I was disappointed that I would have to miss Cantua Creek, as it fell on Valentine’s Day. Too much work to be done at the restaurant to be away. On Ed’s advice, I was signed up for Snelling as my first race of the year. I was too late to get into the Master’s 4/5 so I signed up for the Elite 5 race. Scheduled for an 8:10 am start, I knew I would be up early to get there in time. I was happy to have the company of Robert Gaukle to carpool. He was signed up in the 5’s race as well, but in the second group. We both admitted to some nervousness on the way to the race. He was worried that he had been unable to put in the training hours he had expected of himself, and I was thinking about the races from last year that I had not ridden smart in and had gotten dropped. I told Robert that I expected that he might be the strongest rider in his race. I have seen his strength in the flats and I also know him to be a strong climber. He told me that I should also expect to do well as I have been getting in most of my training, and my weight has been coming down. So much for the pep talk.
We got to Henderson Park at Snelling around 7 am and began the usual routine, bathroom, registration, dressing, and a new one, timing chips. By the time we got through all of this, we had about 35 minutes before the start of my race (moved back to 8:25 due to the timing chips). For the first time, I had brought my trainer to warm up on. I have not yet felt like I can get a good warm up before a race. I don’t think the trainer was any different, and I think the real problem is not having enough time to get the warm up in. Robert went off to warm up on the road and we wished each other luck in our respective races. I put 20 minutes in on the trainer, and headed for the start line. Getting there, I ran into Kimi Sudbrink. We introduced ourselves and wished each other luck in our respective races.
Our group was to have a mentor from the district, and a few of the riders raised hands when we were asked who was in their first race. Instructions were given and our field of 50 were off behind a motorcycle on a neutral start to get us over to the course. Once there, he waved a green sign to signal the start of racing. The pace picked up but remained comfortable. I didn’t know what to expect in this race. There could have been some 5’s like Russ from last year or Miles from this, new road 5’s who really could have started as 3’s from their off road experience. I expected that if we did have any riders like that in our group, that they might go off the front early. I also wanted to break a habit that I have had of riding towards the back of the group. I expended the effort to get myself into the first 10 -15 riders and then began to work to stay there and do one other thing. I wanted to work to conserve as much energy as possible. I often have a hard time telling where the wind is coming from and I know I have been hurt by that in past races. We were riding four laps of an 11+ mile closed course, and it was a real challenge to figure out where to be at any given point on the course. I paid a lot of attention to it and found that I could tell where to be when I tried. The one negative to this was that I found myself moving to the back of the group on the backside of the course, because that was when the wind was in our face and I found the most protection from it at the back. I found myself back at the front on the front part of the course and decided that I only needed to worry about my position on the final run in to the finish, unless there was a break.
But there were to be no breaks on this day and while the pace was at times hard, it was very doable thanks to Mark’s training program. I felt that I was one of the stronger riders in this race and I began to think about the upcoming finish. The run in to the finish was over some very uneven roadway and there was a sharp right hander about 250 yards from the uphill finish line. I was concerned about the bike handling skills of my Cat 5 brethren and wanted to be at the front going into the last turn. I was also concerned that two teams had 4 or five riders each. Taleao a team in green had 4 or 5 guys and seemed to be forming a strategy among themselves. More dangerous was the Davis Cycling Club in blue and orange. Those guys rode the whole race pretty intelligently. They stayed out of the wind and didn’t chase down attacks. I, on the other hand, was a different story.
On the final lap, the attacks began. I moved up to the front and wanted to be in position to cover any moves. A Clydesdale from the Taleo team went hard off the front and another rider went with him. When a third rider went after them, I went with him. It took a pretty hard effort to bridge the gap, but once there, I found no interest in maintaining the break. We were soon caught. I continued to cover breaks on that last lap and expended a lot of my energy doing so. I don’t know if any of those riders would have gotten away, but I expect not. As we turned to the back side of the course, I nearly fell off the back, but was able to grab the last wheel at the back and recover out of the wind.
I was moving back up in the group when we made the left hander onto the rough road that would lead in to the finishing turn. One of the Taleo team went down on the turn, but I found myself pretty much where I wanted to be. Right behind the Clydesdale from Taleo. I knew he was strong and I expected he would take me to the front on the run in to the finish. We had a clear shot to the front, and he moved in time to get us there before the sharp right hander. I had no problem picking my line and getting through the turn. Once through, I tried to maintain my spin and stay at the front, expecting a swarm would come around me and leave me well down at the finish. And then they came. But there were only a few of them, including the strongest two guys from the Davis Cycling club (I think). I pushed harder and felt myself beginning to fade as we climbed to the finish. I didn’t want to fade, but I didn’t have the surge I wanted. I came out of the saddle and found that I had a little more. I drove myself towards the finish and just missed catching the Taleo Clydesdale for a place in the medals. He took 6th and I was 7th. Afterward, I heard that another rider had gone down behind us on the final turn, but I never heard it. I was stoked to finish in the top 10. This was my first race to be there at the finish. I hope it won’t be my last. Robert took 4th in his race, and Kimi took 11th in hers. But, I’ll just say congratulations to each of them and let them tell their own stories.