What a race! After a string of bad luck and a bit of foolishness at the Wente Road Race (dur, how many more laps do we have?), I finally snagged a top-10 and some upgrade points. Here's how it unfolded:
About 60 riders showed up for our 71-mile race, which would take us over the three bears four times. As usual, I was the only Team Bicycle Trip racer in my race. The climbs honestly aren't too intimidating (nothing longer than 1500m or steeper than 8%), but I knew most of the field would be tired by the final lap... and I would try to work the peloton a bit, while conserving a final match for the finishing climb up Papa Bear.
The first few laps were somewhat uneventful:
- I kept the pace high over the crests of Mama and Papa Bear. No point in offering respite for the people struggling to stay on at the back.
- Just to test the waters, I went into a break on the second lap and watched as we got reeled in almost instantly. It was clear that nothing would get away... for now.
- Unfortunate timing on the second-to-last lap: We were passing a field of women on the left, and—get this—the juniors were finishing on the very right. Between the women and the feed zone. Talk about messy. The funniest thing I heard was an irate woman yell something about a lack of endowment amongst the juniors. That's all I'm gonna say about it.
- Apologies to the rider behind me when I bunny-hopped the errant water bottle. I didn't have much room and given my position, it was the best option at the time.
Final lap. You can almost feel the change of mood as people brace themselves for attacking, covering attacks, and the final climb. Everyone is noticeably less fresh, including myself. On the long, flat section of San Pablo Dam, two men attack hard. I wait to evaluate the pack's response, and sure enough, several strong riders respond. I jump onto a wheel, head up the road, and find myself with 6 guys off the front chasing the original 2 down. We rotate through like butter and catch them in short notice, with a decent gap on the peloton. It's clear that none of us is 100% committed to staying away, but we would continue the rotating paceline and see if the pack (now about half its original size) would give hard chase.
We ended up getting reeled in by a very strung out, tired peloton on the hill on Castro Ranch. Satisfied with the results of the effort, I sat in and waited for the finish (and realizing that I wouldn't have the legs for a hard response to another attack _and_ a strong finish on Papa Bear). When the expected counter went off, I sat towards the front and did some tempo pulling to manage the gap. One exceptionally strong rider would remain off the front for the win, but both his companions were caught, one completely spent and spinning in his small ring.
On Mama Bear, I started to cramp. F**k! Now, I've learned that cramps can be willed away to some degree. I refused to let myself give in... I pushed through it to the top, drank the last of my water, and shook it out on the brief descent. Phew.
Papa Bear. This is it. I was sitting in and really suffering, but so was everyone else. There were some strong climbers putting in a sustained hard effort at the front, and I was watching things string out. God, my legs were so close to spent, but this was it, and dammit, I'm a sprinter, even on 7% grades. I calculated an early move and launched with about 800-600m (? about a minute's worth of effort?) to go. And almost to my disbelief, it worked. I was passing people who just couldn't respond. Soon there were only two riders ahead of me! Am I really going to place 4th? I check my right and see a single rider responding to my move. I struggled to hold him off, but I really had nothing left. He passes me at the very end, and I happily take 5th in one of the harder NCNCA road races.
We coast down the back stretch together and congratulate each other on the finish, which was one of the hardest I've done. And the topic of my obviously non-climber physique comes up. It went something like this:
Him: "So how much do you weigh?"
Me: "What? About 165"
Him: "Holy crap dude, I'm 145. You were putting out some ridiculous power on that climb."
Me: *feels smug and elated*
I'm still pretty ecstatic about the finish. I'll throw on some photos if they surface on the web. It turns out that a 5th place finish in a 50+ field is good for 5 upgrade points. Only 20 to go. :)