Sunday, March 11, 2012

2012 Madera Stage Race Report 55+

Jim Langley, John Schaupp, Bob Montague
A Bike Trip Symantec Team Victory (well, partly)
55+ers Bob, John and Jim nearly get 'er done
by Jim Langley

Bob Montague and I have done the Madera Stage Race three times now so I've probably blabbed too much about it already. We think it's one of the season's top races and a super fun way to spend a weekend on bikes and around other two-wheeled gladiators. It only took a couple of emails to convince John Schaupp of that, and he signed up and joined us.

This year's event was held March 10 and 11 under sunny skies, right where this race has always taken place, in the laid-back cow town of Madera. We stayed at the official race hotel, the Hampton Inn.

Heading out Saturday a.m.
3 races / 2 days
On Saturday we had a 20-mile 4-corner flat criterium somewhere in downtown Madera at 11:30. Then we hightailed it to Sharon, about 20 minutes outside Madera, past a giant women's prison and out into orchard-lined, traffic-free straight roads perfect for racing the ticker in the time trial.

Sunday morning we then drove a bit further away to the road race course, not too far from that prison. But with strikingly different terrain than the time trial course - fields decorated with jagged boulders and sheep, gently rolling hills, wide-open stretches with stiff head and cross winds, and the funnest rollercoaster hills ever coming in to the finish line.

Leave a little room for John!
Our plan
We came up with a simple strategy for each of the races but we had no idea if it would work. It was based on what's worked in the past, though, so we knew we had a chance - depending on what our competition had planned for us, of course.

We had no idea going into the race though, that the Chris Black name on the preregistered list, was THE Chris Black of Morgan Stanley who I had seen ride himself onto the podium at Nationals in Bend, Oregon last summer and who had just become eligible to race in our group.

Registration and criterium location

John takes 5th in the crit
In the criterium yesterday morning, the racing was aggressive with several of the larger teams and stronger fastmen making moves and trying to get away. But we all worked and kept it together. A lot of guys were correctly trying to save their legs since if you ride a fast TT in the afternoon you'll gain more time than you could in the crit.

Our plan was to try to get our designated sprinter, John Schaupp, the win. So, we took turns making sure we were protected and close to the front and on the last lap I gunned it, got to the front with John on my wheel and led him through the last corner.

I thought it was a good leadout but I ran out of gas a little early and as John blasted around and off my wheel, some of the other guys counterattacked and John had to battle instead of having a short ride to the line. He hung tough and took 5th. No time bonus for us (the first three got bonuses). But it was exactly what we wanted to try and we were happy it had almost worked.

The sun sets on us after the TT
Every man for himself
Then yesterday afternoon, we headed out for our 4:30 start in the time trial. We got there early enough to fine-tune our race rigs and warm up. I had brought an aero helmet and clip-ons for John since he only had his road bike. Bob, same as last year, had borrowed Ben-Jacques Maynes' incredible Easton disc rear wheel and deep-dish front. I was on a full TT bike for the first time and hoping to ride a top time.

Warming the engine, TT bike ready
After murdering ourselves on the windy, bumpy 10-mile time trial - John getting stung in the leg by one of the thousands of honeybees returning to their hives that surround the orchards, we hung around and waited for the results. We felt like we'd paced ourselves well and hid ridden good times so we were a little unhappy to find out that Chris Black had taken a minute and half out of me.

I now sat in 6th overall and Bob was in 10th. The good news is we both went faster than last years, Bob by 4 seconds and I chopped more than a minute off my time. John rode strong but was at a disadvantage on a non-aero bike with road wheels fighting the wind down there.

Bob ready to rock & roll
Hammer hammered the time trial
It was nice seeing Jack Kelso, Lloyd Rath, Richard Shields and Larry Wolff of Team Hammer Nutrition riding so strong. I believe Jack and Larry took 3rd and 4th. Great riding guys!

After spending so much time at the TT that the sun had almost set, we headed into town for a quality meal at the Vineyard restaurant. Highly recommended but be sure to make reservations, and I'd say skip the dessert.

Road race teamwork
At dinner, back at the hotel and at breakfast Sunday morning we discussed what to do in the 51-mile, 3-lap road race. We expected the bigger teams to attack from the gun to try to isolate the yellow jersey Chris Black and try to tire him out. But, though there were some minor accelerations, no one put in a real dig until Bob rocketed off the front as if one of those time trial bees had stung him.

Up with the sun for the road race
Yeah, Bob!
It was the perfect move. Unexpected, powerful and timed just right. Almost immediately the Team Bike Trip colors were a quarter of a mile up the road and the race was on. Eventually three riders bridged up to Bob and their little group put the pressure on, while John and I were able to sit in the pack riding wheels and hiding from the wind. Chris had no choice but to take the lead and tow the pack up the long, wide-open roads into the wind.

Superman Chris Black responds with class
It was impressive seeing him work so hard and keep the pace so high mile after mile - a group of four trading pulls up the road versus just him. The few times other riders went to the front or Chris dropped back to rest, John went to the front and started blocking forcing him to have to jump ahead and reset the pace back to catch mode. Great tactics by John and exactly what we had talked about doing..

The view from our parking spot
It took Chris an entire lap, but he finally pulled Bob back with a series of about six 20-pedal 400-watt accelerations that hurt some of the guys drafting him. He made the catch on the Paris-Roubaix section of the course that's famous for how rough it is (makes Copperopolis look tame) and where every inch has to be earned because the broken pavement, bumps, holes and worse will stop you cold if you don't keep stomping too big a gear and torquing your handlebars not to get bounced into the ditch. Lots of flat tires and jettisoned bottles here and all kinds of chain chatter plus the machine-gun rat, tat, tat, tat, tat of STI lever vibrations.

John's turn!
With Bob back in the fold, and right on cue, John shot from a few riders back and attacked Chris - and then did it again. Both times Chris quickly closed the gap. I could see that they were explosive jumps from John leaving him shattered and it sure looked to me like Chris was starting to get a little tired.

My turn
Our plan was going exactly how we expected. The only part missing was the other teams attacking Chris. But with Bob having taken the race into his own hands for an entire lap and now John using the last of his reserves to put in his digs, it was pretty obvious that no one would - or could attack again unless it was me. So, after waiting for a few seconds to see if any other teams had any strength left, and not seeing anyone jumping, I took off as hard as I could.

A lot of people don't like this terrible section of road, but I love it because it's all about powering in too big a gear and trying to ride over the tops of the bumps kind of like cyclocross that was my favorite racing for several seasons way back when. So, while it was a painful attack I put in, it was also kind of fun. Yet it was equal parts awesome and depressing how Chris' shadow appeared next to me on the road. As soon as I saw it I stopped pedaling hoping he wouldn't counterattack me because he might have gapped me.

Could he possibly be tiring?
He must have been getting tired because he sat on me rather than jump me. And as soon as I recovered I jumped again and tried to go harder for longer. When I sat down, I knew he wasn't on my wheel but I didn't want to look back. Then, probably three seconds later, he was back. Impressive and enough to make me realize I wasn't going to be breaking away from him out on the open road.

We then started trading pulls and got caught by San Jose Bike Club's David Stockwell and Kevin Willitts from Team Bicycles Plus/Sierra Nevada and together we increased our gap all the way around lap three. Later I learned from Bob and John that the attacks John and I put in had blown up the remaining group and there weren't enough guys to work together to pull us back.

Our little group off the front rode a nice, tight echelon and covered the final 15 miles efficiently. I wasn't sure who would be the strongest if it came down to a sprint, but I was determined to wait as long as possible and not let anyone sit on my wheel and come around at the end.

My favorite finish
I mentioned the rollercoaster hills leading to the finish line. The refs' and scorers' table sits at the top of the 4th (maybe 5th) steep little hill in a row with deep valleys between. You've just come off this miserable beat-up old road and the pavement over these highs and lows is glass-smooth. Plus there's a ripping tailwind.

Refueling on the way home
Live for the  hills
I was in front coming into the first hill and I just stood and powered over it without even shifting, rear tire slipping from the effort - probably on a 53/15. It killed my legs but I knew if I could get a gap I could coast down the other side and recover.

I shot a glance back and was relieved to see I'd already opened a pretty sizable lead. So I repeated the explode-up, rest-down riding and crossed the line alone to win the road race for the third time in three tries. I still can't quite believe it.

Click to zoom!
In the overall results (left) I finished second to Chris the winner.

Thank you Bob and John for working so hard for me and being such awesome teammates! And a tip of the helmet to Chris Black for riding like the champion he is. Kudos to Larry Wolff and Jack Kelso and SJBC's Jonathan Sek and David Stockwell who rode so tough and all you other great 55+ers. See you next time!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Racing Again!

By Geoff Drake

It's funny that I make my living in social media and writing but never seem to have the time to do a blog story. Anyway, I've been lucky enough to do a few events this year, so I thought it might be time for an update.

I'm racing mountain bikes again for the first time in three years. I've been third twice, mostly recently behind my former teammate, Steve Heaton; and Eric Squires. These guys are hella fast! I think I'm the series leader at this point, but since I'll miss the next two due to book signings, so much for that!

Meredith and I did the 64-mile version of the LKHC Mega-Enduro time trial, on the tandem. I kept promising her that it wouldn't rain, but of course it did, nonstop. But she was a trooper. I think we were third in that distance category, even though my awesome teammates (Mark, Nils and Jim) smoked our time and they were doing the 102-mile version! They set a record in 4:37.

And I was fourth at the CCCX road race March 4. Clark Foy went off the front early. I saw him go and went after him. I was half way across, by myself, when I looked back and decided the field was going to absorb us both. I was hurting, going straight into a headwind. But I should have dug deeper and kept going, because Clark stayed away and won solo!

I recovered for a lap, then just started attacking, because I hate field sprints. Eventually I got away with three others, including our former teammate, Russ, who eventually dropped back, and Kevin Susko, the eventual 55-plus winner. I decided I could take this small group in the sprint for second...wrong! I should have attacked on the last hill and tried to get away. Dennis Pederson did a great job in the race, helping monitor things at the front. He had won some events at the track just a day earlier.

Nonetheless, I guess fourth is okay (not third, as it appears in this picture), and I felt good. Fun to be racing again!

(Thanks Bill Bushnell for the tandem photo.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Novice Track Racing, Cat 3/4/5, 3/3/2012

By Dennis Pedersen

This year the NCVA is offering a new series of weekend "novice races" that cater mostly to juniors and beginners... but also with races for old guys like me. The first one was last Saturday. I hadn't raced on the oval track since last Fall, so I was looking forward to racing at Hellyer Park's velodrome again.

First up were our timed flying-200-meter individual time trials. I was one of the last up and managed a 13.08-second run. Not my best (which is 12.48). I sometimes have a wobble in the steering during these maximum efforts, and that happened this time. But it seemed everybody else was a bit slow too, perhaps because of the wind, so I ended up well placed; I think 3rd or 4th.

This was followed by a 12-lap "scratch race." They ended up shifting us Masters away from the planned race, with juniors and women, and into the open-age Category 3/4/5 race. That ended up being fine with me, since I was able to jump with 1.5 laps remaining and solo to 1st place. Woo-hoo! As a sprinter it's usually better for me to wait until we have maybe a half-lap remaining... but I knew guys like Andreas Vogel could probably out-sprint me at that distance, hence my decision to jump much sooner. (Video on FaceBook.)

Then we did some cool standing-start-500-meter individual time trials. I'd never done one of these before, though it's the same concept as the 1-kilometer I did back in 2007. Michael Wesley was our "holder" and did a great job of holding me while I was clipped into both pedals, on my bike, at the ready on the track. They even had a very Pro-sounding starting audio signal. I actually had the best start of the day, but faded a bit toward the end. Anthony Borba consoled me by saying the wind picked up during my run. Even so, I think I got 3rd fastest time.

Last up was our Cat 3/4/5 15-lap "points race." I won the first sprint, on lap 5, giving me 5 points. But I got boxed in on the second sprint, on lap 10, for zero points. For the final sprint I again managed to take the win, giving me a total of 10 points. But "Scott," from Chico Corsa, had managed two 2nds, plus a 1st, giving him 11 points. So, I got 2nd place. (Video on YouTube.)

As always, I had a great time and was really happy I made it to this race. I'm looking forward to the rest of the track-racing season!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ed Price Patterson Road Race (Early Bird Road Race)

By Ed Price

After six or seven minutes on the "main climb", with no end in sight and suffering in my 34 x 23, I started to regret the hard pace I set from the bottom and wondered why I believed Bob in the first place.  With no formal group training rides these last four months, a lack of fitness and an excess of body fat, my teammate and good friend, Bob Montague encouraged me to enter the Early Bird Road Race in Patterson last Saturday because it wasn't a difficult course, a route he described as "relatively flat on the way out with a short six or seven minute climb at the turnaround and downhill most of the way back".

I know time can be compressed when recalling periods of suffering from past events.  After the race I realized that I had just read a research journal article that morning that suggested that we perform selective editing of our memories of stressful times as a coping mechanism, but the oxygen concentrations of the blood in my brain were too low to think of that during the race.

A perfect example of this selective memory editing is the fact that every time (16 in total) I finish the Copperopolis road race, I swear I will never ride it again, but after ten months of "selective memory editing", I sign up for another year, thinking to myself that it wasn't that bad, the climb isn't too long or too steep, and the roads aren't that rough, only to realize once the race gets underway that indeed, the climb is very long, very steep and the roads are some of the roughest in the state.  

Bob's strategy was to get away with a small group about 3 miles from the start of the big climb, arrive at the bottom with a minute lead and try and crest the climb with the leaders of the main chase group, knowing it would be hard for his breakaway companions to stay away all the way back to the finish line with most of the strongest riders chasing.

My job was to block, "clog the front" and set a false tempo at the head of the chase group once Bob "flew the coup".  Unfortunately, the 35 mile per hour headwind all the way out put a damper on Bob's strategy. 

The relatively flat route out the way out that Bob described didn't seem that flat to me.  I watched as my altimeter flashed out the numbers; 150 feet at the start, then we slowly climbed up and up and up, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000, 1100, 1200 feet.  Maybe we already passed the "big climb" but I knew that the mileage told otherwise.  The course was 22 miles out and we were only at mile 18, so the "big climb" was still ahead of us.

The headwind was terrific, blowing directly into the group, making it difficult to hold the wheel in front but keeping the group together for it was impossible for anyone to gain more than a few yards on the peleton.

The road surface was littered with large and deep pot holes and lots and lots of rocks, gravel, pebbles, small rocks, medium size rocks, large rocks and even some small boulders.  There were numerous flats in my race and I saw many riders alongside the road, some waiting for help, others walking their bike and a few changing their own flat.

When my Garmin's altimeter read 13%, I knew we were finally on the big climb but my mileage showed we still had almost three miles to go.  I should have known right then and there this couldn't be a six or seven minute climb because three miles in six minutes is 30 miles per hour and my speed was down to 8 miles per hour.

Low arterial oxygen concentrations in the brain prevented me from performing a quick and relatively easy mathematically calculation; "8 miles is to 60 minutes as 3 miles is to X minutes", and then solve for X.".  If I had done that calculation, I would have realized that the climb was going to take 22 and a half minutes, assuming I could keep up the same pace I was currently at, which it turned out, I could not.

The top six or seven riders pushed the pace when the climb started to get steep and I was right behind the second chase group of 12 to 13 for quite some time, but I began to lose contact after 10 to 12 minutes and found myself in "no mans land".  Where was the top?  Still one more mile to go.  Where was Bob to give him a piece of my mind?  Coming up behind me but I was breathing so hard that I could barely utter a single word when he caught me.  Where was my 27 cog?  It was at home, not on my bike where it belonged!

Bob and I reached the summit (2250 feet) within a second of each other and then plunged down the windy, rain soaked, muddy, pot holed and rocky descent.  I am a pretty good descender but the conditions were about as dangerous as it gets, and then to top it off, it started to rain.

Twice I took turns all the way to within a foot of the road's end, in the other lane and with one foot clicked out of the pedal because I didn't want to lean my bicycle.  Bob got away from me on the downhill after my second missed turn and then I got stuck behind a rider we had caught.

By the time I freed myself from the slow descender, Bob was already 30 yards up the road with two or three other riders.  There was nothing I could do about the gap, it stayed at 30 yards for quite some time and finally, I watched as Bob and his group ride away from me.

Eventually three other riders caught me and we flew back to the finish line, it was mostly downhill and there was a very strong tailwind.  It took over 90 minutes to ride out but less than 35 minutes to ride back.

My front tire blew out on a rock with four miles remaining and I watched as my three companions rode away from me.   Rather than lose five minutes changing a flat, I rode on the rim to the finish, placing 27th.  Bob was a fine 17th place.

All in all I was happy with my performance, with a lower gear on the back, a bit easier pace at the beginning of the "big climb" and no flat tire, I might have placed a bit higher but that's bike racing.

 I don't fault Bob for his description of the race course, although he said afterwards he "forgot" about the 1200 feet of climbing to reach the 1000 foot "big climb" and the last time the "big" climb did seem like six or seven minutes, but obviously he was mistaken.

Even though I knew my race fitness was poor, I thought the race would either "give me a kick in the bottom" to jump-start a hard training program or it would discourage me from even trying.  Fortunately the former, not the latter occurred, and I am now in the mood for some structured and hard riding. 

Next race?  Cantua Creek for sure (February 18th) and maybe the Central Coast Circuit race a week before (2/11).

Ed Price