By Dennis Pedersen
I really like more technical courses like this one we have right in our hometown. Lots of turns and short hills to string out the pack. This is more interesting, and also safer than the usual 4-corner crits raced on wide-open city streets. Doesn't seem like that should be the case, but in my experience it is. And since my teammates Nils Tikkanen and Jay Brodie were also going to race I thought it would be fun to join them in the open Elite 3 race.
We'd be racing for 23 laps (vs. 20 last year) on this 9/10ths-of-a-mile course with its 9 turns, on Santa Cruz's "Beach Hill," right near the Boardwalk, downtown and the wharf. Last year I flatted at the beginning of this race (darned Michelins). And because I rode my bike to the race I had no spare wheels. I ended up racing for dear life in 35+ 1/2/3 instead. This year l drove down (parking is free until 10:00), loaded with gear!
The weather was gorgeous, about 50 degrees warming up to the 60s. My elaborate warmup consisted of... absolutely nothing at all. But we did get a parade lap. The first few laps were painfully fast for me, but soon it calmed down a bit and I was able to persevere well enough. And quite a few friends cheered us locals on! But the exit out of the hairpin, and the climb up 3rd Street (in my 53x25t gears), definitely started burning our muscle glycogen and got me to wheezing at times.
As a sprinter, this course is hard for me. I was probably riding in my difficult "L5" zone, trying hard to conserve precious energy, while the leaders were towing us comfortably in their "L4" zone. That is very significant because they have enough in reserve to attack, or be ready for the finish. Coach Mark and I discussed this later as we watched others get shelled in subsequent races.
My hope has always been that this course would drop the bigger sprinters who can power past me on the flats, but so far it seems that the guys with really high FTP (1-hour power) dominate all of us instead. And those with good 1-minute power to boot are the ones you see on the podium after the race... if Velo Promo had one. Yeah. Not really a sprinter's ideal course profile.
But what was cool was that the course really suited Nils... who was feeling really good that whole week too! We'd talked abut Jay and I blocking for Nils if he broke away. As it was he sped off and snagged two prime sprints! Woo-hoo!
Another nice thing was that we only had two solo crashes. One in the hairpin (turn 2) and one in turn 9. No doubt due to rider error. Again, these technical courses are pretty safe. Though we can still make mistakes they don't bring down half of the pack because we're spread out more.
As the laps counted down I was pretty winded from the race, breathing hard every time we crossed the start/finish line. But I was there, and even able to move forward a bit as in years past, by pushing a bit on the downhill after the hairpin... that area is key. Soon I was right on Nils's wheel! Nice, but my legs weren't fresh at all. I just had to hope everybody else was tired too. Well, many of them were, but too many were still holding an ace in the hole.
Ugh. I just held on in the last climb as my tortured legs whined up the 350-meter-long finishing straight (yes, it is that long!), the pack strung out along its full length... putting me into about 20th place. Nils got 14th. The Specialized Juniors humbled us all. Yeah, juniors... who race in Belgium, but still.
We raced for about 48 minutes and averaged about 23 MPH. Last year we tore around the course even faster: 23.5 MPH! So, yes, Elite 3 was easier. Just not by much.
I'm not too smart: I'm also signed up for Cat's Hill, in Elite 3 again (11:10 AM start); another race I flatted out of last year. I love the course, in Los Gatos's Victorian neighborhoods, but it doesn't love me back!