I felt like this could be a good race for me. I did it last year and the course from Isabella Creek offers a lot that caters to my strengths. On the down side, I had to get up at 3 am to make the rendezvous with Gary & Thad. At least the drive over was painless. We dropped Gary’s van at the finish line and headed off to drive the course backwards. Took about an hour to get to the start line. This year we were plenty early and had time for an ample warm-up.
My race was to go off first, and we were told on the start line that the first climb would be neutral. I still don’t really understand the reason for this, but off we went. After the first climb and descent, the moto-ref had us come to a full halt to regroup. He then restarted us, and we were off again, this time for real.
I was really looking forward to this race because so many of my teammates have been telling me how nice it was going to be to race with guys who know how to ride. Although I remain glad that I have upgraded, I am sorry to report that a significant number of squirrels continue to ride in the cat 3 / 4 masters from Isabella Creek. In the first 2 to 5 minutes after we were restarted, we crossed a cattle grate (the first of several on the course). Immediately after clearing the grate, I saw that the rider whose wheel I was on was having difficulty maintaining his balance. I had flashes of the Madera Stage Race Criterium and took evasive action towards the inside. The poor guy went down in a pretty hard slide, but fortunately, everyone else was able to get by without mishap. I had to think more than once about whether I was being sent a message. I decided not and rode on. It turned out that the fallen rider got up and finished the race, but he was pretty bloody still, when I saw him. I was surprised to hear that he thought he had crossed wheels with someone. Neither I, nor any of the several riders who observed his fall, saw any sign that he was affected by anything other than the cattle guard.
As we continued on, our group was much larger and more together than my race last year. I did not consider this to be a good thing, as the road was very narrow here and there were too many riders vying for position. I think that last years uphill start helped break the group up from the get go. It was during this period that I found myself riding at the same pace as a guy who was with me the whole race. The only problem with this guy was that he did not know how to get on a wheel. Instead, he rode constantly with his wheel crossed between the two riders in front of him. While not only dangerous, this made it particularly hard to stay on the wheel that he was crossing. Unfortunately, I could not afford the energy to move up and I could not afford the gap to move back. I decided to just watch this guy and try to move up when I could; but this guy was one I was never able to drop.
About the time I had gotten these two things figured out, two Wells Fargo riders up ahead got tangled, and one went down. People were yelling and not paying attention, and I voiced my opinion that we should all settle down and watch where we were going. People seemed to try and settle and pretty soon the racing began.
I was determined to do my best on the climbing sections and I found that I was able to do pretty well for the most part. I was hanging on to the lead group as we ground our way uphill, but found myself coming off in the last ½ mile or so. When I went over the top, the moto-ref told me that I was a minute thirty behind. There were a couple of guys ahead of me on the descent, but I caught them shortly after we reached the flats. One more caught on from behind and we did what we could to bring in the leaders. I don’t think we did a very good job of working together, and we fell further behind. As we raced on, a couple more riders caught us and one of our four was dropped. I think we caught and passed a few more riders on our way to the finish, but I failed to position myself well for the final descent. The wheel crossing rider was in front of me and one of the strong riders who had caught our group was going off the front. It turned out the wheel crosser didn’t much care for descending and let them get too big a gap. I finally got around him and started trying to make up the gap. The strong man had caught another dropped rider and was working with him towards the finish. Try as we might, we couldn’t bring them back. I was able to out sprint the two guys with me at the line. 13th place. This race was encouraging for me!
Congratulations to Thad for 2nd in the Elite 5 race!, and to Gary for his 11th place finish in the masters 55+. We saw Geoff Drake and Matt Wocasek racing towards the finish, on our way back to the start line, but we don’t know how they finished. Hopefully well!