Showdown at Cantua
Turned out to be a nice day of racing!
Three days before the race I decided not to race due to rainy forecast and called my teammate to inform him. As I monitored the weather the day before I got the report I was looking for…30% chance of rain. A few weeks ago two teammates Geoff Drake and Ken Sato went to a race in similar conditions and placed first and second. I was inspired by them and drew energy from it. I have won Cantua before, my fitness is good and I like the course. I knew without a doubt I had a good chance to win. It’s a road race that goes out and back two times. Mostly a flat course accept on the return to the finish it’s a rolling power climb 7min long to the finish. When we left SC at 4:30am for a 2.5hr drive it was raining but once we arrived it was partly cloudy and frigid cold 40deg. I opted to not use my racing wheels and go with my heavy durable training wheels which would prove to be the right choice (details later).
I was racing with two other teammates. The race had 5 teams with 4-6 riders each and a bunch of other guys (full race). Statistically we were at a disadvantage with just 3 guys. Only three teams including ours were active dictating the outcome of the race. By my count I would say we controlled the race to our advantage!
The whistle blows and we take off like a pack of scared deer running from a mountain lion. It’s a single file line of riders going all out followed by attacks to get away. As a team we discussed our plan and it was to watch and mark one of the known favorites in the race. Shortly into the race I was positioned next to his team and heard a conversation they were having with two other teams. The plan was to get one of each teammate up the road and block to slow the pace down. OK, I now know I have to be up the road whenever that mix goes on the attack. I’d see the gestures to each other when attacks would go to send a rider up to the break and I would go with it. I went with about 9 of the attacks, marking the favorite of which none stayed away. By the way, my teammate Ken Sato was in the front or on the attack the entire race. On the second lap two riders got away. The blocking began to slow us down, allowing the riders to get a good gap. Ken wasn’t going to let them slip away. He pushed the pace. Miles came up to help and I’d say maybe one or two others at most. I stayed out of trouble being forward and sheltered from the wind. Ken and Miles did 70% of the work to bring them back. Two teams with riders away would mess up the efforts of our guys by slowing the pace but Ken and Miles would not have any of it. At this point we have 25mins of racing left and two guys up the road in striking distance thanks to Ken and Miles. The pack wasn’t motivated to finish it off. Ken drops back to me and says with total confidence and motivation “STEVE – I’M GOING TO THE FRONT AND KILL MYSELF TO CATCH THOSE GUYS BEFORE THE CLIMB”. Before I could finish my response he was gone back to the front with Miles and the pace went up and up until they caught the two guys. He knew I had a shot at the win. We raced it together when I won a couple years ago in the 35+123. With 15mins remaining they take cover from the wind as we are now all together waiting for the final climb.
Calm before the storm!
You could feel the tension mounting as we approached the climb with 7mins of racing remaining. Everyone wants to be close to the front of the pack but not IN the front. I’m close, but a few riders further back than I would like to be, so I move to the left (safer) side but can’t get forward because it’s blocked by riders (you’re not allowed to cross the center line). It’s too late to make it forward as we start the climb and I’m too far back (10 riders) but I have time and tell myself, “just be patient”. I need to be 3-5 back so I can respond to anyone attacking. The position I’m in requires me to depend on the person in front of me to go before I can go. This is reactive racing. At the end of a race I don’t like to race that way. I either attack or want to be the first to respond when someone else attacks (because it’s coming). If the guy in front of me hesitates, the gap opens at a critical time and the chance for a win is over. I look over to the right side and notice room to advance so I strategically make my way to the right side by the time we make it over the first of the three bumps on the climb to the finish. OK, I’m still too far back and I need to get forward but I have to not use too much energy to do it (4mins of racing left). On the second bump the guy in front of me attacks. “Good” this will aid me in moving forward. The next thing I know as I go to jump in a split second everyone moves to the right and I’m about to get pushed off the road………all hell breaks loose !@#$%&*+@#
I clipped out of my left pedal SLAMMING my foot to the ground to keep from crashing and going off the road and in the process the guy behind me goes flying off the road into the bushes followed by a bunch of crunching sounds of bikes and people yelling. I looked back and see a guy flying sideways holding his handlebars then I looked forward and a gap has opened. The winning move is going up the road. As I go to clip in my left leg hamstring cramps from the jolt of slamming my leg into the pavement but I would have none of that and proceeded to attack to catch back on to the lead group. As I approach the leaders I am in full adrenaline rush and totally anaerobic. I decided in a split second I’m going to the front! As I make my way forward a guy crosses my line and puts his bike into my front wheel “Ping, pop, bang and bounce/wobble” what the F****k is going on? All OK and I push on to the front followed by two more wheel overlaps and “phew”….. I’m in the front headed into the final 1min of the race. Three wide with the favorite on my right and some other guy on his right, we had the front blocked with a little room on the right (not my side) for a final attack to come around. My heart rate is super high and I’m trying to recover. Coming to the front allowed me to dictate the pace and slow it down to recover. It might sound counter intuitive to go to the front when you’re trying to recover, especially when it’s windy and seemingly a disadvantage. But with one final move coming and everyone wanting someone else to go, I was able to slow it down enough for me to recover. Let’s get real for a moment! When I say recover I’m really saying go from max HR to just under which is enough to reload enough oxygen into my bloodstream to feed my sprint muscles for the final 17sec push to the line. I would also like to mention so much has just happened over the last couple of minutes my head is spinning and I’m jacked up ready to go all out!!!
200 Meters to the finish
The attack comes from our right. All three of us jump, the favorite gets second wheel and I get forth. I instantly knew the guy in front of me wasn’t going to make it but he had a good jump to get in front of me.
100 meters to go!
A gap is opening from the guy in front of me about two bike lengths. Quick. What to do? I decide to hold off closing the gap (I’m thinking my sprint is good.) Four bike length gap!!! I jump with a final sprint to the line and the guy on second wheel jumps at same time. I came up on him as we crossed the finish line throwing my bike forward to get every inch possible and I came up an inch short or width of a tire. The winner throws his arms in the air and looks down at me in surprise and says “nice job”. I finished 2nd place with an exciting battle. The last 4mins of the race was a wild ride to put it mildly. I learned from this race to remember not to hesitate to go forward at any point in the final seconds of the race. I lost the race when I hesitated to go around the guy in front of me who opened a gap. My best option was to immediately go around with a quick punch to the pedals to close gap. This would have put me in prime position with more than an inch to spare. So as racing goes “shoulda, woulda, coulda” until next race.