Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wente Vineyards Road Race 55+ 1/2/3 4/28/2012

Wente Warriors: Scott, Jim & Joe (Bob had to leave)
2012 Wente Vineyards Road Race
by Jim Langley

Wente is turning out to be one of my favorite races and yesterday's was my best performance there yet with a 3rd in the 55+ 1/2/3s thanks to help from my super-strong teammate Joe Platin. It was a spectacular day, sunny, about 70 degrees and only mild winds.

Small field, casual start
Our field rolled out with about 28 riders for the 4 laps around the course. Because the lap count doesn't start until you cross the start/finish at the top of the big climb, we actually had to do that tough stretch that seems to go up so far it meets the sky, a brutal 5 times. Wente is also perhaps the longest race of the year for us at around 65 miles.

Fortunately, the first and second laps were pretty mellow with only a few guys testing their legs and no real gaps opening. The third lap saw a much fiercer group attack the climb and it took a major effort to hang on. But we started lap four with most of the group intact and Joe and I still riding strong.

At the front the 4th time up the climb
Expecting major attacks from the sizable Morgan Stanley team, riding for Steve Archer who has won about every race he's entered this year and a few Webcor guys supporting Kevin Susco who has also been dominant - and went solo for the win at Sea Otter, Joe and I set a fast pace up the climb and well past the start/finish. I was out front, which was probably a mistake but it did seem to stop any attacks.

So, the group was still together on the fast descent to the valley floor and the Morgan Stanleys moved to the front to try to open a gap before we hit the rollers down there. Joe and I scrambled to hang on the back and not get gapped through the corners.

One crash but only one guy went down
Earlier a Taleo guy had ridden off the road in these same corners on the descent and broken his collarbone. The strange thing about Wente is that you have mostly open roads, but they let other cyclists use them. So, you'll come tearing around a corner and you'll almost run smack into a tourist stopped in the road enjoying the view. We still don't know what took out the Taleo rider.

Ready, set, go!
When we got to the bottom of the descent and took the hard right to start the rolling section with only about 12 miles to the finishing line, we saw Steve Archer and Kevin Susco make a little move off the front. It's only a gradual uphill there, not steep at all. And you've just come down the long hill and should have had some decent rest.

But there's something difficult there. It doesn't look very steep but it hurts and you can't gain ground. So, with just a little attack, Steve and Kevin opened a gap on the group. I was right next to Joe because we had expected it and moved to the front behind Steve and Kevin but already they had a 50-yard gap. I didn't want to get gapped any more than that and Joe seemed to be waiting for me, so I gunned it and tried to accelerate and latch onto the leaders.

They're gone
It was a hard effort but all it did was keep them from expanding their lead. I decided to look back and see where Joe was and was amazed that he had already dropped back to the group and that I was now well out in No Man's Land. I decided I had to chase and chase hard and catch the leaders who were trading pulls.

At first I couldn't close the gap at all. They seemed to be pulling away with their tight pacelining. But, I know I can time trial with almost anyone and I didn't think they'd want to go too hard for fear of giving the other guy the advantage on the long climb.

Joe helps me out by blocking
Also, I knew that Joe was blocking behind me so it would be hard for the chase group to catch me. That gave me confidence and I put my head down and worked as hard as I could. I could see them and I knew I was matching their pace after a while. That meant I could close the distance if I could increase my speed so I punished my legs and kept aero and focused on reeling them in. It took about 5 miles but I caught them at the top of the last steep climb before you go down onto the flats that lead past the road the race starts on.

I probably should have sat behind them and rested at that point, but I was so happy to actually chase them down - and to be riding with the guys who keep winning every race by riding off the front - that I went right past them and took a long, hard pull. They were very surprised to see me. But we started rotating perfectly and kept that up until the sharp right turn that starts the long uphill drag to the finish line.

Thanks guys!
I was pretty beat-up by this point. The chase had worn my legs out and trading pulls with Steve and Kevin was not very smart in terms of recovery. I knew they were going to attack at the bottom and the race would be decided right there. And, I also knew I didn't have the legs to go with them. But they did something really cool then. Just before going for it, they both said, 'great job chasing us down, Jim.'

Then they took off and I got dropped again. I tried to match their pace but couldn't and had to find my own tempo or risk blowing up. It was a struggle keeping any kind of effort up the hill and I was worried all the way to the line that the group would overtake me from behind. But I made it and it was about 30 seconds before the 4th place guy came across.

All in all, it was one of my best finishes in quite a while. I still have a ways to go to compete with the likes of champions like Steve Archer and Kevin Susco, but I was finally with them late in a race and had a chance. If I had made a few different choices out there, who knows what might have been possible? Thanks for the awesome support Joe.

PS: Wente has to be one of the best races of the year. They have more age groups than anyone; they have the nicest course with the best course marshals; they gave prizes down to 8th place in every race(!); and they actually give real prizes: for 3rd, I got a pound of Starbucks coffee, $15, a nice T-shirt, a water bottle, 2 wine-tasting coupons and a bottle of wine.

PSS: Hat's off to Scott Martin who took an awesome 4th place in the 55+ 4/5s which had almost 60 riders in it. And great job by Bob Montague in that race, too, who took 9th. Also Dan Perry took 4th in the 35+ 4s race. Way to go, Dan!

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