By Mark Edwards
This was my 6th year, and 7th time racing the University road race. I gotta tell you, it doesn’t get any easier. It seems no matter how fit you get, there’s always someone fitter. And, on this course, there’s no where to hide.
During pre-race discussions with several of my competitors, we all agreed, the 45+ 1,2,3 winner would come from whoever could hang with the 35+ 1,2,3 leaders. I’d already arrived at the same conclusion days ago, but had hoped there’d be a sane voice claiming otherwise. There wasn’t.
Much as I dreaded the 90 minutes of pure suffering in store, I couldn’t help but smile over the fact that, somehow, Jim and Joe had topped last year’s efforts to make this a hugely successful Bike Trip celebration. Jim, with Chris’ help, showed up at 6:00 AM to set up the Bike Trip tents, chairs, and table we’d all spend the day around. Joe arrived early too, car stocked with an impressive array of goodies. Try as he might, he couldn’t tempt me pre-race. Afterwards… well that was a different story. Monday morning I awoke 4.5 lbs heavier than Sunday morning… enough said.
The combined 35+ 1,2,3 and 45+ 1,2,3 groups rolled off the start line on time, roughly 60 of us anxious to get things going. Geoff and I were there with all the typical climbing suspects, plus a host of 35+ guys we knew nothing about. Notable was the guy in the National Champion’s jersey, as was the Specialized guy, and several others obviously enjoying peak season fitness.
As usual, the pace was brisk from the get go. After the first couple of laps I was surprised to see I’d never shifted out of my big ring. More surprising… I finished the race having never shifted into my 39. I wouldn’t have thought it possible if I hadn’t done it.
I stayed near the front pretty much the whole race, so I’m not sure when the group broke up. I was told that around lap 6 there was a big selection. Normally the main selection comes around lap 4, making it to lap 6 is a good indication of just how fit the group was this year.
Amazingly, there were six 45+ guys still with the lead 35’s up to about lap 11 or 12. Four of them had been dropped the previous couple of laps on the climb, but would claw their way back on the descent – just to suffer the climb again.
Rounding the corner from Coolidge to Hagar, just before the bell lap, Cale Reeder jumped off the front. Two 35’s had escaped earlier, but weren’t a concern to me, Cale was. I came through the corner a little too far back, but felt I could reel him in. I jumped after him. He was maintaining his gap, but I wasn’t worried yet. I felt my best chances to catch him was on the flat after the main climb, or on the descent after that.
What I’d forgotten to consider… Cale caught one of the 35’s on the flat and they immediately started to work together. This wasn’t promising. I hammered the final steep pitch and went into time trial mode on the descent. I wanted to save something for the climb to the finish, but knew that if I didn’t catch him it wouldn’t matter anyway. Then, there was also the angry group of 35’s chasing me to consider, with several 45’s in tow.
By the time we hit the right hand turn to start the final climb to the finish I hadn’t closed the gap at all, but neither had the guys chasing me. Coming up the climb I finally started to pull Cale and his accomplice back. Glancing behind me, the leaders of the chase group were now close enough for me to see their expressions.
Cale got across the finish well ahead of me, probably 15 seconds, but I still had the chasers to contend with. It wouldn’t really matter if the 35’s caught me, but I had no idea who they had in tow. So, out of the saddle, one final painful push, it would all be over soon anyway.
Whew… just made it. 35+’er Greg McQuaid of SJBC charged across the line with the shattered remnants of the lead group desperately trying to hold his wheel.
The National Champion won the 35+, followed by another 35+’er, Cale was next for first in the 45+, then me 2nd 45+, 4th overall.