Saturday, July 25, 2009

Masters Districts: July 25, 2009

District Masters Championship Road Race 45+ 7/25/09

By Mark Edwards

Through the late winter and early spring, I often find myself wondering why I get up at four in the morning to race Saturdays when I could be sleeping in. I drive for hours just to endure frozen numb hands and feet while filtering grit out of my teeth from all the water and mud sprayed in my face.

Then along comes a day like Saturday. Pulling into the parking lot for the Diamond Valley Road Race (District Masters Championships) at 6:50 AM, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. Set in Woodfords, California at 5,600’, the temperature was a very comfortable 66, with a slight breeze. The views and visibility were stunning; it takes your breath away, imparting a sense of awe and connectedness, long vistas of beautiful alpine terrain as far as the eye can see.

To add to the experience, it’s become somewhat of a tradition for my parents to accompany me to this race. They live in the area and enjoy coming out for the day to support me in this crazy sport.

Just as I pulled off the main road, there was Jim’s VW parked right at the start line. Geoff, Joe, and Jim were already in line to pick up their race numbers, I would join them a few minutes later. Larry and Matt Wocasek would also be showing up soon. At registration I asked if the race was on time, last year we’d been delayed over an hour when the CHP didn’t show up as planned, “So far, so good.” That was the answer I’d hoped for.

The four of us warmed up together, joking that we should skip the race and just ride and enjoy this glorious day… Not! We’d worked too hard, and were too amped to miss this race. This was the District Championships after all! We’d trained hard, and all had the potential to place well.

Bob Leibold, of VeloPromo, was Chief referee and joked that we would be starting on time, “after all” he said, “this wasn’t a VeloPromo race.” After a quick run down on the race from Bob, we took off.

VOS sent their very effective, and dangerous, Rick Martyn, Jan Elsbach, and Jon Ornstil to battle for the overall win. Individually each is a threat; together they always factor in the outcome. I knew Jan was riding well, and not surprisingly, Jon and Rick went right to work. Trading off attacks, they made sure we worked to keep them close, while Jan conserved energy in the pack. Once back together, Clark Foy inched his way forward from the base of the first climb. Clark had suffered a bad crash in the early spring, but had worked hard since then, he was eager to test his legs – some of the best climbing legs in the country. He went to the front and applied a little pressure. No fireworks, just a good hard pace that, if maintained, would thin all but the strongest.

Clark and I ended up off the front on the long run back towards the finish line. We lamented that no one had come with us, so we soft pedaled until the peloton re-absorbed us.

Most of the 11 mile loop on this course is fairly uneventful. From the start it’s roughly 5 miles of beautiful smooth descending pavement. It’s very fun, but tactically not a great place to make much happen. Dropping into it, a couple of times I tried to push the pace. My intention was to create small gaps. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to drop anyone, but every little bit of damage done adds up by the 55th mile. This section is followed by back to back ¾ mile climbs. The 5 times we’d go up these twin climbs would make the race. If you couldn’t hang here, you wouldn’t be there at the finish. Then, the final section is about 4 miles mostly flat. Strong riders would likely seize this section as a good chance to inflict a whole bunch of pain coming off the climb.

Second lap; this time I took the point position on the second half of the climb. Like Clark, I didn’t so much attack it, as set a pace I knew would be out of reach for most guys to do 5 times. Cresting the climb, several guys took the opportunity to ramp up the pace. This “one, two punch” pattern was repeated every lap. It hurt.

On the third lap I dropped my chain cresting the first climb. I watched in desperation as the group rode away from me while my chain rattled around my crankarm. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, my chain was back in place and I was chasing hard. I caught the group at the base of the second climb, just as Kevin Metcalf came forward and showed us what an “attack” should look like. For one thing, he started way earlier, for another, he went REALLY hard. Unlike Clark’s and my earlier pace setting, there was no mistaking Kevin’s intentions. He was going to hurt everyone! And he was going to do it right now, not 2 laps from now. He went at exactly the same time again on the 4th lap, this time only Kevin, Cal Reeder and I were left together at the summit. We attempted to stay away, but I think we were all struggling to recuperate from Kevin’s brutal assent. In short order our group grew, 2 at a time up to about 10 guys.

Starting the climb on the 5th lap we numbered about 12. Somehow I ended up on the front and once again set a brisk, but far from attacking, pace. The false flat between the two sections was eerily easy, as guys prepared themselves for the inevitable last climb of the race.

Once again, earlier than expected, Kevin exploded out of the group, Cal on his wheel, me on Cal’s. And, once again, I somehow held the pace far longer than I thought possible. This time the three of us crested the climb with a sizeable gap. Immediately we started rotating smoothly. I felt a lot better this time and I was pleased that we all worked well together; no games.

The chase group was within sight, but we had a comfortable margin. At some point we all knew our temporary alliance would end, but who would make the first move? Go to soon; the teamwork ends, we’d be caught, and certain podium finishes would be gone. Wait too long; the two guys behind jump around me, and I’m left with 3rd place.

I felt pretty good, but was trying not to show it. I’ll never know if I felt better than the other guys, or if they were doing a better job of hiding their reserves. Anyway, apparently Kevin thought I was still strong, so just as I finished a pull he attacked. Cal jumped on his wheel, and I fought to grab Cal’s. Moments later, Cal jumped. Once again I grabbed his wheel, Kevin was on mine. Looking over my shoulder I could see the chase group making ground on us as we fought it out. Before I had the chance to consider if we’d get caught, Kevin jumped again. This time, even though we were still a kilometer from the finish, I decided I had to go, the chase group was coming up fast.

No sooner had Kevin’s stinging attack started to fade, I countered and got 50 meters. Looking far up the road towards the 200 meter mark, and finish line up the hill from there, I was certain I’d gone too soon. But, what choice did I have? Another round of cat and mouse would have allowed the chase group to overtake us.

My head down, I pushed with all I had. For a while the gap stayed steady. But, as my legs started to burn, the gap started to shrink. There were 200 meters uphill remaining. I felt like I was pedaling through molasses, Kevin and Cal had started to work together and were now closing quite fast – never mind the black cloud of the chase group driven by the scent of blood in the water behind them.

50 meters to go, my legs were on the verge of failure. Glancing under my arm I knew it was going to be close. I actually thought I was going to be caught and eased up just slightly; I wanted to try and save a tiny bit to sprint. But, I didn’t back off completely. I might make it, and I really didn’t know if I could muster enough to lift myself off the saddle, let alone sprint.

YES! Victory! I made it…

Completely exhausted, I crossed the line seconds ahead of Cal, then Kevin. No finish line salute, no zipping of the jersey, just deep gasps for oxygen that wasn’t there. I felt like getting sick, but the happiness of winning such a hard fought battle, against the most worthy opponents I could imagine flooded over me.

To my surprise, and great satisfaction, Geoff, Jim, and Joe were at the finish line to witness my near collapse, and resulting win. Fortunately I made it with inches to spare. It’s so special to be gifted the opportunity to share these moments with good friends and family.

Like I said, I can’t imagine a better day.


Dennis the Mennis said...

Congratulations Mark and Larry! What an awesome job! Next stop: Worlds! :-)

Nils said...

Amazing report. It really shows your experience when reading your analysis of the race. Congratulations on a well-deserved win!