Great learning experience today. I carpooled to the Wente Road Race with Ed Price and Nils Tikkanen. The drive over was shorter than we have had for most of the races recently, and I was glad to be scheduled to go off in the first wave of racers. I think we had a pretty full field in our race, and I was happy to have teammates in Ed and Joe Platin.
My strategic thinking going into this race surrounded the fact that my memory of it from the last time I did it two years ago is that it is a climber’s race. Three laps with lots of climbing, beginning and ending with two medium short climbs, the first steeper than the second. Ed had thought it was less climbing overall than Copperopolis, but I didn’t remember it that way. Even though I like to climb, and in my heart of hearts, I think of myself as a climber, anyone who rides with me can tell you that is not my forte. That is not true of Joe. He is the prototypical climber, and I expected him to be the favorite in this race. I also knew that I couldn’t climb sustainably with Joe and those like him. My expectation was that I could climb strong, but at my own pace. Hopefully, once we got over the hills, I could chase back on to the leaders. Lap one, that’s pretty much what happened. The only thing was that I had to chase solo all the way through the hills and the descent and didn’t get back on until most of the way back around to the climbs. Even worse, right before I caught back on, I was caught by a group of 4 who were from my group and working together to get back on. I hadn’t realized they were there. I had used a lot of energy that I could have saved if I had known they were there behind me. Still. I was a little surprised at the pace when we did get back on in the flats. It struck me as slow, but I spent the time in recovery and getting ready to face the climbs again.
Second time up the hills, it became apparent that I was getting shelled on the one particularly steep section. Although it was only about 250 to 300 yards long, by the time we got through it, I would find myself 25 to 50 yards off the lead group. This wouldn’t have been a problem if things then led to a flat or downhill section. This wasn’t the case. Instead, the road kept going up. The difference was that I was capable of climbing at the same speed as the lead group, except for the one steep section. The problem was that I wasn’t capable of climbing faster than the lead group. Also, I didn’t have the benefit of the draft from the group, so the distance continued to grow through the hilly sections. By the time we were through the hills, the gap was substantial. I and the few others around me again put in the effort to chase back on to the leaders. Still, I was starting to see that something would need to change for me to do well in this race. Although the lead pack was down to about 15 – 18 guys, I expected that unless I could come up with a plan to change things, I was likely to be the last guy up the final climb a bit more than a lap later. The one thing that I continued to notice was the relative ease that I was having through the downhill, flat & windy sections. This almost spurred me to attack in the flats leading to the beginning of the final lap. I didn’t do it because I hadn’t thought my plan through and also because there were lots of different groups coming through at that time and I was sort of focused on staying with my crew.
I got dropped going up the climb with the same guys I had gotten dropped with on previous laps. This time, the confusion was greater because of all of the overlapping fields. Even so, we continued to work together to get back to the leaders for the final climb to the finish. It was just more difficult because we couldn’t be sure that the group we thought we were chasing was our lead group or another one. And when we did work our way back to our group, it became clear that some of them, including Joe, had escaped on up the road. I estimated the escape group to be only 5 or 6, because we were left with around 12. I thought that would be the total of all the riders left.
As we rode through the windy and flat sections towards the final climbs, I realized that I had to try something. Otherwise, the steep section would guarantee me last or close to it among these 12. I attacked. I made every effort to keep guys from jumping on my wheel, but a couple came with me. We quickly had a gap of 25 yards and I took a pull. I implored them to work with me. They tried, but we just didn’t have it. We made the group chase some, but before long, they were on us. I sat in and recovered. Soon after we made the right turn to begin the slightly uphill section that leads to the climbs, I attacked again. This time, I got away on my own. I worked to stay away and managed to do so for a bit. Then they were on me again. I recovered again and we were probably within ½ mile of the right hand turn that begins the steep section of the climb.
I really wanted a gap on this group going into that section. I knew that if I could get to the top of that part first, no one in this group was likely to beat me to the line. I attacked for the 3rd time. This time there was no response from the group. They were letting me go. I put my head down and worked hard but as Russ has told me, I “held something back”. Coming up to the turn, I saw that they had begun to chase. I also saw that I had a 25 – 30 yard lead. I laughed at the marshall and pleaded with him to throw some tacks down. He just laughed. I hammered, occasionally looking under my arm to see their progress. Two guys were gaining on me, but the rest were lagging. They both passed me before we got through the steep section, but I kept working up the next section that led to the line. One of the two had managed an insurmountable lead, but I was working hard and gaining on the second. As we approached the line, I could tell he was dragging. I dug deep, downshifted and jumped out of the saddle. I gave all I had left to get to the line. I came within about 6 inches of catching him at the line, but he took me.
Still, I was stoked! Turns out Joe got away with only 4 others. He got piped at the line and had to settle for 2nd, but congratulations are definitely in order. That left the big boy in 8th. I learned a lot in this race about different ways that I can use my power. Really fun.