Joe, Ed and I left for the Turlock Lake Road Race at the sane hour of 8 am. The drive over took about 2 1/2 hours and that with a stop for coffee. Still, the drive is a bit off putting because the quickest route runs for about 25 miles North out of Los Banos through a bunch of little burgs. Relatively slow going.
What a well run venue at this race that uses many of the same roads as Snelling and Merco in its 26 mile loop. Put on by Rabobank, we had full road closure, numerous CHP, even more people working the event, many real bathrooms, support vehicles for every field, cash prizes (which unfortunately none of us saw), a finish line on the roadway, and quick accurate results. It’s too bad that the premier race promoter in our area does not adhere to these same goals.
Our race was delayed about an hour at the start. The morning races had all had crashes at a pothole on the back side of the course, and eventually, one cyclist had to be airlifted. Still, I think most of the delay occurred because they actually had someone come in and fill the pothole. For the late wave of races, they also stationed a marshall at the site to warn all fields. Unheard of!
Our race got off to a clean start and stayed that way to the finishing stretch. I was riding with no computer, but Ed says we averaged close to 25mph for this 52 mile race. At that pace, none of the attacks that came on a pretty regular basis were able to stay away from the pack. Turlock is not a climber’s course, but more of a power rider’s course. There was wind and numerous rollers, but I think I stayed in my big ring throughout. I clearly still have a lot to learn. When one Taleo rider went off the front on the second lap, I could not keep from chasing. I think it’s because I had had similar ideas until the pace of our race calmed that idea down in me. Still, there were several teams with numerous riders in our event and, as Joe said later, it was their job to chase down the attacks. Someday I’m going to pick up on that.
Anyway, as we approached the finishing stretch, our group was mostly still together as we had maybe dropped 20 guys from our starting group of around 70. After the Madera Road Race, Jim Langley and Steve Heaton had talked to me about the importance of staying positive and the role that eating and drinking can have in that effort. In this race I had been careful to make sure that I ate and drank regularly. As we approached the final 1K, I found myself going to the usual place in my head where I discount my abilities and inflate those of my competitors. Using Steve & Jim’s advice, I dismissed those thoughts and told myself repeatedly, “You can win this race! Get yourself into position.”
So, that’s exactly what I began to try and accomplish. I was sitting in the top third of the group as we came up on the 1K sign. I moved myself up to the front part of the race, but not at the front. The finishing stretch had a helping wind from our right, and I moved to a position to the left of the Fighting Bobbas who had set up their leadout train of 4 at the very front of the race. I sat 5th wheel as we barreled up the road. This was where I made my error. I haven’t trained regularly to sprint, mostly because I have been less than impressed with my sprinting ability. That’s got to change. As the jump started, I began to wind up my sprint, such as it is. Two things happened. First, I didn’t get my best jump because I wasn’t properly set up for gearing, cadence and position on the bike. That caused me to lag a bit at first. The second thing was that the smaller riders that were sitting on my wheel were trying to jump around me. In the process, I was being repeatedly struck by a guy to my left who was simply thrashing around on his bike. I didn’t feel like I was going to go down, but it sorely interfered with my ability to get my sprint going. It got worse from there as another small rider on my right ran into me, actually pretty hard. It still didn’t seem like I was going to go down, but there was no way to maintain my balance, and sprint, and fend off these ongoing blows. When the same little guy on my left ran into me again, I backed off, regrouped and pled for people to hold their line.
The original jump had come quite far out from the finish, maybe 350 - 400 meters, so I still felt I could be in the mix. I wound up to sprint a second time and began to gain on the leaders. This was when a new guy pulled some kind of Robbie Mckewan move. He was just next to me when he leaned into me and began to try and use my body to pull himself forward. It was at this point that I pretty much gave up. Cursing, I exclaimed that these guys were idiots and backed out of the sprint. I still continued to pedal hard to the line and passed a number of riders, I think that included all of those who had fouled me.
It was a bit discouraging to finish this way. I think I could have and would have finished top 5. Still, I come away from this experience with a positive perspective. It’s up to me to train my sprint. It’s also up to me to be prepared to give my best effort in the sprint when the jump comes or I start it. I could get crashed out of a sprint by one of these other guys who is not playing by the rules, but I’m big enough that some of that possibility is reduced. This learning experience is just one more part of racing, and I can choose to benefit from it or I can let it hold me back. I choose the former.
My thanks again to Steve and Jim for their wisdom and encouraging words. I feel the same for the many teammates, local stars and others who have regularly offered me kind words and support in this somewhat crazy sport.
Oh, my result...20th. Not so bad in a field of around 70! Until next time.