Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Berkeley Hills Road Race, 55+ Cat 4
By Bob Montague
Sunday was the Berkeley Hills Road Race. I did this race a couple of years ago, but I think I was in the 35+ 4/5 race. The race takes place on an 18 mile loop around the San Pablo Reservoir, north of Orinda. It is defined by three category 4 climbs known as the "3 bears", none of which is particularly steep. They vary in length from "baby bear" to "papa bear". And the race finishes at the top of "papa bear" on the third trip up the climbs for my category. The climbs are substantial enough that I had not planned on entering this race. I got dropped pretty hard in my first time at Berkeley Hills and I didn't really want to relive that experience. When I saw the promoter had included a 55+ cat 4 race this year, I knew I had to reconsider. I continue to search for opportunities to compete, and this seemed like it could be one that might give me a chance to place.
As race day approached, I found myself very affected by seasonal allergies, to the point that it was affecting my ability to breath somewhat. I debated how to proceed and decided that the race would be good for clearing out my lungs. I didn't have a carpool, so I headed out on my own. Google says it takes 1 hour and 54 minutes to get there from my house, but at 4:30 in the morning it was more like 1 hour and 30 minutes. I picked up my race number and sat in the car to stay warm. I tried to call my Mom back in North Carolina, but there was no service for my droid.
Our race went off right on time with what I would guess to be about 30 guys. I talked to a guy who was in the 45 4/5 race right before mine and he asked if I knew Enrique. I said that I didn't, but that I knew of him. Apparently he lives near the course and this fellow rides with him on a regular basis (this is Symantec Enrique for interested parties).
I am getting sort of used to setting the pace when I race in a 4/5 field. It surprises me that so many guys will come out to race and then be content to just sit in and wait for the finishing sprint. Everyone can't be a sprinter, but it seems to be the way of the 4/5 races. It isn't like I'm attacking the field, but at the least I expect the ride to be as hard as the Sunday group ride out of Aptos. To make that happen, I have to go to the front and set the pace until others begin to share the load. I'm actually ok with that because I'm starting to see more and more that my role, at least for now, is to be an animator of my races. I am a strong rider, but I am not strong enough to get away from a motivated group. I am also not a sprinter, but I have enough power to provide a pretty good lead out. My goal in this race was to try and get away after going over the climbs the second time. However, another strong guy had the same idea and tried it on the first lap. I bridged up to him and offered to work with him. We had a small gap and both began to work to sustain it. There was another group of racers a small gap ahead of us, and we agreed that if we could get around them, we might be able to lose the rest of our group. We went hard and got around that group just as we were going up a short rise that was not one of the categorized climbs. I was thinking that we might be gapping our group in the confusion, but then I began to see the race numbers of our group and knew that we had been run down.
From that point, I sat in until we were back around and climbing the bears again. While the pace up the climbs didn't seem huge, I soon realized that lots of our group was being dropped and I was having to work very hard to hang on to the tail end of the lead group. As we passed the start / finish line with 1 lap to go, I was the last of 7 to make it into the lead break. Although the group worked hard to establish that gap over the climbs, they soon became comfortable at a pace that I suspected would get us caught. I tried various methods to make this point, including suggestion, cajoling and attacking. None of it worked until the strong guy I had gotten away with on the first lap, bridged up to us. From that point, the 8 of us began a rotating pace line that assured that we would not be caught by any other chasers. At this point, I began to think in earnest about the finish and what my best strategy would be for it. I knew that of the 7 of us up the climbs on the 2nd lap, I was the most challenged. I also knew that the prizes for this race only went 6 deep. I figured I ought to be able to beat the guy who had been dropped on the 2nd lap to the line, but I did not have a good solution for the rest of them. I decided to resolve to do my best and let the chips fall where they may.
I had a guy picked for the win, as he had been first and easily over the climbs the first two trips up. I began to work to stay on his wheel and get ready for the assault. We went over the first two of the three and things were going pretty much as I expected. The last time up papa was going to hurt all of us and I was resolved to do my best. On the descent leading up to that climb, I attacked. I put everything I could into it, but they ran me down in pretty short order. So short, that I had a little bit of time to recover before we began the final climb. These are the times that I race for. In my mind's eye, I can see myself climbing that last hill at the same pace as the guy in front, just preparing to launch my sprint when that line finally comes into view. The reality is that I was going all out and getting gapped by most of the group. As I expected, the one guy was already off the back and out of it, but there still were 6 in front of me. I didn't give up, but I couldn't see how I could beat any of them. This is a fairly long finishing climb, so I had lots of time to ponder. As I continued to grind, I began to get a sense of cramping in my hamstrings. I came up out of the saddle to give those muscles a chance to stretch. It was then that I realized that I wasn't the lone ranger. None of us was flying up that hill, and at least two others were having some issues with their legs. I stayed out of the saddle and found a rhythm. I passed one of our group and was gaining on the guy I had picked for the win as we crossed the line. 6th place and in the prizes! Stoked!!
I think Steve Heaton's jersey says, "Train the mind, and the body will follow". That was crystal clear in the finish of this race.