Monday, March 14, 2011

Madera Stage Race 55+

I am calling this report “A tale of two Pros”. Hopefully, the reasons will become obvious from my report on what has been the best weekend of my cycling life!
The story starts on the Wednesday before the race. I haven’t been at my optimal weight and I haven’t been doing the interval training that I have done the last couple of years, but I have found myself able to ride strongly in group rides. I attribute much of that performance improvement to the work I did with Steve Heaton on my fit, form and positioning in the off season. That Wednesday, I decided to do the Aptos group ride that does the Eureka Canyon loop. I think it is fair to say that everyone on that ride was pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate Ben Jacques-Maynes on his victory in the stage race at Merco the weekend before. I have only had the pleasure of meeting Ben in the last year, but what a great ambassador he is for our sport. Always a kind word for everyone, I consider Ben to be exactly the kind of person who can and will help cycling to become more mainstream. In speaking to him that day, he learned that I was going to Madera, a race I think he has won on more than one occasion. He also talked to me about my Time Trial setup. I would really have expected a pro like him to laugh at the fact that I was going to the race with only my road bike, wheels and a pair of clip-on bars for the TT. Instead, he offered to loan me the wheelset that he had used to go under 25 minutes at the Swanton TT. To be honest, these wheels are pretty much off my scope. I’ve never even been on a deep rim, much less the narrow tubular full disk rear and equally narrow and aero front wheel he was offering to loan me. Still, I was thrilled to jump at the chance. My teammate in the 55+, Jim Langley was jealous. So was anyone else who heard about it. On to the race!
We had the crit to do first on Saturday. Jim told me there was a former pro in our race and that if he said anything to me that I should just thank him and do whatever he told me. This guy is the real deal and if he showed for the race, the rest of us would be racing for third. I never heard him say anything during the crit, but he did control the race and took the victory and one of two preems.
I continue to suffer a bit of hesitation about crits in general and this one specifically because of my bad crash here two years ago. Still, Jim assured me that our 55+ crit would be safer because “all these guys have to go to work on Monday”. He was right. Everyone held their line through the turns and I didn’t feel anyone was making stupid moves at any point during the race. Still, my goal going into the crit was to finish with the group rather than trying to place in the top three. I felt the time bonus was not enough to justify the potential energy expenditure with the Time Trial coming in the afternoon. Still, I wanted to see if I could do anything to help Jim, so with about five laps to go, I went to the front and sat on two guys from the Bobbas who had the lead. I sat on them until the last lap when the attacks really started. I asked Jim if I should go with any of the attacks and he yelled for me to go with one stared by Morgan Stanley (the former pro’s team). I missed it, but Jim didn’t. The lap was going quickly and I made the decision to just try and finish with the group. I was successful in that effort, but boy was I stoked to see Jim crossing the line in third, bested only by the former pro and one other. Happily, we signed out at the crit and headed for the Time Trial.
Once at the TT site, I set up my Look road bike with bars for the TT. I also removed my bottle cages. Then I took my first look at the Pro’s wheels. Full disk really light rear, deep dish Easton with wings on the front. 19 mm tubulars on both. Wow! I felt fast already. Teammate & pro mechanic Jim Langley helped me get them set up on the bike and I began to warm up. The difference between my regular wheels was clear. Once I got these babies rolling, they wanted to keep going and so did I! Jim’s opinion was that I might have the fastest wheelset at the race outside of one or two of the pros. I believed it. I don’t have much TT experience, but I had a definite goal for this one. This would be my first TT without a powertap, indeed, I had no computer at all. Still, in my other few TT’s, I had always gone out too hard and faded towards the finish. That was particularly true at this course last year. The last two legs are into the wind and whatever slight uphill there is is in those two sections. My goal was to go out and establish my pace in high zone 3 to low zone 4 for the first two legs (tailwind, flat sections covering the first 6 miles of the 10 mile course), and then bring it home with high zone 4 to zone 5 effort. At the start, I had two very strong and fit looking Bobbas 30 seconds ahead and behind me. I hoped to use them as motivators. From the line, I went out hard, but not as hard as I have in past TT efforts. Still, I soon found myself getting to the heavy panting stage. I recalled the sage words of Russ Cadwallader, to “always hold something back”, and I backed off to where I perceived my exertion level to be in the 3 - low 4 range. My breathing evened out and I continued to try and maintain the best aero position I could. I didn’t seem to be gaining on my 30 second man, but it looked like he caught his just before the first turn that leads into a 2 mile direct tailwind section. I maintained my momentum into that turn and kept rolling. About 1/2 mile before the next turn I got passed up by the man behind me. He was moving very well. I started to up my output to match, but quickly realized that would be a recipe for a blowup on my part. Going into the second turn and the first headwind section, he was already 200 meters ahead. I was able to up my effort significantly by my pre race design, but he continued to ride away from me. I stayed within myself and was able to continue to gradually increase my effort until I was back in the serious panting stage of breathing. I worked to keep my legs rolling and my upper body quiet and low. I felt like I was doing my very best and I saw two or three riders on the road ahead as I made the turn into the final mile and the most direct headwind section. The site of the three of them was motivating and I continued to push harder towards the line. I was at the complete gasping for air stage as I approached the line, but I was able to generate at least some form of seated sprint to the finish. This marks the first time I have experienced dizziness brought on by the intensity of an effort, but I really felt I had given all I had. When the results were posted, I was very pleased to have finished 10th in the TT and to be 10th overall in the race GC. Both of my 30 second Bobbas were ahead of me with the one from behind having placed 3rd in the TT, behind Jim Gossi from Truckee and the former pro. A big thank you to Ben J-M for his great generosity and obvious desire to support his fellow cyclists at all levels!
So, Jim has written pretty well about the Sunday road race. I am already going on too long, but there are a couple of things I must say. Jim had talked about the teams in our race, the former pro, and the possibility that the whole group might do a lot of soft pedaling as this was the third stage of a long weekend for a bunch of old guys. I didn’t want to do that because I feel like I get stronger as events get longer. So I was thrilled when Jim attacked at the beginning of the second lap. What’s more, he kept the pressure on for longer than any of those guys liked. I knew that everyone was hurting from his effort because I was. Still, after a moment of recovery, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t try to build on Jim’s effort. The night before, Jim had advised me not to analyze too much in a race. “If an idea comes to mind, don’t think about it. Just do it!” So I did. I attacked the group. Not all out, but pretty hard. After a minute, I looked back and I was 100 - 200 meters off the front and by myself. They didn’t look like they cared so I settled into my drops at TT paced and kept going. Pretty quickly, a guy bridged up from the race leader’s team and sat on my wheel. He made it clear that he wasn’t there to help, so I just kept on. I expect I was off for 15 - 20 minutes and at some points, I couldn’t really see the group behind. I just kept working until we made the turn into the pave section. Shortly after that I saw I was being gained on pretty fast. I decided to sit up and recover so I could latch back on when the pack came through.
I can’t express how stoked I was to see Langley attack as soon as the group was back on me. What a classic move we managed to pull off. The pack either could not or would not respond. Jim was off and rolling on his own. This was where I started to develop some less than favorable impressions of the former pro who was in our race. I had already observed him dog whistling at the group when he expected them to chase down earlier attacks. I also found his demeanor to be aloof. He wasn’t friendly like most cyclists are and he really didn’t talk to people except to tell them what to do. Still, this guy clearly knew what he was doing and he began marshaling the whole pack to do his bidding in chasing Jim down. The effort got broken up on a couple accounts. After we had gone through the rollers, Jim had increased his lead and we were neutralized because the Pro 1/2 race was coming through. They had a 3 man break that was being chased madly a few minutes later by the main field. I continued to recover from my earlier effort and went up front to try and disrupt the chase. They weren’t having any of that, but still things didn’t stay well organized through the confusion of the passing fields. It also became difficult to tell how far Jim was up the road as they were going by him and their field was blowing up. As we entered the pave section for the last time, I continued to hope that my teammate could stay away to the finish. The former pro, however, was relentless. He began to chase in a truly brutal fashion. Our field was becoming shattered as few and fewer could stay with his ongoing surges. Around the middle of the pave section, I heard a crash behind and saw one cyclist going headfirst for the pavement. I was doing all I could to hang on to the surging chase group. As we entered the rollers for the final surge to the finish, I recognized that I had to back off somewhat or I would blow up. I dropped into the hardest pace I could maintain and still achieve some level of recovery, but I was being dropped by the chase group going into the final mile. They went over the first and biggest roller about 100 meters ahead of me, but I was starting to find some recovery and did so even more as I pounded down to the next rise. It is always amazing how fast and how far the pack can pull away when you are getting dropped, but I was recovered enough to continue working hard to the finish. I passed several guys from the chase group who had blown up, but I cannot accurately say what place I finished. Jim was returning to the line when I crossed it and he confirmed what I thought I had seen. Victory for Bike Trip! For the first time, Jim had beaten this former pro who rules the 55+ pack. I cannot express how happy it makes me to have helped him to make this leap!
I was completely surprised to hear that the former pro went up to Jim and complained that he wouldn’t have stayed away if the Pros hadn’t come through. Then he took off his shirt and started showing his old racing injuries. I find it appalling to whine so when you have been beaten fair and square. Still, I guess there’s pros and then there’s pros. I’m happy with ours!
As for my results, I don’t know. Velo Promo doesn’t even show me finishing the race. I sent them an email, but I do not expect a response. I did leave before results were posted, so I was not there to protest. Still, it takes them hours to post the results and I knew I hadn’t won. I do think I might have done well enough to earn some points towards an upgrade, but it’s likely I’ll not find out.
Still, for me this has to rate as the best weekend of my less than spectacular racing life. I may not ever win a race, but the fun and excitement that I got from working together with Jim and seeing him turn those efforts into victory is enough for me! I want to do it again, and I want to see more of our 55+ guys doing races together so we can help each other!!


jim said...

Wonderful race report, Bob. It was a privilege having your support in the race. I couldn't have done what I did without it. And, bravo for turning yourself into such a strong, steady and smart racer! Those guys won't let you roll off the front next time.

Michele said...

Fantastic race Bob. Loved reading your report!

Dennis the Mennis said...

Bob, it is truly gratifying to see how far you've progressed. Awesome work!

Mark Edwards said...

Bob, from the first time you rode with us, it was obvious you have a passion for bike racing. It was also obvious that you have the heart of a champion. Reading yours and Jim's account of the race I kept thinking what an amazing journey it is that you've made. You've confronted and crushed numerous obstacles on your path to becoming a top notch bike racer. You've brought together the physical, mental, and tactical in a way few ever do. After last weekend's impressive performance… your next challenge will be racing as a marked favorite. I suspect you'll succeed once again :-)

Satin Matt said...

Love it!