Monday, March 2, 2009

Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic - Foothills Road Race, 45+

What bike to ride... I recently picked up my new 2009 Giant Advanced 2, and had only ridden it once, so I was anxious to try it out in a race. Merco was up next, but the weather forecasts looked pretty dismal. I guess I'm too fussy with my new bikes, because it always takes a while before I am willing to ride them in the rain. After getting both my beat-up commuter bike and my older '07 Giant ready for the race, I lined them up by the front door so I could grab either one in the morning based on the latest weather forecasts. I brought my '07 Giant, which should tell you that the weather didn't look quite so bad after all!

Joe, Russ and I were all signed up for the 45+ 1/2/3/4 race, which didn't start until 11:45AM, so we had plenty of time to get some sleep in. We met at Russ's house because he has the best car for carpooling. Driving over HWY17, through the valley, and in Livermore, it really started raining and Joe and Russ were ready to hang a U-turn. But I looked up the weather radar on Accuweather's mobile version and saw that it was much better at the race course north of Merced, in the Sierra foothills, so we plowed on... good thing too, because it was dry and almost pleasant there.

Russ and Joe rode around to warm up, while I stayed by the truck and kept Sam Cerruti company after his junior's race ended early with a tumble. With 15 minutes to go I too rode around between the acres of pretty, blossoming orchard trees and lined up in our staging area while the pros raced by on the course, chased by their team cars... what an impressive sight.

The Merco race course is very similar to Snelling Road Race's, and even shares one road, Keyes, with it. There are lots of small, rolling hills, but I never dropped below my 50x25. I think the longest one, on Cox Ferry leading up to the finishing stretch back on Keyes, was about one minute at most. I absolutely love this course, though it also has some very rough pavement on the downhill that made me think of Paris-Roubaix... and glad I rode my carbon bike.

Our pace was surprisingly mellow. I am getting better at keeping track of race developments and noticed that Joe and Russ were doing a superb job of staying near the front, and chased down some of the many small attacks. I stayed near the middle, watching to see if those breaks succeeded as I expected, since Morgan Stanley and VOS were well-represented.

When we turned onto Looney Road it started raining a bit, but stopped after we reached Turlock Road—on both of our two 24-mile laps (talk about "local" weather). I was slightly chilly in the rain with just arm-warmers, but really not too bad as it was about 60 degrees... and I felt fine the rest of the time.

What was so awesome for me was how good I felt during the entire ride. Both physically and mentally. My legs were strong, I was breathing smoothly and I was really enjoying the easy ride. Notice how I wrote "ride," not "race." That was my big obstacle: I wasn't mentally in the mix. In order to win you really have to want it. I was merely torn between hoping Russ and Joe would pull something off, and hoping opportunities would somehow fall in my lap. I hate to admit it, but I was thinking more about lunch than about tactics. So after we climbed the last hill I still wasn't feeling the tension that goes with the absolute focus that presages victory.

I was right behind Jon Ornstil (VOS) on Cox Ferry, ahead of Darryl Smith (ICCC) and feeling good. Then I caught up to Joe, who'd been near the front the whole time, after we hit one of the small climbs on Keyes. I was confident I was in a good position. Some of the turns let me look ahead to see how far back I was; about 20th I estimated. Perfect!

Well, not so perfect: We crested a small rise, and at the top of a very (very) gentle climb I spotted the trailer at the finish line a few hundred meters ahead... time to move up! But too late, it turned out, as I vaulted past what I thought was the lead pack and saw that there were another 20 riders to pass! Argh, what happened? Somehow I'd lost track of where I was and was now too far back to catch them.

How about a nice quote from Robbie McEwen, one of my sprinter role-models:
This is my 14th season. I'm feeling really good. I still enjoy going out training, still love winning races, still hate getting beaten. I think it's when you get to the point when you can easily accept defeat, and then you know you're not as motivated anymore. I still hate to lose.
I also hate to lose, but I need to focus on that before the finish line. I was enjoying the race (maybe too much) until I crossed the finish line in 21st place (Russ got 12th, Joe 32nd).

After the race we bought lunch from the vendor who'd set up a very nice stand right by registration. It was good, but would have tasted better had I finished better. We all had regrets from the race, but also focused on the positives: No crashes, and we all felt great about our fitness levels. Next time we will try to get the results we are capable of!

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