“The Best of the Rest”
By Mark Edwards 3/28/09
A new race course, a new category, I was a little nervous going into the Wards Ferry road race. I used to get frustrated the first time I did a race, it seemed I never knew what was around the next corner, and I never knew which guys to watch. More often than not I’d find myself dropped and riding alone. Not strong enough to hang with the leaders, too stubborn… Oops, I meant too strong to wait for a group from behind to work with.
The second year on a course I usually did much better, I had a pretty good idea when the attacks would come, I was a bit fitter, and I was learning who to watch. Then the third and forth years I found myself sometimes wanting something a little different.
So, recently I’ve been trying to find a few new races each year to keep things spiced up. Wards Ferry had been on my radar for a while, but the lack of any 45+ categories had always intimidated me. It’s known as a race of attrition because there are no flat sections; you’re either climbing or bombing down technical bumpy, twisty single lane roads at crazy speeds. Add to this that I’d have to line up with the 35+ 1,2,3, well… you get the picture.
This year Wards Ferry coincided with Brisbane, one of those races I’ve done enough times. My fitness was at an all time high, and the race was near my parent’s house, providing a nice excuse to spend the weekend with them.
So off to Wards Ferry!
The weather was perfect, clear blue skies, upper 60’s to low 70’s. Our starting field appeared to be about 30 guys, including a couple of other brave 50 somethings I recognized, and three of the women’s 1/2 group decided to start with us. We were scheduled for five 12 mile laps, up and down and up and down.
The group went out super hard. If they kept this up I was going to be in trouble. Before we finished the first lap my fellow 45’s (except Jan Elsbach) and the women had been dropped. We were down to about 15 riders in the lead group.
I found the next three laps surprisingly easy. There were several attacks, but they were all pulled in quickly. Of course the climbs hurt, but different from the 45’s, these guys seemed to attempt more damage on the flatter and downhill sections. They climbed hard, but it seemed more manageable than a motivated 45 group. It was probably the particular makeup of this group, lots of big strong riders.
I have a habit of missing when guys go off the front, even when I know most of the racers. But today I was especially susceptible. I only recognized one guy in the group and he was just hanging on. So, when two guys went off the front with a lap to go, I never saw them. The tight and twisty course helped hide break aways quickly, but even if I had seen them up the road, I wouldn’t have recognized them. We were over taking too many other riders and I didn’t have a clue which ones were in our group. Then, about 6 miles from the finish, a Safeway rider attacked. I hesitated, and he was gone. The group appeared to be making a concerted effort to catch him, but the occasional “You chase. No, you chase” really hurt our forward progress.
About a dozen of us crested the rise at the 1 KM to go sign. There was a false flat leading to one of those ever steeper finishes. Greg McQuaid (who kicked my tail all through the Fall ‘09 Low Key Hill Climb Series) was on the front and accelerating. On his wheel was a Taleo racer I had marked as dangerous from my pre-race results reconnaissance. Then me, just where I wanted to be, third wheel. Followed by a Morgan Stanley guy I’d been warned was super strong. Then behind him, 8 more guys that had all looked very formidable and hungry for a good finish.
By this time the three guys off the front had sealed up 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I would find this out later, as I still thought there was just one guy off the front.
At the 200 meter sign Greg threw down a surge of power that blew the Taleo guy off his wheel. I wasn’t about to wilt in the face of this impressive show of strength, I countered and felt I had the speed to overtake Greg. But it would be only by a few feet at best. Coming up on 100 meters I was taking back ground from Greg, it looked like I would make it. But, I was in my big ring, and sometimes… on those ever steeper grades, you can run out of juice in a heart beat.
The small crowd gathered at the finish was going crazy. Seems the Morgan Stanley rider on my wheel had quite a fan base. They were screaming for him… “You got him! You can do it! Come on! Do it!” I kept expecting my legs to fail, someone to pass me from behind, get a flat, heck… I knew something was going to go wrong.
But I summoned from deep and gave one solid last surge, everything I had. I went by Greg as planned, and the Morgan Stanley guy never was able to do more than match my speed. He rolled across the finish a couple of bike lengths back. Just behind Greg.
As we cruised back to our cars the Morgan Stanley guy pulled up along side and said “You were the best of the rest today”.
Then he said “Good job on getting 4th”. 4th? Doh!