Friday, August 6, 2010

2010 USA Masters National Championships Road Race

8/4/10 Louisville, Kentucky

By Mark Edwards with commentary by Jim Langley

Let me start with a huge THANK YOU to everyone at the Bicycle Trip, Symantec and all our teammates for making this trip (and last year's) to the USA Masters National Championships possible. Jim and I had a wonderful time and it's a privilege to be a part of the team. We can't thank you'all (as they say in Louisville) enough.

A Full Year of Preparation
Following last year’s Masters Nationals competition, Jim and I committed to a full year of focused preparation for the 2010 edition. In 09, although we had expected the fields to be the toughest we’d ever faced, the reality was eye-opening. So, for the past twelve months, we poured everything into raising our games to new highs. Little did we know just how much we were going to need each and every extra watt of power we brought with us…

Last year in Louisville we arrived to very Santa Cruz like weather. The locals couldn’t stop talking about how unusual it was. Expecting heat and humidity, Jim and I were counting our blessings.

But, this year, the blast of hot humid air as we exited the airport took our breath away. Fortunately the air conditioner in our room was excellent – a huge improvement from last year’s accommodations.

Record Highs in Kentuckiana
As we prepared for our race in our modern hotel room, putting 2 numbers on our jerseys, one on the bike and a timing chip on the fork, the Weather Channel focused on the record heat wave assaulting most of the Country. The local news, covering the “Kentuckiana” area, (their combination of Kentucky and Indiana for this region around the Ohio river) seemed to report on the likelihood of the 101-degree record for August 4th being broken every fifteen minutes or so. Insulated in our cool hotel room, I don’t think we fully realized the magnitude of what we were facing.

Bike Trip/Symantec vikings Mark Edwards & Jim Langley the day before the battle
Last year’s hotel had a nice restaurant conveniently downstairs from our room. This made meals very easy. This year’s hotel didn’t have a restaurant, other than free breakfast each morning. I’m still not sure what the food was made from, but I’m pretty certain none of it was from anything that exists in nature. Beyond these “interesting” breakfasts, it was a minimum four block hike in 100+ degree humid shadeless asphalt everywhere conditions to get to the local fast food joints (apparently fast food is the only available food type in the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken).

Commentary from Jim: On Tuesday morning we built the bikes and rode to Cherokee Park to pre-ride the racecourse. We only did a few hard efforts to time the hills and choose lines through the corners. Things felt almost exactly the same as last year but to both of us the course seemed shorter, each 5-mile lap taking less time than we had remembered it. The photo above was shot after our pre-ride by Aptos resident and top 65+ racer Jim Fox. He had won the TT that morning and was super happy to snap the photo for us. I think that viking ship is some kind of memorial from 100 years ago. Congrats to Jim for taking home the Gold!

Race Day
Wednesday morning dawned with the promise of a new record temperature, by 8:00 AM it was already 85. Around 2:00 PM Jim and I set off for our 25 minute ride from the hotel to the race course. At this point we didn’t know the temperature, but it was clearly hot. Getting stopped by nearly every traffic signal, we alternated between baking on the shadeless concrete streets, then enjoyed the breeze we generated riding to the next traffic signal. They don’t use the magnetic strips to trip the signals, so we often sat in the heat waiting for the green light with no cross traffic. As ambassadors for cyclists everywhere, we wanted to make a good impression. Unfortunately, our resolve to sit and bake with no cross traffic wouldn’t survive the day.

Mark sits in the shade waiting the start
Arriving at Cherokee Park around 2:30 PM, we’d planned to warm-up. Jim had flatted on his tubular about two miles from the park, so we immediately started looking for the Shimano support vehicle to get him a wheel.

Once found, sitting in the shade and drinking seemed like a much better plan than warming-up. While waiting for my start I heard it was up to 103. Nothing like what I normally think of 103 feeling like, this was more like Hawaii (without the ocean). Everything was green, and the sound of the bugs was almost louder than the event’s sound system.
Even Tougher Racers Than Last Year
I’d done some research on my field before the race and felt this year’s group had considerably more depth than last year. Last year’s race was very fast, with about twenty guys that I felt were super strong. The remainder appeared to be mostly locals that came out because it was convenient. This year I only saw one local, and it appeared to me that about half the field was current State/District Champions.

Also, multi-time national champ Thurlow Rogers was here. Not only was Thurlow likely to be a factor, he was one of the only guys with a teammate. I wasn’t familiar with his teammate, but as expected, he attacked repeatedly to soften us up for Thurlow.

And, We're Off!
At the gun we bolted down the opening hill. Into the sharp left hander gaps immediately opened as the leaders charged toward the first climb. Although this is a road race, it’s more criterium than road race. With almost no flat or straight sections, it’s very fast and technical. Last year we averaged over 26 mph for 1:52.

Cresting the first climb I felt well within myself, but the air burned my lungs and stung my eyes. I’d kept my gloves off until just before the start to try and keep them dry, but by three miles in they were soaked with sweat.

I was further back in the peloton than I wanted to be. The start had been delayed and several guys were on the line early to protect their start position. Unfortunately, the holding area was in the direct sun. I’d decided I was better off waiting in the shade and starting at the back than sitting in the direct sun for twenty minutes. Once we started it was now difficult to move up. 65 guys on a very fast and technical single lane road with lots of nerves and constant gaps isn’t ideal for moving from ~40th to the top 10 were I wanted to be.
Strung out coming through the top of the course

Russian Roulette on Two Wheels
Completing the first lap I’d moved to about 20th and spotted the lap clock. We’d done the first 5 miles in about 12 minutes flat. It felt really fast, but not quite as quick as last year, amazing what an extra 20 degrees of heat can do.

Only five miles into the race and things were already starting to string out a bit. The heat was deceptive. Guy’s legs felt good, so they’d attack, only to pop moments later. It was bike racing’s version of Russian roulette.

Thurlow, Thurlow - Where's Thurlow!
About halfway through the second lap things had settled enough that I started looking for Thurlow. Finally I found him… sitting on my wheel! I didn’t really focus on him too much, but felt validated by the fact that we occupied a similar pack position for the first four laps. If my natural position was the same as his, I must be doing something right.

Last year a break of three had gotten away, and held on to the finish. This year I wasn’t about to let that happen without me. There had been a couple of very short lived break attempts when, just before the start of the third lap, three guys got a small gap. They hovered about 15 seconds off the front for a lap. Neither Thurlow nor his teammate was in the break, and with the searing heat it seemed impossible they’d stay away (famous last words).

Shake and Bake
The pace stayed high for the next couple of laps as the heat took its toll. I was suffering from hot foot. Loosening my shoes, pulling up on the pedals, nothing helped. Every time I tried to apply power to the pedals, I felt like a red hot poker was being driven into my feet.

Guys were dropping like flies; someone would attempt to bridge, then pull off the side of the road and stop. I couldn’t push on my pedals and every breath burned my throat. I considered quitting; it seemed we might be doing serious damage to ourselves.

Thurlow Hits the Gas
On the forth lap Thurlow attempted to bridge. I saw him go, felt I had the legs to follow, but feared we’d get a mile up the road only to implode. The heat was oppressive. It was similar to competing at altitude. You felt strong, but an effort that would be fine at sea level could easily take you out of the race. Same thing in Louisville, I felt good, but every effort hurt way more than it should have. It was like I’d lost my ability to know my limits.

Commentary from Jim: I was in the feedzone and saw Thurlow power off the front of Mark's group. People were impressed by how fast he opened the gap and a few said that he would easily catch the leaders who looked spent when they went by. As Thurlow passed the start/finish the announcers commented that they would bet Thurlow would run down the leaders and go on to win.

Thurlow suffered 10 seconds off the front for about two laps. It looked painful. Eventually he increased his gap as we squabbled over who should chase, but he never made it to the three leaders. Knowing Thurlow’s ability, combined with confirmation of his form, (winning the 2010 National TT title by over a minute) he should have been easily able to chase down the leaders. Like the rest of us, the heat fouled up his body’s finely tuned feedback system.

Time To Attack
Coming into the ninth lap the group was starting to play games, no one wanted to work. I shifted tactics from working to attacking. I wasn’t feeling any better (I’d missed a couple of feeds, dropped one water bottle because my hands were so sweaty, and only drank two bottles), but I figured the group was tired, and even if I blew up I could finish two laps.

There are four main climbs on the course. I attacked all four on the ninth lap, splintering the remaining ~15 guys each time. But each time they chased back on. On the tenth lap I held back from attacking, but stayed in the top three, hoping to keep anyone from getting away. On the one flat section a guy attacked from far back in the group. He went by the front fast enough that no one wanted to chase. As I was sitting in second position, I knew that if I jumped I’d pull everyone up to him. I decided not to, and his well-timed attack ended up earning him 5th place.

At the base of the final climb, about ½ mile from the finish, I found myself on the front. Not where I wanted to be, so I tried to slow enough to get someone to attack. No one would go, and the other half of the group than had been dropped was about to pull us back. Liking my chances better in a group of 8 than 15, I attacked off the front. I knew attacking off the front pretty much never works, but I was frustrated and tired, I just wanted the race to be over.

Sprinting for the Line
Surprisingly, I had a pretty strong jump left in me. Four of the eight popped off the back immediately. I had three on my wheel and was giving it everything up the final climb. The finish was different this year. The line was on a curve and our path had been narrowed to a single lane with the steel barrier feet protruding about a foot into each side of the road. Out of the saddle, rocking my bike hard left and right, it took focus to keep from clipping a barrier.

Mark takes 8th with a strong sprint!
Two of the three were able to pip me at the line, giving me 8th place in the nation; One better, and much harder to earn, than last year’s ninth place finish.

Was all the focus and training worth it? Yes. An unequivocal YES! Never once in the race did I feel anyone was stronger. With a little more confidence, a couple of better tactical choices, and a little luck, I could win this race.

In case you were wondering, my hot foot never did improve during the race. Finishing my race, I quickly drank three tall bottles of ice water, and poured two over my head. At which point, both of my feet cramped so badly that I couldn’t walk (two days later… I’m still limping in considerable pain).

Notes From the Feedzone on Jim’s Race
I filled the bottles to hand up to Jim and then headed for the feedzone, only to find I couldn’t walk. Leaning on my bike I made it to the edge of the course where I sat on a rock. I figured I had a minimum of two laps before Jim would need water, hopefully I could walk by then.

At 12 minutes and 12 seconds, Jim’s group came around absolutely flying. Other than the first couple of guys, already the entire peloton looked to be in serious trouble. At this point I was under the impression that the temperature had miraculously dropped to around 80 degrees. Seems I was so hot and dehydrated that I’d lost the ability to sense the temperature. I was assured by the several volunteers who stopped out of concern for my health that it was really still 103.

On the second lap I could see that Jim’s bottles were still full, I yelled at him to drink and saw him reach for a bottle. This lap was also done in just over 12 minutes!

Jim: This was a crazy race compared to last year where we settled into an attack and chase, attack and chase game. This year it was strung out after the first corner and I was constantly closing gaps and struggling to recover. With the fitness I brought into this race, even as it was happening to me, I was incredulous that I was about to get dropped.

After they passed I tested my feet. No way! I still couldn’t stand or walk. Okay… I’ve got another 12 minutes, giving me nearly an hour after my race finished, surely I’ll be fine by the next time Jim came around.

Like clockwork, with local World Champion Rob Anderson (he lives in Mill Valley) still on the front, the leaders came around on lap three at 12 minutes again. But this time there were only five guys. Following nearly a minute later, 19 more, 30 seconds behind then was another group of six. After these six, individuals were strung out for about three more minutes. I can’t possibly explain just how bad everyone looked. Really strong guys with World Champion stripes were shattered after only three laps. Rob Anderson was single handedly destroying the best riders in the Nation.

Jim: Cool tech note - apparently Rob was wearing a frozen Camelbak strapped to his chest somehow beneath his jersey and drinking the frozen water. Brilliant! 

I was able to hobble to my feet and get Jim a bottle as he came by. To his credit, he ramped back his effort, kept drinking lots of water, and paced himself to stay safe and complete the race. Many others weren’t nearly as smart.

Jim: Mark actually saved me from disaster. He was hobbling up to the top of the course to find ice and refilling the bottles so he could hand me up cold water. I couldn't drink because my Cytomax was way too hot and tasted disgusting. Same with my water. When Mark handed me up the first cold bottle it didn't register at first that it was cold. When I realized it though I gulped the water down, poured it on my head and back and immediately started feeling significantly better. It was Mark's finding that ice that saved my day. We still can't believe that USA Cycling had NO neutral water on the course. Crazy, huh?

Jim rolls across the line in survival mode
As Rob continued to shred the group, guys would pull up to the feedzone and collapse. Unable to even clip out, they’d just roll up and fall over – kind of like the old Laugh In TV show – except that medics were running up, stripping off shoes and socks, pouring ice down their jerseys. It was actually quite disturbing; I was very concerned that someone was going to be seriously injured… or worse.

Again, I can’t stress how well Jim handled the situation. I know how capable Jim is of hurting himself, and I tried to suggest he drop out knowing the problems he’s had in the heat before. But, he rode within himself, and actually seemed to be enjoying himself (okay, enjoying may be a bit of a stretch).

Of the top four guys that easily walked away from the peloton in Jim’s group last year, three were back to defend this year. One dropped out on the fourth lap, Wayne Stetna (last year’s winner) blew up on lap 5, and David LeDuc finished second – only to collapse on the finish line – paramedics responded and rumor has it that it was touch and go for quite a while before he regained consciousness.

Jim: I got to talk to an official who had been at David's side as the medics worked on him. He told me this funny story. I guess the medics thought David had had a heart attack until his wife came running over and told them that she's seen this happen to him before. She explained that he does have a heart condition that incapacitates him and she asked if they had dumped ice on him. The medics said that they had but it hadn't done any good. She then asked if they'd put any down the front of his shorts? They said, of course not. She told them to try that. So, they take her advice and a few second later, David sits up and exclaims, "ayee, my nuts -- they're FROZEN!"

Through it all, Rob Anderson rode aggressively on the front. It was the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen. In a 45-mile race he put nearly 10 miles into the final guys that finished the race (not counting the many that dropped out). Not to mention riding multiple World Champions off his wheel… in a record setting 103 degrees.

The weather forecasters use a heat index to compensate for humidity in the Kentuckiana area (renamed, very appropriately I might add by Jim, to Indi-ucky). With humidity, they calculated the heat index to 112 degrees!

Jim: Here's maybe the worst news we received at the race. At one point the announcers were talking about the awful heat and one of them said, "Actually, it HAS been this hot before at the Masters Nationals, and that was back when it was held in Bend, Oregon! Which is the site of next year's race we were all looking forward to. Oh no, not again!

I did not list the full results from my race because it's missing a bunch of names. Maybe because they lapped us and so many people dropped out they decided not to list everyone. I believe 49 riders started - and I was the last to finish in 35th place!

OFFICIAL RESULTS 50/54 (top 10)
1 Terry Duran (1 - Cat1)  Birmingham, AL    2:02:07.300  82946   597  Birmingham Velo/Tria Market / D
2 Gerald Finken (1 - Cat2)  La Crosse, WI  2:02:10  49239  551     St Paul Bicycle Racing Club
3  James G Wenzel (2 - Cat1)  Auburn, AL    2:02:59.600     59328     562     Velo Voodoo
4  Thurlow Rogers (3 - Cat1)  San Diego, CA  2:03:52.500     30417     552     Amgen-UBS Elite Masters
5  Kevin Hines (1 - Cat3)  East Wareham, MA  2:05:33   6266  557  Corner Cycle Cycling Club
6  Arthur Brown (4 - Cat1)  Washington, DC  2:05:38.300  63036  535  Battley Harley-Davidson/Sonoma/
7  Robert Downs (2 - Cat2)  Madison, WI  2:05:38.500  9947     621     Planet Bike
8  Mark Edwards (3 - Cat2)  Santa Cruz, CA  2:05:38.800  236580     603  Team Bicycle Trip/Symantec
9  Anthony Taylor (5 - Cat1)  Brooklyn, NY    2:05:39.300     47684 579 Century Road ClubAssociation/D
10 Malcolm Hill (4 - Cat2)   Corona Del Mar, CA    2:05:40     156650     605     Amgen-UBS Elite Masters

OFFICIAL RESULTS 55-59 (top 10)
1 Robert Anderson (1 - Cat2)   Mill Valley, CA    1:50:28.1  1688  429  Team Specialized Racing Masters
2 David LeDuc (2 - Cat2)  Willow Springs, NC  1:52:45.6  45583  479     Atlantic Velo-Virginia p/b Walt
3 William Kellagher (3 - Cat2)  Boulder, CO    1:53:04.1     45530     461     Natural Grocers Cycling Team
4 Wayne Stetina (1 - Cat1) Mission Viejo, CA    1:54:27.2     34063     474     Amgen-UBS Elite Masters
5 Dennis Rainear (1 - Cat3)  Richmond, VA  1:54:28.6     156093     427     Team Nature's Path/3 Sports
6 Robert Gregory (4 - Cat2)   Brentwood, TN    1:54:31.1     50141     475     Team Gran Fondo
7 Gordon Paulson (2 - Cat1)  Cottage Grove, WI    1:54:34.2     176866     445     Planet Bike
8  Ronald Wilson (2 - Cat3)  Seymour, TN    1:55:58.1   46380  473   Southern Cycling Operations (SC
9  William Watkins (3 - Cat3)  Lawrenceville, GA 1:55:58.1 294788 434  US Military Academy/Team
10 Richard Distlerath (4 - Cat3)   Bluffton, SC 1:55:58.7 216139  469 Racer Heads Sports and Leisure


Satin Matt said...

Great write-up of an epic-sounding event - glad you guys survived to tell the tale - maybe the team should invest in some of those ice vests before next year!

Winona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winona said...

Awesome job guys. Way to represent.

Dennis the Mennis said...

You done us proud!