What a beautiful day for a bike race! It only took me about 2 ½ hours to get to the race, even though google maps estimated 3 hours 17 minutes with no traffic. I was a bit early, but the scenery around Sonora and the winery, from which the race was staged, was awesome. I’ll make one more pitch for these Topsport staged events. They really do a very good job. The courses are well marshaled, safe and challenging. Everyone involved with their operation is polite and helpful. If we can’t do a better job of supporting these races, they may not continue to promote them. I hope that won’t happen!
Our race consisted of 6 laps of an 8 mile loop. The road surface was rough (like the bad parts at Copperopolis), and the course was advertised as mostly rolling with one short climb. After doing a couple of warm-up laps, I commented to another rider that they might have been more accurate to say that the course was mostly climbing with one short descent. In reality, I do think the course was fairly described, but it was not the kind of rolling that I had expected. Also, the one short climb was a bit more than 1/3 mile at 8% – 10% grade (I’m guessing here). I expected that any good climbers would be able to wreak havoc on the group. Fortunately, when we lined up, most of the 20+ riders were of a similar body type to me. However, team BODY CONCEPTS had 5 guys in the race, and the next closest team was DAVIS with 3. Body concepts all lined up at the front for the start and we were off. The race began at the winery and climbed past the finish line and the feed zone for about ¾ mile before leveling out and moving to a somewhat technical descent. I started from my usual position at the rear and was not displeased by the pace that was set up that first rolling ascent. I soon became more than a little dismayed to see that Body Concepts had launched a lone rider off the front while the rest of the team did an admirable job of blocking. We never saw him again, and that was to be the somewhat regrettable pattern for the day. In the course of our six laps, 3 more riders were able to get away, never to be seen again. I was somewhat intimidated by the amount of uphill work there was. I had expected the rollers to be big ring stuff and I was in my 34 x 25 a lot. I was finding that I could do it though, and as the race went on we continued to drop 1 or 2 riders each lap. The “hill” was definitely a steep enough grade that a true climber would just ride away from me, but I was finding that in our group (excepting the 4 who rode away), I was one of the stronger ones.
There was one guy in our group who was a pretty good climber. Matt had been at the Topsport stage race in Copperopolis and I remembered him from there. He tended to crest the climb first, but would allow everyone to catch back on. I had the feeling that he didn’t understand how to ride well in someone’s draft. I formed a plan to try and get over the climb with him on the last lap and then see if I could get him to work with me to the finish, in hopes of a top 6 finish.
As the climb approached on the last lap, I moved to the front. When we hit the climb, I went hard, expecting Matt to go with me. About halfway up, I looked back and saw that no one had gone with me. I was off the front by 25 yards at least and they weren’t coming. I decided to go over the top as hard as I could and see if I could stay away to the finish (3 – 4 miles away). Once over the top, I hammered the descent, but allowed myself to recover somewhat from the climb. I expect that I had and maintained a 200 yard lead to that point. I made the turn to start the 1 ½ to 2 miles of rollers to the finish and once again began to work hard. My legs had no snap and I really had to focus to maintain a steady pace. The only bright spot was that I could see that the group was faring no better and weren’t really gaining on me. This inspired me to just keep working, no matter how wasted I felt. As I was about to crest the roller just before the winery and about 250 yards from the finish, I looked back and saw that one of the Body Concepts riders had made the bridge up to me. As he came around, I jumped on his wheel and gave everything I had. It wasn’t enough to overtake him but still, in this race of attrition that I still think was more suited to climbers, I was very pleased to take 6th.
My 6th place won me a nice T-shirt. On a sad note, I was sorry to learn that William Brieger, the Davis rider who saved me with a pull at the Topsport stage race, broke two vertebrae in his back on a training ride. He had to have surgery, but I am told he is expected to make a full recovery. I will hope and think on that!