Monday, March 30, 2009

Ronde Van Brisbeen Stage 1 - Brisbane Marina Criterium, 45+ 3/4

By Dennis Pedersen

This race features a flat but wild and wooly, tight, technical course with lots of turns and bottlenecks. They always have a very well-run race with a really cool digital timer and lap counter, and a nice finish-line arch. Neat door-prizes too; a musette bag this year. I kind of like that sort of race and decided to enter the 45+ 3/4 race with Russ, Joe and Vlada.

Joe and Nils (racing Elite 3) met Russ and I at The Original Pancake House in San Jose for a yummy breakfast. Though we did all avoid the "clam pancakes"... I kid you not; it's on their menu! The weather was absolutely perfect, and without the usual wind common at the Brisbane Marina, right on the shores of the San Francisco Bay. The calm would likely keep the pack together, I figured, and that turned out to be true. Last year the wind split us up and a 2-man break stayed away.

Our race started pretty fast, but manageable. But about 20 minutes in, just after turn 1, a guy two riders ahead of me (from Alto Velo) went down hard on the curb, and the guy ahead of me swung right. The crashed rider flopped onto the pavement in front of me and I barely avoided him. The EMT treated him on the spot for several laps.

The very tight 180-degree hairpin on the back stretch was taking its toll. There were several minor hiccups there... and Joe pulled out with a flat here and quit the race because he didn't know about the neutral wheel support and free lap rule. I knew... but was too preoccupied to help him.

As we exited the hairpin on one lap there was a minor tangle ahead of me, and when I slowed somebody ran into my rear wheel. Everything seemed OK so I kept riding. But as I rode on I heard my rear tire rubbing and it didn't stop when I loosened the brake release lever. Hmmm... the fates seemed against me. Two laps later there was another crash in the hairpin. Ugh. One rider from SJBC was treated, also on the spot, for a few laps.

After that crash I decided to stop and borrow a spare wheel from the neutral wheel support in the pit, and use the free lap rule to get back in without losing time. There was plenty of time to swap wheels (they gave me a nice Zipp wheel!) before the pack finished that lap. I saw that I had a broken spoke and one that was bent. The official told me to be ready and as the peloton swept up he yelled at me, and a few guys caught up in the latest crash, to go! I was able to jump right in and grab their draft.

Now I noticed that the string on my right shoe had snapped and my foot started slipping out whenever I pulled up on the pedal. There went my ability to sprint. Sigh.

Later on I was right behind Vlada coming out of the hairpin turn when a guy a couple wheels ahead of us blew out his rear tire and went down. A guy from Z-team plowed right into him. Now there was a big gap ahead of us. I had to really jump hard through the next few turns to catch back on, while Vlada blew up and dropped out. I was able to regain their draft just past the finish line, just as I reached my physical limit. This is a good example of "burning a match" where it is absolutely necessary. By going into my red zone I risked blowing up, but I would have been dropped had I not done so. And now I was part of the selection who would contest the finish.

Fortunately the pace slowed a bit and soon I was riding right where I wanted to: on Russ's wheel. Perfect! But now everybody was fighting for wheels and somebody, from Peninsula Velo I think, squeezed me toward the curb and grabbed Russ's draft, pushing me back.

Later I was able to reconnect with Russ but my cautious nature took over and I lost contact again. We were still riding hard so I was worried that I would blow up, needlessly this time, if I fought too hard for position. In retrospect I think I could have moved up safely before the last turn and improved my position. As it was Russ moved up fast to stay forward, after turn 2, while I again lost his wheel.

Holding on for dear life we flew through the last few turns, legs and lungs on fire! I was able to gain a few spots through the last turn and down to the line. But 8th place was all I could manage, while Russ got 4th. Not too bad though. And I was happy to have ridden fairly well in spite of all the obstacles thrown at me.

My legs were a bit sore from all the jumps, which I remembered from last year too, so I was a bit nervous how I'd feel for Day 2 of the Omnium. But I also took away some self-confidence in my abilities, especially my ability to move forward and stay up front when it counted. That was one of my main goals so I was quite happy with how the race went and was looking forward to the circuit race the next day.

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