My race reports are usually focused on just me since I’m currently on a team with no riders in my category and I therefore race solo. The race I’m about to describe is all about the team, “Team Norton.” Strategy and tactics are very different when racing as team vs. alone so it’s a different tale of my race experience in this report. Team mate John Pollard asked me to race with guys from Symantec, where he works and also our team’s main sponsor. I was told it was all about teamwork! I was excited for the opportunity to support the team’s efforts in the Race around Lake Tahoe. When I think of Lake Tahoe, I think of big climbs and lots of pain. I thought it was a climber’s race until I discovered the hills are small, short and not very steep. The course is mostly flat roads mixed with rolling hills us non climber type’s love. We didn’t have a single climber on the team which I think would be of little use in this race if any. Not to say it was easy, just that it requires riders with legs like Ben (check out that bazooka leg in photo on far right.) Before going into the race dynamics I’m going to give a snapshot on each team member.
Morning just before the start “Team Norton”
From left to right (Steve, Ryan, Enrique, Pablo, John, Chris, Jake, Ben)
Team Captain “Big Ring” Enrique can be found riding in his big chain ring even when he shouldn’t be. Ryan “Ryno” was by our count the largest competitor in the race at 210lbs and is capable of charging like a RynO. Chris “Wood” short for Hollywood. He looks like the guy you see in magazines (tan and buff Pro racer guy.) John “The Pollinator” always in the right place at the right time keeping us hydrated by grabbing water bottles from feed motorcycles passing by then handing to teammates and closing gaps. Ben “Bazooka” has monster legs and so smooth I could never tell if he was feeling good or hurting. Jake “The Bullet” has a turn of speed impressive to watch and a challenge to stay with when the trigger is pulled. He knows how to use it in time of need. Pablo “El Matador” is passionate, strong, focused and committed to conquering our goals. Found mostly in front pulling like a raging bull. Steve (me) “The Heater” trading pulls on the front with El Matador, on climbs providing energy assist to those in need, bottle feeder and camera man.
We arrived the day before with time to pre-ride the first climb and the goal of opening our legs a little. Not a long or hard ride, just enough to open up the arteries and let the muscles know pain is on the horizon. It was also the first time to ride with the team before the race. After the ride we dialed in our bikes and discussed strategy etc. The goal set by Enrique was to finish as a group 5mins faster than the training session a few weeks back. Our time to beat was 3hrs 20mins.
4:45am “Beep Beep” it’s time to get up. 6:40am and 35 deg we rolled to the start line and waited for the man walking around us with a shotgun to send us off. 7am BAM the race is on. We start on a slight climb for a few minutes then into S. Lake Tahoe. Over the top I look back and we are missing a few guys??? Someone tells me he thinks one of our guys got a flat. What the hell? I look back 500m and I can’t see them. I look forward and the pack is charging away at 30mph. I look back again and can’t see anyone. I look forward and the pack is gone. Focusing on remaining calm, I stopped. Then a few moments later I see them coming fast.
Making contact with back of group
Jake leading the charge!!! I jumped as hard as possible so not to get dropped as they fly past. I worked my way to the front to give Jake a chance to recover. I’m not going to let us get dropped at the beginning and turned on the heat. Once we get the pack back in sight Pablo finished it off. I don’t know what the rest of the guys were thinking at that moment but I knew we had a solid group of guys and this was going to be fun. The race was on and I was amped!
Enrique shortly after his mechanical and return to the pack
I was so excited from how well we responded to the pressure
After we recovered from our first test I communicated that we needed to move forward. Charging up the side I pulled the group to the front area tucking in where the pack fans out after the single file line about 15 riders from the front. It’s best to stay forward before the climb and get maximum wind protection. I look back and everyone is in contact. We had passed the second test. Everyone is focused and watching out for each other. In my head I’m thinking how cool this is racing with these guys. The road starts to narrow and other riders are moving forward to get ready for the climb and we lose a few positions. I see a guy moving forward. I point the guy out to Ryan and tell him to get in his draft and take the free ride forward. Sweet – he is now in a perfect spot for the climb. The first climb is a little steep and I know this is going to be tough as a group. We fell off the pace but remained calm and focused, knowing we have big engines to drive the pace on the flats and rollers.
Enrique &Chris riding all out for the climb into Emerald Bay
Ben Climbing out of Emerald Bay
Team together on climb out of Emerald Bay
Once over the top Pablo immediately went to the front and charged on, catching and passing other groups on the road. I joined in on the action. At one point we came upon a group and I saw a friend of mine from Santa Cruz (Jim Gentes – founder of Giro helmets.) He says, “Good, we need some fire power. This group is slowing.” I continued to push past them and noticed a bunch of climber types in the front (which explained Jim’s response.)
Efficiency – Team Norton – Beautiful sight to see!
Back of our Jersey
This was taken on a slight rise. Pablo pulling at 424watts 24.9mph
Pushing it on the flats with team in tow (see video)
Around the lake (couple hours into it) headed into the second climb Chris having an off day. He starts cramping and needs to drop off.
Ben looking smooth
A little into the final climb Ben says he is backing off and wants us to charge on. He said he will fight to bridge back later.
John keeping a close eye on our team Captain Enrique
Half way over the final climb the team is holding up well. Enrique gets a surge of energy and begins charging at the front.
Go man go!
Don’t forget to look at the scenery
Picture from the bike cresting the final climb
Ryan hanging tough on Jake’s wheel
Everyone is in the groove, focused on our mission to finish the race under 3hrs 20mins. I don’t know the course but by looking around I can tell we are on good pace. I’m feeling really strong and motivated and so is the rest of the team.
On the 2 lane hwy. descent into South Lake Tahoe Pablo and Enrique crank it up to speeds reaching 50mph (please don’t tell my wife!) After setting into a comfortable 45+mph I took my turn. We had the right lane and traffic had the left. A quarter mile down the road I see our lane has cones to merge cars to the left lane so we could use the right lane safely. As we approach (100 meters) a black SUV is pulling out of a side road and stops, blocking our entry to the coned off area. I can’t see the driver or tell if it will pull out or not. I have to decide left or right (I’m responsible for making the decision.) The safety of everyone is in my hands. If we go right the car has to pull out. If it doesn’t we are sure to get seriously hurt. If we go to the left lane the car has to stay stopped or we will get seriously hurt. I remain calm, listen for anyone yelling out “car back”…… (It’s very difficult to hear at 45mph with wind blowing past your ears) and decide we must go left and take the lane. Thankfully, the car didn’t move. Thankfully, it worked out fine but was a moment not to forget. No hesitation to our team and off we went descending to the finish. I could smell the finish line and started to turn up the heat! “Gap - Gap” a reminder for me to ease up a little (I feel like a meteor passing in the night sky) “Gap – Gap” again I need to calm down! So I pull off and let Pablo set the pace. I get it together and assist in the action along with Ryan, Enrique, and Jake. Next thing I see is a group of riders half way between us and the finish. Go Heater GO yells our team captain and I jump for the line 400 meters out, blowing by that group with a wide open sprint to the finish line at 40mph. What a rush.
We not only reached our goal we blew it away by 9mins with a final time of 3hrs 11mins.
Ben, after dropping off and riding in solo was able to charge back to finish in 3hr 20mins reaching our goal. Hat’s off to you Ben for knowing your limits. Chris, who cramped much earlier never gave up and finished 3hrs 51mins solo. I know intimately what it’s like to cramp in a race. It’s very easy in that situation to just give up and crawl to the finish. Chris pushed his body beyond his physical limits that day. I fully respect you for your drive under extreme internal physical pressure.
In closing I would like to express my deep satisfaction with how we as a team pulled together with strategy, focus, drive, commitment, passion, respect and a great attitude. I also want to thank Enrique for making it happen and adding to my short list of most memorable experiences. This year has been packed full of excitement and adventure on the bike beyond what I planned. After 18yrs competing on the bike I sometimes wonder how it is I keep discovering new highs. For me cycling isn’t just about racing the bike. It’s about staying in great shape physically, racing when the time is right, having fun, not taking it too seriously, striving for life balance as much as possible, sharing my experiences with others and making great friends along the way.
Until next time