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!


Satin Matt said...

congrats on an awesome team effort!

Larry Wolff said...

You and your team mates are to be congratulated. You rode an awesome race and I am proud of you. Looks like I have a lot more training to do.
Larry Wolff