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).