big hesitation, “it’s still a long uphill sprint from this point guys!” Rick was sitting on the front, not a position he wanted to be in, so he started a little cat and mouse game. He brought the speed down to probably 7 mph hoping to entice someone to take point, someone who would burn themselves out and provide a nice lead-out for his explosive jump across the finish line.

It was almost as if I could see the wheels turning in Rick’s head. It was still a long uphill sprint, but at only about 150 meters, it was rapidly coming into range. Then Rick jumped, what else could he do? With 5 guys sitting on him, any of them could come around several mph faster and there wouldn’t be enough real estate for him to make up the lost momentum. So he jumped.

Rick’s explosive, but it was exactly what I’d been waiting for. I held his wheel, knowing he had to be tired from his long solo break. As soon as his excellent jump began to top out, I came around and laid down a hard surge of my own. I got around Rick okay, but I could see a shadow on the ground to my left coming up on me. Fortunately the sprint distance was within the range that I could continue to accelerate, from my jump through the finish line. I wasn’t sure who was on my wheel, but was relieved when I saw their progress slow once they moved out of my draft. Suddenly winning seemed possible.

In disbelief, I crossed the line first. Turning to confirm that I’d really won, I saw it was Geoff that had been on my wheel. We had done it! 1st and 2nd in a very hard fought and well played chess game with some of the truly best Nor Cal racers.

Christmas stars? Or emerging 2009 Powerhouse? Time will tell. All I know is that we had a great time and this win was every bit as gratifying as my others. In fact, it was actually more gratifying. Geoff and I worked together like a New Dura Ace drivetrain (in hindsight, I don’t think our competitors stood a chance, the power of a team working together is like a work of art), and knowing our teammates were helping us further back in the pack, made this day one I’ll be talking about for a long time.

How’s this for timing… 50’ past the finish I flatted, a small sliver of glass puncturing the casing. Actually it appears I’d been losing air for a while, but I hadn’t noticed until after the finish. Talk about luck…


Dennis the Mennis said...

What a story Mark! It's nice to hear what was happening waaaaay up front! Congratulations!

Jim Langley said...

Awesome race Mark and Geoff - strong and smart riding, BRAVO!

Satin Matt said...

Great race, great report! I'd like to see the replay of that chase and finish on VERSUS!

coo55k said...

Wow guys. I'm so impressed, but more than that, quite proud. This is going to be an exciting year for the team.

kimisudsy said...

That is an amazing story! Glad to hear about yours and the teams victory. Congrats!

Mark Edwards said...

Thanks everyone! I can't express just how much working with the team has enriched racing for me. It's always fun to win, but winning with your buddies is far better!