By Bob Montague
I haven’t written any race reports this year. I may start to try and do a better job of it going forward. This report concerns the Topsport Stage Race, a somewhat poorly attended event for masters racers, that I did in the 45+ cat 4 two years ago. That time I finished 3rd of maybe 15 entrants and it was then and remains my highest finish in any race. That finish motivated me to enter again this year, but this time I entered the 55+ open race.
The weather report for Saturday said to stay at home, but I headed out to Copperopolis anyway. I was already a little intimidated because the road race course had been changed from the first time I had done the race. The description said it was a bit hilly, not my strong suit. I also checked the preregistrations and was surprised to see the entrance of Rob Anderson, the current 55 -59 world TT champion, as well as reigning 55 – 59 national road race champion. There were some other strong entrants, including Kevin Willits and two others from the Sierra Nevada Team. My hopes of possibly having a chance to win were dimmed considerably, but I set out determined to do my best and let the chips fall where they might.
I reached the location for the RR and the rain hadn’t arrived yet. The wind was already howling and I could see that the earlier fields were being blown apart. I wasn’t too concerned with the wind, but I could see that it would be raining by the time our race went off. Indeed, it was pouring and very windy at race time. I had been able to change into my kit before the rain came, but it started before I began to warm up. It was hard to get warm and I don’t think I really accomplished it before heading to the line. Once there, I was surprised to learn that the officials were offering options to the fields. We could choose to do the whole race, one lap only, or we could choose to skip the whole thing and all get the same time. I would have probably chosen to do the whole race, but I didn’t feel right saying so when most of the others seemed reticent. The start line was in about the middle of the course and Anderson suggested that we do the out and back leg at a group speed and then decide if we wanted to complete the whole first lap. Everyone seemed to feel that to be a reasonable idea and we were agreed. The official was considering stopping the race all together because there had been some instances of hypothermia in the early fields and a few in our group (predominantly me) were already shivering. I told the official that I would be fine, but that I simply needed to get moving. And so, we were off.
Anderson led us out and stayed at the front setting a high but not uncomfortable pace. I believe that we all stayed together during the out and back leg, but there were a few surges. No one made any mention of quitting as we returned past the start line, so the assumption was that we would do a one lap race. A number of riders launched attacks during the race, but none could stay away. I thought to use a tactic that I have seen Steve Heaton use on several occasions. I attacked multiple times. Each time the field chased me down and I would recover, only to attack again. I probably attacked on 4 separate occasions, the last as we approached the finishing hills. I was unable to get away for long, and I had burned too many matches to figure in the sprint. Indeed, I was assessed an 8 second gap because I couldn’t hang on the back of the finishing sprint. I was not unhappy that I had chosen to attack so much, but I was a bit dejected that I finished last among the group. I was surprised to see in the results that a couple of guys had been shelled from the pack, so at least I was not in overall last place. Still, I was considering throwing my bike in the car and heading home. On returning to the car, I realized that I was very cold and that I needed to get changed and warm as soon as possible. I started my car and turned the heat up as high as I could, but I was unable to recover my body heat until I got to Angels Camp and checked into my room with a long hot shower. Nasty conditions for a bike race, but I consider myself a mudder.
I ate at the only decent restaurant in Angels Camp, an Italian place called Caruscos. It was pretty good and I ran into a few other cyclists there. I didn’t stay out late because I wanted to be rested for the Circuit Race and TT on Sunday.
The circuit race was held on the same course as two years ago, but they went in the opposite direction. I think the course is a little easier in the direction we went this year, but I can’t be sure. I again chose to try and attack on several occasions in the circuit race and again found myself to be unsuccessful. Once again, I didn’t have anything left in the tank for the finishing sprint and was next to last at the line and lost another 3 seconds to the leaders. At this point, I was in 9th place overall and 21 seconds behind the leader and 11 seconds behind those who didn’t have any time bonus from the road race. I admit, I was more than a little dejected and again considered packing it in. I decided instead that I would just have to kill it in the TT.
This is where the story takes a bit of a turn, and it’s funny how the turn in a tale can sometimes follow a different than expected path. I didn’t ride my best TT, but I rode pretty well, and it was partly the choices of others that decided things. I had borrowed wheels from Ben Jacques-Mayne, but I decided not to ride them because this was a very bumpy course and those wheels have fairly worn 19mm tubular on them. Also, I found that I was having some issue with the cassette for the gears on the disc wheel. Instead, I chose to ride my new Enve wheels. My only problem was that the gearing on the cassette was a bit iffy on this rear wheel too. I couldn’t get it adjusted right before the start, and while it was shifting alright, I couldn’t get it to shift into the 12. I had to settle for what I had because there was no time to fix it. I would just have to hope I wouldn’t need it.
At the starting line, it was both impressive and intimidating to be lining up with a guy wearing the stripes of the World Champion. I am grateful that he chooses to enter races that I can also enter. I do not have the abilities that he has, but that does not change the fact that it is an honor to have the opportunity to line up against the world champion. I watched him go off and waited my turn. I got a clean start and began to fight my way into the headwinds that persisted throughout the outbound leg. I passed my 30 second man within a couple of minutes and decided to dial it back a bit. I felt that I was going out too hard and I didn’t want to blow up before the finish. Turns out that with the winds and my gearing, I should have just continued to kill myself on the outbound leg. As I approached the turnaround, I think I saw the Champ coming the other way about 3 minutes before I reached the turnaround. Considering that was the gap between us at the start, he appeared to already have a 3 minute lead on me in the TT. Still, I kept my head down and worked hard into the turn. My 1 minute man was far ahead of me at the turn, but I had my 90 second and 2 minute men in my sites. I began to ramp up the effort to chase them down. Unfortunately, because of the tailwind and my goofy gearing, I was spinning out on the downhill sections at around 40 mph. It took me until the last ¼ of the race to recognize that I had to work with what I had. At that point I spun up to my maximum speed on the downhills and then recovered until the road turned up. Then I had more energy to hammer up the uphills. Using this technique, I passed my 90 second man before the line and was only about 10 seconds behind my 2 minute man. I felt I had ridden this TT as well as I could given the limitations.
Still, it was at about this time that I realized that I had not seen any of the Sierra Nevada Team out on the course. Going into the TT they held 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the overall standings in our race. Turns out, they had missed the start. As a group, they failed to check their start times for the TT. Two of their team chose not to ride the TT, and the one who did ride it was assessed a penalty that left him out of the standings. That moved me from 9th to 6th place without having to do anything. My TT finish moved me up to 4th in the TT and 4th overall in the race. That was good enough for a podium finish as there were awards to the top 5. Stay in the race! You never know what might happen!!