By Dennis Pedersen
This season hasn't given me any impressive results, which gets a bit old when I'm training so hard. I have missed several races that I had wanted to target, and I was really hoping that this race would be different. The Benicia Criterium's new 8-turn downtown course, with a small hill thrown in, sounded ideal for a small sprinter like me, so I signed up in the 35+ 3/4 race with Russ.
First I want to thank Russ for driving Nils (racing in the Elite 3 race) and I there. And a special thanks to Nils for introducing me to Linda's Seabreeze Cafe, on Seabright Avenue... Geoff has also recommended it, but I had never been there before because the long wait always sent me packing. Well, I had an awesome waffle special, piled with fresh seasonal strawberries, kiwis and banana. Oh my was it perfect!
The weather forecast promised temps over 100 degrees in places, but I thought Benicia might be cooler since it was on the bay, along the delta's mouth where winds usually blow in from the Golden Gate. That proved true, and I don't think we got more than about 90 in Benicia. Speaking of downtown Benicia: I had visualized a blasted, industrial place with smelly air. Was I wrong! Benicia's downtown really is historic, and very pretty, with views over the bay, lots of old houses, parks, shade trees and neat sidewalk cafes.
Russ and Nils warmed up on their trainers while I stood around and relaxed. My warmup was a half lap of the course when it opened up for our race! I ascertained that I wouldn't need to use any gears lower than about 53x23, so that was nice. But I also became aware that the course is 6/10ths of a mile uphill, and 6/10ths of a mile downhill. That really meant "ride like hell for 2 minutes, then try to recover in 1 minute, and repeat until you explode." That isn't ideal for me, so I was a bit bummed. Larry told me later that the previous course was flatter. Oh well.
Our race started with a surprise neutral lap behind the motorcycle referee; I was again bummed because I was positioned nicely near the front and then had to fight people on a supposedly neutral lap just so I could stay there. But in the end I was still positioned well and managed to stay near enough to the front, where Russ was, that I could keep an eye on any breaks and also avoid the yo-yo effect from all of the 8 turns and the climbs.
Russ acted on his pre-race plan by hitting the course all-out for the first few laps. Whew, it was fast! Others had the same idea and several times one or two guys went off the front. All of these breaks were caught though.
Our race was pretty clean, which seems to be what happens on technical courses like this one, and we had no crashes that I recall. It was tiring having to constantly hit the climbs hard and then also fight the wind in some areas, but I found that I could easily move forward as needed by using my momentum on the downhills; it's tricky because you don't want to squeeze in against the curb, but I was careful to only use this move when the pack was a bit strung out.
With 3 laps to go I made sure to be near the front, and even ended up being the point-man in a chase after a solo rider... but I could tell he was blown up and I just soft-pedalled until some guys jumped past me, grinning as if I was being dropped. Not! I was in a good position and stayed in there, but soon my lungs gave out and I spent the last 2 laps just wheezing asthmatically until the final sprint which put me in 13th place, and Russ in 16th. It was a hard race for us but I felt good about how I'd done, though Russ was really disappointed to finish that far back. I tried to remind him that his goal had just been to blow the pack apart at the start, which he succeeded in, but he still hoped for more.
Afterward we had a really good lunch at "Issy's," a Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating right next to the course! We had beers and stuffed ourselves while we watched Nils suffer in the Elite 3 race! Larry had just finished his 55+ race and joined us with Priscilla. This is what racing is all about!