As I woke up this morning, I heard rain falling. To race or not to race? I could easily do the Saturday morning Harbor ride or alternatively, join the team for repeats up Bonny Doon. But either way, I was just as likely to get rained on, and the weather was promised to be better on this day. So, off I went to Patterson and the Early Bird Road Race, an event of no real importance, but one that would give me an early season chance to test my fitness against my Northern California peers.
Although it rained on me all the way from Watsonville to I-5, the sky began to show blue during registration. The roads would be wet and, in places, muddy, but Velo Promo did a superior job of clearing any dangerous rocks from the roadway. The temperature at a little over 40 seemed very cold, and I dressed in everything I had brought to stay warm. Since I’m not the hands free guy, this consideration is fairly critical for me going into a race. Once the race starts, I will not be shedding until I am finished. Today, I made the right choice.
The race began with a neutral start past I-5. We made a right turn on a road whose name escapes me, and the race was on. That said, the first 20 miles were ridden at an uneventful pace. I looked around for squirrelly riders and picked out one possible. Stayed away from him. A Giant rider from Petaluma asked me how many races I had been in. When I told him about 20, he said that he had been in over 200, but no more than 20 in the last few years. He looked like a favorite to me.
As we got to the 20 mile mark in the 42 mile race, we came to the climb. Mark had advised me to stay with the group to this point and then be prepared to bury myself on the climb. He said the descent after the turn was tricky and that I should take it carefully, but that I should work hard to regroup and chase after the descent. Just be ready for the uphill finish! I had my strategy in place, but I decided to try one more tactic. I asked the group if they would mind giving me a head start on the climb. The Giant rider laughed, but no one else seemed to think I was that funny. Off and up we went!
Things stretched out pretty much right away. I was in the front third of the group and working pretty hard to stay on. I think the total climb was no more than 10 – 12 minutes for me, but I expect that I was about a minute or maybe a little more behind the leader at the turn. I took Mark’s advice on the descent and found that I was only passed by 2 riders who seemed willing to take greater risks. At the bottom of the descent, I was caught by a rider from the Taleo club. He invited me to jump on as he came by, and I did. This guy and I were of similar strength and I was encouraged that we might have a chance of chasing back on to the lead group. We were working well together and passed a few riders before coming up on a group of 4. 2 of them went with us, but those 2 turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help. Neither was interested in working as hard as we were, and whenever they took a pull, our speed slowed. Still, the Taleo rider, Paul, and I proved unable to ride away from them. Even so, we continued to catch and pass riders from other categories and a few from ours. I continued to be hopeful that we could catch our leaders and said so often. As we were coming down to the last part of the race, we spotted a group of 5 – 6 riders that looked like it could be our guys. As we caught up to them we were disappointed that all but one were from a different category. This had been our last hope of catching the lead group.
The climb to the finish began and our two slugs continued to block. I found myself at the front at the wrong point and in poor position and energy level to set myself up to sprint for the line. There were probably 10 of us from different groups at that point, all bearing down on the finish. Taleo and the Davis rider we had caught in the last group beat me to the line, but I was 3rd in our field sprint, 8th in my race.
Altogether, a very fun day!