Saturday, November 30, 2013

The final Low Key Hill Climb, and concluding thoughts on the LKHC series

Somebody said that in time of peace men satisfy their impulse to go to war by racing bicycles. I agree. In this particular instance, my own personal battle was to get to the top of Mt Hamilton faster than the guy who was going to end up winning the General Classification, David Collet. Actually, I wanted to get up there much faster than Dave. (Incidentally, Dave is a really great guy, and I was really happy I got to meet and ride with him during this series; we follow each other on Strava and plan on going out on training rides together next season).

I got into the race quite depressed ("heartbroken", in the words of Eddie) by the amazing amount of points that a certainly very strong mountain bike ride had given Dave on Saturday, which had cost me my several-weeks-old GC lead. I had beaten Dave at Bohlman-On-Orbit, in a close sprint finish. I had beaten him at Patterson Pass. I had beaten him at Lomas Contadas. I thought I had him. But no, thanks to the black magic of Low Key points calculation, the mix of low attendance and huge time dispersion on the one mountain bike hill climb gave him enough points to put me out of contention for the GC. Especially with Hamilton only left, a race with just the opposite features: large attendance and small time dispersion.

Mark Edwards had warned me of the presence of three-time olympian and 7- or 8-time Canadian TT champion, ex-pro Eric Wohlberg in the race, so the overall win was almost surely out of reach. However, I had a very clear objective to shoot for, and I decided I was going to be as aggressive as possible from the gun.

Have I managed to clip in my pedals yet?!
After struggling again with clipping in my pedals (alas, one year of biking and I'm still there!) I sprinted up to Nils to the front of the race, and started attacking probably not even 5' from the gun. It was me and GC #3 Bill Laddish, and it was clear that we both wanted to put some time over our direct competitors. We immediately agreed to work together and started pushing it. Our breakaway didn't last long (perhaps half of the first climb), but I continued to stay at the front, either pushing against the wind or riding on the wheel of the guy in front.

I could hear Mark telling me to be smart and to save energy, but I just wanted the race to have a fast pace and to tire Dave out as quickly as possible. But Dave, smartly, was riding in 5th-6th position, well sheltered in the lead group. Through the end of the first climb, the descent and the first half way of the second climb it was Chris Evans taking most of the air out front. Kudos to him. I did my share, but had started to realize how foolish my initial strategy had been.

Half-way through the second climb it was a great "Rich Brown" attacking generously. I decided to let him take a few lengths. I really like and respect Rich, and I know he likes and respects me as well. We understand each other at many levels (for one, we both have two kids each, the exact same age!). Dave was getting antsy, and he actually decided to get to the lead of the chase group, which pleased me, and I happily rested on his wheel. He was 10" on and 15" off the saddle. I could hear Mark telling me that that's a sign that a biker is close to pop. But I knew that Dave is actually a mountain biker, used to long stretches off the saddle. Still, he was clearly struggling to keep Rich in sight.

I knew Rich was ultimately not a factor, but at the end of the second climb I saw the actual factor jump. And jump like a pro. It was Eric. I found myself boxed 3-4 positions from the lead of the group, but knew that that was the winning breakaway, and put a ton of power to catch up to the Canadian before we'd get to the downhill. Unlike Eddie, I suck at downhill (Eddie knows this and chastises me every time on our long rides). But what was I to do? I braced myself and stuck to Eric's wheel all the way down and then up the last incline. Pace was all right. At some point, actually pretty soon in the incline, Eric turns to me and is like "they're right there, let's go" and invites me to take the lead. Honored, I put in a very honest 1-1.5 miles pull, which I believe managed to put some ground between us and the chasers.

At that point I had the pleasure to enjoy the second pro-move of the day: instead of nicely taking the next pull, Eric sprinted past me and left me in the dust. In great style: body low to the handlebars (see the picture), effortless, one thing with his machine etc. And more importantly, not even leaving me a grain of hope to stay on his wheel easily.

Eric Wohlberg powering to the finish line

So he was gone, and there were a good 3-4 miles to go. The TT champion in front of me and the chasing group, including my friend Dave, chasing me. I could see them at every hairpin turn. And so, evidently, the could see me… Well, I decided that I was not going to be caught for that day, and pushed my pace the best I could, hitting myself in the head for all the energy spent early in the race. I was getting increasingly nervous when the wind picked up towards the top, but I was also feeling good, managing to stay in the saddle, and to summon good power. I could still see Eric up
at almost every turn as well.
The last turn before the finish. The chase group is not in sight.

At the end the chasing group didn't catch me; I was less than one minute back from Eric, and the chasers about half a minute back from me. Dave did eventually pop, and I ended up giving him 1:22. Enough.

I think there definitely are a few shortcomings in the LKHC points system. For example, no rewards for the final rankings: when I out-sprinted Dave at Bohlman-On-Orbit, we both put in a good effort, and I beat him, but we got the same time and the same points! Also, the disproportionate reward for the MB climb is quite frustrating. Take triathlons: the swim always has a huge dispersion, but that is accounted for by having swims be much shorter than the other two events. Or take grand tours: the TT are much shorter than the other stages, to avoid making TTers the only contenders.

The LKHC organizers argue that dirt climbs "mix things up [and] reward versatility". Well, then why not adding some running? Or rock climbing? Or speed chess? I'd be game for all! Also, there are other ways to mix things up. Random number generators work quite well…

I had a lot of fun during the series. It brought me a good amount of fitness and some racing strategy skills. I am so grateful to my wife, who understood how important this was to me, especially during an amazingly busy time at work, both from a fitness and from a mental standpoint…

I am grateful for the support of all the team, from my fellow low key-ers Nils, Eddie, Dan, Matt, Mike, Scott, and Matt S, to Mark and Jim for their advise. It meant a lot to me when today, at the Felton-Empire repeats, Scott told me that it made no sense that I had gotten second in the GC and that I clearly deserved first. I look forward to a solid 2014 season, hopefully quickly upgrading to cat 3 and being able to play some team work with trippers Morgan, Dan and perhaps also Mark!

LKHC #9: Mt. Hamilton

By Eddie Santos

For most, Thanksgiving is a holiday synonymous with a large meal centered around turkey. For the rest of us, it's a heavy dosage of pain centered around Mt. Hamilton. As tradition has it, the culmination of the Low-Key Hillclimb series brought a race up Mt. Hamilton on an absolutely picture perfect morning, despite forecasts of rain showers in the week leading up to the race. To thank the Gods for their providing blessed weather, Bike Trip put forth a solid Thanksgiving day team (likely annoying family members at home left to do all the cooking) of Dan, Nils, Scott, Stefano, and myself.

For those who have never experienced Hamilton, it's an 18.4 mile trip up to the observatory accumulating 4,399 ft feet of climbing along the way. In essence, the course consists of three climbs of starting with 5.9 miles (4.7%), a technical descent into the second climb of 3.2 miles (4.5%), and then a fast descent leading into the longest, steepest climb of 6.3 miles (5.9%).  This was the fourth time I'd done Hamilton (third time racing) and thus had started to get a sense of how to best slay the beast. The previous times I'd raced up the twisty mountain, I'd gone out too hard on the first two climbs, blew up, and bled time up the final, hardest climb. These experiences however, allowed me formulate a plan of attack: error on the side of slow on the first climb, find a group of riders to work with on the flatter top part of the first climb and on the descents, and save some energy to punch the third climb square in the face.

Staging on Alum Rock Ave / Mt. Hamilton Rd
The riders staged at Alum Rock Ave in different groups, according to ability. Group one was those who had scored above a 117 in the series, group two above 105, so on and so forth. This put Dan, Nils and Stefano in group one, with Scott and I waiting behind. The grouping did not appear strict however, as I spotted some rather heftier fellas hands on hoods staring at Stefano's back wheel, with dreams of glory sparkling in their eyes beneath their sunglasses. The lead car sounded the horn and the race was on. As usual, Nils was charging ahead of the field already halfway up the climb.

Nils sprinting while it's still flat

Group 1 already had a good lead up the road as I turned onto the course. I immediately reminded myself to be cool, and start the climb at a manageable pace. After a few minutes I realized I felt great, my body was responding well, and so I decided to catch up to the first group that was just slightly ahead. I knew I couldn't hold them to the top, so the goal was to hang out at the back, catch the over anxious, and form a second group of strong, but not quite top riders who I could work with. I was hanging on pretty well and feeling great. I was careful not to overexert myself, and eventually started slipping back slightly. I was still hitting a solid pace and found myself riding next to Rob Easley, who would prove to be a valuable ally for the rest of the climb. At one point, he shot up the road and caught a few other riders. I didn't panic and kept my rhythm. Knowing the flatter, faster portion portion of the first climb was just ahead, I accelerated to catch them so I could sit on the back and save energy, and executed this perfectly. We caught others, formed a group of about 8-10, one of which I noticed was Dan Connelly, and thus knew I was in good company.

Rob was pushing a really good pace heading towards the first descent, and I was still in the big ring churning the pedals hanging onto his wheel. Rob was all over the road, but he was proving to be a really strong and motivated rider. I knew descending was a relative strength of mine, and if I could hang on, I'd be in a good position. Once we crested and started the descent, Mark Johnson of Pen Velo attacked hard and shot down the road. I was still on Rob's wheel and noticed he didn't have the firepower to follow Mark. Immediately, I took the reins, came around Rob, and started pushing the pace, with Dan and Rob on my wheel. Once we reached the flatter part near Grant Park, I flicked my elbow and Rob came around to help me out and keep the pace up. We caught Mark at the base of the second climb, with Dan and Alex Komlik bridging up to join us. Rob and Alex were doing a great job at setting the speed, and realizing I was in the presence of better climbers, I mostly held wheel, though I made sure to occasionally take the front to let them know I was there to help out. This was a race against the clock after all, and solidly behind the leaders, there was no point to not working together. We must've shed Dan somewhere along the second climb before a fast descent towards the last climb. 

The last climb was now upon us, and though I was tiring, I still felt great, and was very motivated by the low time I was seeing on my Garmin. I knew the final climb would be just over 30 minutes, and thus knew I was well ahead of my very optimistic goal of 1:20:00 (honestly, I was just hoping to beat 1:22:00 to improve on my 1:28:XX time from the Mt. Hamilton Classic in May). Rob was dishing pain and I was matching him quite well. Alex and I helped out when we could, and occasionally Mark, though he seemed more apt to sit on. Near the top, the wind picked up and we slowed down ever so slightly. I decided to up the tempo to see if the guys had it in them to hold on, and grinded away at the pedals. The guys were digging deep and were matching me, proving that they were in it until the end. With about a mile or so to go, they came around on a big left hander before the straight away to the gate.

Stefano solos near the top with David Collet on the brain

The last mile was pretty fast and I was at the back of our group of four hanging on for dear life. We powered past the gate before taking a right hand turn leading up to the final ascent to the observatory. Rob and Mark shot up the road in a strong effort, and though I punched it, I decided not to contest the finish, partly because I was tired and we were racing the clock (not each other), but mostly because I was grateful for having had them to help me push myself to a fantastic time of 1:18:54 (113.28), over one minute faster than my most optimistic goal! This was by far my best score of the series, having scored consistently in the 107-108 range.

Overall Bike Trip had a fantastic day, led by Stefano who took 2nd with a time of 1:12:42 (125.55), 58 seconds behind winner Erik Wohlberg, Dan in 10th at 1:14:26 (120.50), Nils in 13th at 1:16:14 (117.49), myself, and Scott in 59th at 1:30:53 (97.52). This was good for 2nd place in the team division, behind The Brown Zone who had recruited a ringer in 3-time Canadian olympic athlete and current men's performance manager for Optum Pro Cycling, Erik Wohlberg.

With that, the 2013 Low-Key Hillclimb series concludes with great performances from various members of the Bike Trip team. Nils, Stefano, and I were the only amongst us to register the five necessary races to place highly in the overall classification. Stefano barely missed out on first behind David Collet, who stole first in heartbreaking fashion on last weekend's dirt climb up Montara. Nevertheless, second place is an all-time Bike Trip record and I'm sure an even more improved Stefano will be back next year for blood. Nils and I placed in 9th and 18th, respectively, as I managed a last minute shot up the rankings with my final performance. As a team, we finished third behind winners Sisters and Misters of No Mercy, and The Brown Zone, both of which scored highly based on the strength of their women and weekly recruits. We'd like to think we'd of won if it came down to just the men!

(l to r): Eddie (most fashionable), Dan, Stefano, Nils, Scott.

I managed to secure the Most Improved Rider category in a landslide, having improved my median score in this years series by 23.17 points (84.41 to 107.55), well ahead of the next rider, Joe Sullivan, at 12.12. This is in no small part thanks to you guys, and particularly our coach Mark Edwards, for providing fantastic training opportunities, solid race advice, and excellent camaraderie. With no more races until 2014, it's time to get back to training in an effort to secure Most Improved Rider next year as well. Let's get to it Gents, looking forward to seeing you all there.

2012: Eddie "Beefcake" Santos

2013: Eddie "Lesscake" Santos

For results and pictures, click below:
Week 9, Mt. Hamilton
Overall, 2013 Low-Key Hillclimbs

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lomas Cantadas: Stefano strikes again

I like steep. Lomas Contadas, LKHC#7, was a short sweet treat with a 1.3 10.5% grade aperitif followed by a 0.4 miles flat intermission and a grand finale a bit shy of 1 mile at about 15% grade. In the words of the only other bike-tripper at the race, my buddy Eddie, it sounded a bit like Bonny Doon. And if there's one climb we all know, love and respect is good ole Bonny.

This week's climb was not really on my list, as there existed a clear risk of divorce in asking my wife to deal with our 1- and 3-year old boyz again for a very very long morning after Patterson Pass last week. With the additional bonus of the 1-year old one just starting walking and very much enjoying practicing. BUT, the stars lined up right, and my wife being an astronomer and all, I was given green light.

The GC big dogs were all lined up at the start line, and it was again Carl Nielson leading the way from the very beginning, at a seriously insane pace up the first steep bits and through the flats. A smart strategy, I thought, given the shortness of the course and the fact that he had been out-sprinted last week at the end. At the beginning of the interesting last third of the race, the 15% fun part, GC #3 Bill Laddish put forward a serious attack, to which I responded jumping on his wheel and passing Carl. 

A new solid contender, Hans Detlefsen, then jumped again shortly thereafter, and again yours truly decided to go with the attacker. This second attack was actually rather short, and just keeping a steady pace (so to speak) I found myself in the lead. After a few minutes Hans jumped again, but at that point I had spotted the landmark I knew corresponded to about 0.2-0.3 miles to the finish line. I upped the pace and "time trialed" (as much as one can time trial a 15% grade), and entered that sweet state where the hard breathing of your competitors starts to fade with the shadows of their bikes.

I crossed the line 6" ahead of Dave Collet, GC#2, who had stayed with the lead group all the way and saved it for a very strong finish, ahead of Hans (8" back), GC#3 Bill (15" back) and Carl (26" back). 

Hard to say when fellow competitors and good riders respect you. But I was surely quite happy when Strava notified me that Carl Nielson was now "following" me…

Saturday I felt like the words of climber great Richard Virenque made a lot of sense: "You can say that climbers suffer the same as the other riders, but they suffer in a different way. You feel the pain, but you're glad to be there."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

LKHC#6: Patterson Pass, first overall!!

I wished I had had a little more time to share this incredibly fun season of low-key hill climbs! Unfortunately Eddie wasn't there today to tell the story in his great words, so it's up to my cripple italian-english…

Today's climb was one roadies in the area know quite well: Patterson Pass. Only 4.4 miles, with a sweet rolling start for the first 1.5 miles, a gentle 6.6% for the following mile, and then the fun part: a 12% section, followed by rollers and an 11% grand finale (known as the OMG climb). Now, usually this course has tremendous wind blowing in the wrong direction, while today we were blessed with some nice tailwind.

Boxer Mike Tyson famously said: "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth". Well, today Bike Trip contradicted good ole Mike… Nils, Mark and I had an intense exchange of emails about strategy prior to the race, which ended with the following email from Mark (I'm quoting verbatim): "The forecast is for a slight tailwind @ 10:00 AM. ATTACK!".

And attack it was, from the gun: as soon as I had moved my eyes from the pedals that as usual wouldn't clip in (yes, I'm definitely still a rookie!), Nils was already 50m down the road cruising at a solid attack pace. Folks in our group were hesitating, and I jumped on Nils wheel, and we started working together, putting on a pretty good pace. We kept leading the bunch well into the beginning of the climb, taking turns pulling, but eventually Carl Nielson took the lead. I, frankly, was quite relieved. Mark, who knows Carl quite well, had informed me that Carl didn't mind setting the pace in the front, and I was happy to let him do that.

Drafting was a relatively minor effect, as the wind was from the back and the climb quickly gets in the >7%, but it was nice to just cruise along. I didn't really checked on the folks in the back, focusing mostly on Carl's wheel and on saving energy. I felt quite good through the first 12% climb, and Carl didn't really attack, but rather maintained a steady power output (which somewhat reminded me of following Mark's wheel on the Saturday repeats).

At the beginning of the OGM 11% ramp Dave Collet (#2 in the general classification) attacked very decisively. There was evidently no way I was going to let him go, and I jumped on his wheel and passed Carl. Dave pushed for a bit, but then we all regrouped. I felt well, and I knew exactly where the end of the incline was, so I decided to go and give everything I had. Which I did. I was quite happy to notice that the shadows of Carl and Dave were not glued to my wheel, and cruised to the finish line for the win.

Yours truly in the final attack, gasping for air ahead of Carl Nielson, Bill Laddish and Dave Collet
In the end Dave slowed a bit and let Carl and Bill Laddish (the fourth man in the breakaway) pass him. Bill eventually passed Carl, and, according to the LKHC timing, I was 3" ahead of Bill, 6" ahead of Carl and 14" ahead of Dave.

I am truly grateful for Nils and his great work at the beginning of the race and of the climb, and to Mark Edwards for his tactical insight. I felt like this was a well-planned effort, and a plan we managed to deliver quite successfully! An additional fun part of the story is that we gave about 30" to the Tour of Califronia pros on that same course, according to Strava. And sure, maybe they had some headwind… and maybe they had another 100 miles to go… Well, we have a few other things that get in the way of our biking, so take this Peter Sagan! and goodbye KOM Laurens ten Dam!

While I'm still in overall first in the general classification, and with a widened gap from Dave, who's still in second, Carl will probably put in the required 4 races, and other strong riders still could (including our favorite teenager phenomenon Adrien Costa!). So the game is still wide open, but I'm glad to have brought in the second win for the team, yeah-hee!

Monday, October 21, 2013

LKHC #3: Bohlman - On Orbit

By Eddie Santos

Pain. Agony. Peace. Perhaps the only words I can use to describe the latest Low-Key Hillclimb, this week held on the brutal slopes of Bohlman-On Orbit based in Saratoga. The 4.44 mile 2,036 ft ascent only tells part of the story, as the main stretch of Norton / On Orbit is a vomit inducing 1.6 mile stretch at 14%, in which  pain and agony only begin to describe the feelings of one's legs as they weave back and forth across the road. Peace, you may ask? Well, I found myself realizing that this climb very well may be the end of me, and I was at peace with that, as long as I had an excuse not to keep going up.

Alas, that did not happen, and mayhem ensued. This week Team Bicycle Trip welcomed climbing extraordinaire Dan Perry to the fold, joining this seasons LKHC regulars, Matt, Nils, Stefano, and myself. Adrien Costa, our local junior climbing phenom, riding for the Garmin-Sharp development team, had re-emerged from a broken collarbone, and was likely looking to test his form post-injury. Kenneth Spencer, a traditional powerhouse who very recently broke the 15 minute barrier up Old La Honda, was also on the bill. The sight of these two certainly lit the fire under our Italian comrade, Stefano,who was so in the zone that we had to convince him to leave the seat post & saddle on his bike, despite his desire to shave off as much weight from his rig as possible. Okay, so perhaps I'm exaggerating slightly, but he did brave the climb without water bottle cages, so stick with me.

As expected, the pack shot out of the gate quickly, as both fast and slow riders jockeyed for position. After an initial mellow climb up Norton, in which Nils and I thoroughly annoyed the slew of riders around us with a playful banter, the fun began, the aforementioned 1.6 mile, 14% stretch, a segment appropriately titled "Son of a bi***" on Strava. My heart rate shot through the roof immediately, holding 190-192 bpm (~97%) for the duration of the segment. Despite this, I was feeling salty, and found that I had enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to keep hammering. I was mostly out of the saddle, occasionally sitting back down to give myself enough of a rest. The out of the saddle was mostly necessary, since unless I sat way up on the saddle, my front wheel would buck upwards due to the steepness.

Stefano and Dan were up the road. They were gone, off seeking glory as only they can on such a climb, as Nils and I were oscillating back and forth, making comments to each other every so often in an effort to have our competition believe this was just a casual climb for the two of us. Once On Orbit hit, bringing beauty that only an 18% stretch of road can, Nils got about 15-20 seconds on me, and hilarity ensued. Personally, the pain in my legs was as nasty as I'd ever felt. I was out of the saddle, with my hips swinging back and forth, and I was having trouble finding anything to muster into those peddles. I may have popped at this moment, but I had the advantage of watching our resident Honey Badger up ahead, in the saddle, swerving back and forth across the length of the road, as if he had been bit by a venomous Cobra and had the venom seeping through his veins. At one point, I almost witnessed him go straight off the road into the hillside (to which he later remarked, "you saw that?!"). To witness Nils exhibit pain is a rare sight, and so I knew, if he was hurting too, I should embrace the pain, and continue the journey upwards.

Once we got back to On Orbit, the terrain returned to a more steady climb, as Nils was able to recover and power up on slopes more favorable to a rider of his style. There were three guys just ahead of me and two more anxious to chase me down and ruin my spirits. With this in mind, and knowing that the end (of the climb) was near, I attacked on every rise that I could. The top was basically a set of rollers, and despite the appearance we were all dangling in front of each other like bait, no one caught each other and we all flew into the finish.

The performance by Team Bike Trip was so collectively solid, that we took the team competition ahead of LKHC powerhouse, Team Brown Zone, 358.21 to 356.79. Individually, Stefano placed 3rd with a time of 26:51 (125.67), 1:54 behind the winner Adrien (134.99), and 37 seconds behind Ken (128.55). Dan twerked in 7th at 28:20 (119.25), Nil in 15th at 29:52 (113.28), myself 21st at 31:21 (108.06), and Matt 30th at 32:24 (104.64).

On the season, Stefano moves into to the yellow jersey / top spot, a first ever for Team Bicycle Trip, with a firm 4 point lead over challenger David Collet of Pen Velo/Pomodoro, with Nils, myself, and Matt chasing in 7th, 20th, and 22nd, respectively. In the team competition, we advanced to 2nd overall, behind the Brown Zone, who have remained ahead of us on the strength of their women (we're looking at you, Katrin. No pressure.). I managed to claim the brown jersey, as the most improved rider from 2012 to 2013, having increased my median points by 23.47, from 84.59 last year to 108.06 for this year. This week's effort allowed Dan to claim the best Mass Adjusted Climbing Rate for the Fall thus far, illustrating the fact that he is, indeed, an animal.

Next week brings the Portola Valley Hills, a self-ride through the foothills of the Peninsula. We kindly request your presence.

Results & pictures here
Stefano obviously thirsty from not having any water bottles.

Dan making On Orbit hurt.

Nils pondering life's deepest questions.
I was in the saddle at some point?

Couldn't find a picture of Matt, perhaps he drove to the top? ;)

Monday, October 7, 2013

LKHC #1: Montebello

You know Stefano's full bore when he's out of the saddle.
By Eddie Santos

This past Saturday marked the return of the Low-Key Hill Climb series, once again kicking off with a climb up Montebello Road on a picture perfect morning. I've anticipated the return of LKHC greatly since last Fall, in which the series provided my first introduction to competitive cycling. Though I enjoyed pouring everything I had into the pedals, gritting my teeth climbing up the likes of Soda Springs Rd with a torn meniscus, the results were not pretty, and I vowed to return to the series with great vengeance.

Bike Trip had fine representation for this week's climb with Matt, Nils, Stefano, and myself present. Montebello is a very nice climb, totaling 2,000 ft of climbing over 5.2 miles. The first 2 miles are roughly 9%, the next mile is 3%, and the final two are 8% before giving way to some rollers leading up to the finish. The field had some pretty strong talent on the start list, including Chris Phipps, the recent masters national champion.

Nils shows (knows?) no pain.
The group staged in the upper parking lot, and after a rolling start to the bottom of the climb, the race was on. Stefano and Nils immediately did a great job navigating through the hordes of overly ambitious riders to get towards the front, clear of some riders who were making noises that made the rest of the pack concerned about their well-being. I followed Matt for the first mile, while he also weaved around riders who were dropping back fast. Initially, my legs (particularly my quads) felt somewhat sore after a week full of softball games, but it was only pain, and knew that they would be ready to go when I needed them. 

After clearing a large number of people, we finally got some space, and so I decided to punch it to see if I could keep Stefano and Nils in my sights, at least until the flatter, middle part. I eventually lost sight of the two of them, but managed to ride up to a pack of eight or so riders to draft as the gradient eased. I drank, calmed my breathing, and hit it hard once again once the serious climbing resumed. I dropped four or so riders, and went uphill with another four at a decent pace. The next two miles were a hammerfest, in which somehow I managed to keep pumping my legs despite my heart rate holding steady at 187 bpm (95%). I found a groove smoothly moving in and out of the saddle to let the different muscles in my legs recover.

As we approached the top, it became obvious we were getting to the rollers when the group of riders I was with attacked. In hindsight, I should've followed, but I was on the brink and unsure how much longer the climb would last, and figured I wouldn't lose too much time simply maintaining my pace. Soon enough though, I saw the sign indicating 200 paces, and gave what I had left in the tank to get to the line, scanning the scene for the refreshments as I yelled my number out to the coordinators.

Glad photos can't capture internal stress!
The overall winner was a junior, Jason Saltzman, of Team Specialized Racing Juniors, with a time of 26:08. Stefano had a sizzling time of 28:09 (score: 122.43), good for 7th overall. Nils also had a blistering time, coming in at 29:01 (118.74), for 11th place. I was the next 'Tripper, arriving in 29th place at 31:15 (110.29), and Matt was just behind me in 32nd, at 31:55 (107.95). As a team, we finished sixth with a score of 351.46, yet just 4.34 points behind the winners, The Brown Zone!
Perhaps the picture of the year.
Last year, I averaged 86.45 over the four climbs I did in the Low-Key series, so to begin this year's climb with a score of 110.29, an improvement of nearly 25 points, was very fulfilling! It definitely reflects upon the high quality of training with great teammates week in and week out over the past year, along with the great support provided by the guys at Bicycle Trip. This next week's climb brings Montevina (+ dirt), which I'm very much looking forward to, and hopefully will be joined by more than a few of you fine folks!

Official results and photos here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Lake Tahoe Bike Race - September 29, 2013

Mark accepting his 3rd place winnings
by Jim Langley (black text) & Mark Edwards (blue text)

In a nutshell – whether you call it The Great Lake Tahoe Bike Race or The Race Around Lake Tahoe - the third time I (Jim) have done it and the second time Mark has - it was a lot of fun.

It was about 39 degrees in the morning so not terribly cold but I couldn’t warm up. I overslept, too, and barely had time to get dressed and hit the bathroom and make the 7 a.m. start.

I also missed breakfast and my all-important coffee so that didn’t help warm me up, either. I rode the entire way in cold weather gear – leg warmers, long gloves, etc. I was still cold at the finish and all day.

While Jim showed up the night before the race, I'd been in Tahoe two days already. With 7 a.m. temperatures of 29 and 34 the previous two days, I was thrilled to see 39 on race day (although the 51 the day after the race was even better). During my Thursday easy-hour pre-race ride, I got snowed on. The cold front that passed through was cold even by late September Tahoe standards.

Chilly start
I think it never got much past 60 degrees during the ride and we had headwinds all the way so it was a slow time and we never had the free speed of past years with 15 Symantec/Bicycle Trip racers taking turns at the front. I sure missed the help and pacing as did some of the other guys who came up to Mark and I at the start asking where the rest of our team was!

The record for the 73-mile loop is 2:50:21.9 set in 2010 by Jesse Miller-Smith, and everyone hopes to break the magic 3-hour barrier that gets you an Under-3-Hour medal. A handful of us accomplished that last year.

If you can break the course record and win the event, you earn $1,000 - $500 for first and another $500 for setting the fastest-ever time. There are 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th-place prices of $400, $300, $200 and $100. Race entry is an almost unbelievable $164. For that you get to race, get a T-shirt and a nice completion medal and license-plate frame that displays the time range you finished in, under 3.5 or under 3 hours.

Typically this "race" has a much different feel from a road race. No real tactics or games, most of the riders are just interested in getting around the lake as quickly as possible. 

In previous years our Symantec Team literally fought for the chance to take a pull. Last year I (Mark) found it hard to get on the front and work, someone would almost always pull through almost immediately. This year, I'd take a long hard pull and no one would come through. I didn't feel like anyone was sandbagging, there were just not many guys confident enough to go to the front and push.

As always the race started at the Zephyr Cove Resort with the firing of the promoter's double-barrel shotgun that is sure to grab your attention - or knock you off your bike! And, as has happened every year I've done this pseudo race, it was a nervous and squirrelly pack  - wobbling across the starting line and up the first hills rather than a skilled paceline and pack we're used to in masters races; especially with no Team Symantec leading the charge.

The other thing that drove me crazy is how the pack seemed to go out of its way to hit every rut, hole and sunken manhole cover on Tahoe's tortured tarmac. Man, they close the road and give us a police escort all the way around the lake and nobody can point out the hazards or find the perfect pavement. More than a dozen times I hit something so hard I was sure I had a slow leak - Mark, too. But our sewup tires withstood the beating and got us home thank goodness.

Eventually, the pack left the heavy traffic area and double roads and we hit the more scenic single lane road, a signal to those who know the route that we were about to hit the first real climbs that lead to the incredible both-sides-of-the-road views of Emerald Bay. But not before some loser in a pickup tried to pass the pack and lead car before realizing he was about to hit an oncoming vehicle head first.

This near disaster caused a lot of braking in the pack and screaming, and also an attack at the front. Luckily, Mark and I were watching for this and we both jumped, wove through the confused and braking riders and got on the tailend of the small group trying to escape. I felt a lot safer and we were setup perfectly to pound the first real test however we wanted.

Mark attacking Emerald Bay's walls
Still, I had to kill myself on Emerald Bay to keep up with Mark and just about blew up, but was able to recover eventually in the miles that followed by eating all my GU and the cookies I luckily stuffed in my pocket the night before so they would be there if I needed them.

The fierce pace on Emerald destroyed the pack, so after that Mark and I were pretty much sitting in with a smaller group than past years, maybe a total of 50 riders - if that. (At the finish, one of the guys who had gotten dropped here told me that it would have been smarter for us to set an easier pace so that we would have had a bigger group to work around the lake, i.e. for a faster time; what he said happened last year. Interesting observation but I'm not sure we had the power in the pack this year to have had that effect.)

On the Emerald Bay ups there were two guys that stood out as ultra-strong, the guy who eventually won, and what we think was a triathlete because he was riding a UCI illegal Cervelo P4 in an amazingly low position. More impressive, he spent about 2/3rds of the race charging to the front and taking crazy-long pulls.

On the Emerald climb an obviously strong climber went to the front to test himself and put everyone on notice (the guy who would take first-not the triathlete). He opened a gap and I (Mark) followed to get an idea of his strength. I was quite comfortable pacing him, but it was clear he was relaxed and the guy to watch. His "test" blew apart the peloton, at one point we had a good 100 meters on the next rider. I backed off about 100 meters from the summit to conserve and not show my cards, but it was pretty clear he was going to be a major factor at the finish.

Little by little the pack got whittled down on the fast descents and fun rollers and flats that make up most of the ride after Emerald Bay - and on Spooner, the long climb before the run into the finish, the strongest guy, a guy named John (who had attacked on the Emerald Bay climbs – attacked and opened a small gap. Mark and I had spotted him early as the strongest guy and Mark was ready and went with him. I got gapped and stuck with about 6 guys who were riding my pace. Mark and John and the super-strong Tri guy on the Cervelo and 3 other guys rode away on Spooner and formed the “money group.”

The impressively strong "Tri Guy" 
Actually, I (Mark) was the one who made a small attack at the base of Spooner and John went with me. Almost immediately he took over setting the pace. After about two minutes I glanced over my shoulder to see a lone rider slightly behind us. I glanced back a minute later and there was no one. John kept a hard steady pace and opened a sizable gap from the three chasers. Within minutes they were out of sight. I still felt good, but knew my reserves were getting low as the altitude got higher.

About a mile from the summit John opened a 20-meter gap on me. (Jim note: Spooner is a long climb broken into 3 segments if I remember right - it seemed to go on forever to me)  I (Mark) was fighting to keep it from growing when the lead car slowed and John got a draft. It probably wouldn't have changed the results, but mentally it landed a blow to my confidence. Going over the summit I couldn't see the chase group (probably 1.5 to 2 minutes back) and watched John's back wheel disappear down the 4-minute 50-mph descent.

I got as aero as possible sitting on my top tube for the descent, I was flying! Just as I slowed enough to be able to spin my 53/11, the "Tri guy" came flying by in his aero bars with two guys on his wheel (they had to be hitting close to 60 mph on the descent). I had to make a major sprint effort to catch their wheel.

I tried to get my three companions to chase John, who was within sight. To their credit, they tried, but just didn't have enough left. I'd pull on the hills and close the gap, but that often left my companions unable to go hard after we crested each roller. We held the gap steady (John was amazingly holding us off) and it came down to a sprint between the four chasers.
Mark sprints to 3rd

Tri guy took off first, I went after him, as did one of the other riders. The fourth guy just sat back and watched, I assume too tired to contest the finish. The finish was in a coned-off lane, Tri guy near the cones, me near the road edge. Just as I came around Tri guy, the other rider took a line between us. This knocked me off my line onto the shoulder, forcing me to ease off. While the guy clearly had the speed to beat me, it was unfortunate he chose such a dangerous move.

Still, I finished 3rd place and in the money (though you have to email the promoter before he will send you your winnings) and I didn't crash - maybe the best part! My time was approximately 3:02.

To finish my ride, I (Jim) recovered toward the top of Spooner and felt better and better on the final miles but I knew we were on a slow time, had no chance of breaking 3 hours (the final time was approximately 3:05), and that Mark was in the running for some cash so I just stuck with my little group torturing them a bit by opening gaps on the stiff little rollers into the finish ;-) I knew I’d be somewhere near the top 10 no matter what happened and I was also pretty sure I was the only guy 60 years old in the top 10 or so, too.

All in all it was another terrific Tahoe race, but both Mark and I are dreaming about doing it with a giant, fast team even just one more time. That record is out there and with the right riders and weather, we think it's breakable!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Northern California/Nevada District Criterium Championships, 55-59

By Ed Price

I raced the Northern California/Nevada District Criterium Championships held on September 1st, 2013 at an industrial park in Pleasanton in the 55-59 age group. I was the last "official" finisher in 18th place, out of around 30 who started the race.

On Saturday, I decided to race the District Criterium Championships the following day. Pleasanton is a short drive and my race (55-59) started late morning (11:00 am). Because I missed the Dunningan Hills and San Ardo road races in mid-August with a nasty flu, it was my last shot at racing this year.

This was the same course used two years ago for the district criterium championships, although back then the race was held in early May instead of early September. What a difference 16 weeks makes on attendance. When the race was held in early May, my field hit the 100-man limit, but this time there were only around 30 riders. The course was a .very fast 0.9 mile, clockwise, three corner affair with wide roads, and excellent pavement.

My training was going reasonably well in June and July, I was pointing for the Dunningan Hills RR and the San Ardo RR in mid August when a nasty flu hit me hard a few days before Dunningan Hills. I haven't missed Dunningan Hills in seven years or San Ardo in 18 years, but I missed both of them this year.

This left only a few weeks to regain some strength and even though I wasn't even close to being at my best, I went anyway.

My race was a 50 minute timed effort. Lapped riders would be pulled. I was hoping to make it to the 15 or 20 minute mark before being pulled. Then I saw Larry Nolan at the starting line and my confidence fell like a lead balloon, heck I might last only ten minutes.

The race started fast but quickly settled down to a manageable 24 to 25 miles per hour average. Larry Nolan was at the back of the race reminiscing with me about the good old days of cycling. We chatted and laughed and commiserated until someone in the peleton told us to "put a sock in it" because they were losing their concentration.

Maybe Larry Nolan was not in shape, or over-trained, or under-trained, or, as it turned out, simply waiting for one decisive, all-out attack to the finish. I was feeling OK at 10 minutes, at 15 minutes, at 20 minutes and even at 25 minutes. I thought I might make it the whole way.

However, right around the 30 minute mark, Larry Nolan attacked from the very back of the group. I was right there, in perfect position to take his wheel, which I did, for about two seconds! Then he was gone, up the road and gaining distance with every pedal stroke. First, the pack strung out in a long single file as everyone tried to grab Larry's wheel, to no avail, then gaps started to open up. I found myself on a wheel that was gaped, went around but couldn't get back to the main group.

I had 20 minutes to avoid being lapped or I would be pulled from the race. I rode as hard as I could with two other riders until they dropped off, and then rode on alone. I was still averaging around 24 to 25 miles per hour when Larry Nolan lapped me so fast I couldn't believe it, he was riding 30 miles per hour and didn't look like he was slowing in the least.

The main field caught me at minute 42 and I was pulled from the race with eight minutes to go. Larry Nolan eventually caught the field, rode right by them, and no one could grab his wheel. He averaged 29.7 miles per hour for the last 20 minutes of the race. The guy is in a different class that the rest of us and I am thankful he didn't decide to attack from the start or my race would have been a very short affair.

Eddy Price

Sunday, September 8, 2013

USA Masters Nationals Time Trial and Road Race Championships September 4-6, 2013

2013 USA Masters Road Nationals Race Report
by Jim Langley and Mark Edwards

Jim's race - click to zoom
Race Details:
Race registration/headquarters: Bend, Oregon (this was the 3rd consecutive year that Masters Nationals has been held in Bend. Next year it moves to Ogden, Utah).
Time Trial location: Prineville, Oregon 30K Time Trial "Crooked River" course on Wednesday, Sept. 4 (about 30 minutes out of Bend and 1,000 feet lower)
Road Race location: The "Sparks Lake" 84K course started/finished at Mt. Bachelor's ski resort, Sept. 5 (50-54 age group) and Sept. 6 (60-64 age group). It's also about 30 minutes out of Bend but higher with a start/finish at 6,200 feet elevation
Bicycle Trip racers at the Nationals this year:
Mark Edwards (team coach) raced in the 50-54
Jim Langley raced in the 60-64

Team manager Ed Price wrote this nice report on our races, which tells the tale nicely:

Our team coach, Mark Edwards along with Jim Langley just finished three intense days of time trialing and road racing at the USA Cycling National Masters Championships in Bend, Oregon. 

Wednesday, Jim Langley finished in a solid 10th place in the 60-64 age group at the National Time Trial Championships, covering 30 kilometers in a time of 43 minutes and 42 seconds.  The winner was Wayne Watson of Denver, Colorado, riding for Natural Grocers Cycling Team in a time of 40:36.

Jim followed up his time trial performance two days later on Friday with a 30th place in the road race in a time of 2 hours 34 minutes and 8 seconds.  The winner was the very same Wayne Watson of Denver Colorado who won the time trial.  Watson won a 3-man sprint to the line in a time of 2:27:30. He narrowly pipped Joe Lemire.

Our team coach, Mark Edwards finished 16th place in the 50-54 age group at the Time Trial Nationals, riding 30K in a time of 42:43.  The race was won by a local bay area rider, Kevin Metcalfe of Pleasant Hill.  Riding for Team Specialized Racing, Kevin raced to an amazing time of 38:00. 

 With no rest-day before his road race, Mark finished 28th place in the 50-54 Road Race at Bend on Thursday in a time of 2 hours 11 minutes and 26 seconds.  The winner was Brendan Sullivan of Atlanta Georgia who finished about 30 seconds ahead (2:08:06) of Katrin Tobin's brother, Michael Tobin.  One second back from Michael Tobin in third place, was an "on form"  Kevin Metcalfe in 2:08:07.

Here's a video of the start of Mark's road race. He had nice weather and was up against one of the toughest fields at the Nationals. Here's a great race report of Mark's race:

Jim's comments about Ed's race report-
"Thanks for the great report Ed! We gave it our best shot but the competition at Nationals keeps getting stronger with more riders and more famous names. I'm embarrassed by my 30th place in the RR so I want to explain that I took a chance and it didn't work.

I knew I could not win if it came down to the final climb. The race was stacked with climbing specialists from places at elevation. So, I attacked about 1/3 of the way into the race. Ahead was a long stretch with rollers and I though I could build a solid gap. It took 4 tries and I finally got clear. I was out in the wind for about 10k and the moto ref gave me 5 time checks of 20-25-30-25 and 30 seconds, so I kept trying.

I felt strong and hoped I could get to the last wall with my lead intact. Back in the pack the NorCal and SoCal guys would not chase cause we help each other. Last year's winner, Hank Pfeifle (leading the pack in the photo of Jim's race at the top of the page) realized it was up to him and he finally chased me down dragging the pack with him, though about 20 guys got shelled.

After that I sat in and tried to recover but I could only tempo to the finish. It may seem stupid what I tried but year after year one or two stars and stripes jerseys go to guys who take a chance and I do think I had a small chance feeling as fit as I did."

Here's the USA Cycling race report on Jim's 60-64 road race.

Here's how the weather looked the morning of Jim's race - check out that flag! By race time it had improved but it was still cold and windy.

Here's Jim about to roll to the line in his 60-64 race on Friday when the weather had changed. It's about 46 degrees and with a 20 mile descent to start the race, riders were in everything warm they brought with them. Jim's hand were freezing and he didn't have gloves until he found one being blown across the parking lot by the wind and picked it up and switched it from hand to hand to keep his fingers from freezing before the start. A lucky find!

There were about 50 guys in the 60-64, which Jim believes is the largest field by far to enter that group in the 6 years he's raced in the Nationals.
In Mark's race they played the national anthem before the start and the riders had to remove their helmets. That's the first time they've done that at Nationals. They didn't do it for all the races.
Here's the lead group in the 60-64 coming up the final push, with about 3K to the line. The guy in front is last year's winner in his stars and stripes kit, Hank Pfeifle. He's the guy that chased Jim down (see Jim's race comments).
Here's the chasers from which the last podium position would be picked. There was a good gap between the two groups.
In Jim's race they started the 50-54 and 55-59 women's groups just before Jim's group (5 min. gap each). Jim's group caught the 55-59 at the bottom of the descent. The officials pulled the ladies off the shoulder so Jim's group could pass. The old guys then caught the 50-54 women but they were already on the shoulder taking a natural break - in a National Championship race. It made for a slow and very distracted pass by the men.

This was the first National where they did doping testing of the top and random riders. We haven't heard any of the results yet.

NorCal superstar Chris Phipps won the 40-44 RR in epic fashion - soloing home up the final climb with goldball-size hail hammering down on him and covering the road. Due to the miserable weather on top of Mt. Bachelor they postponed 3 races to Friday, but Chris enjoyed his Andy Hampsten moment I'm sure and got the biggest win of his career.

In finishing the 30K Time Trial in 38 minutes, Kevin the clock-crusher Metcalfe averaged 29.3684 miles per hour. Kevin is 52 years old. Crazy fast.

What does it take to become a National Champ? Joe Lemire found that getting laid off from his job was extremely helpful. His wife was then nice enough to allow him to setup his own elevation training camp in Mammoth Mountain for two and half months where he prepared himself for Jim's race at Nats, the 60-64. Joe had already had a great year in NorCal racing. To ensure his best finish in Bend, he decided not to ride the time trial that he had pre-registered to race. But as luck would have it, one racer was just a little better prepared than Joe and Joe ended up getting pipped at the line by Wayne Watson (who had also won the TT), and missing out on the coveted stars and stripes jersey. Understandably, he was disappointed after the race. He had done everything right but one guy was just a little bit better. But, that's Nationals - only one racer wins - and it's quite often the best racer. Joe may get his jersey next year when he's in the 65-69s.

Jim Gentes fans will be sorry to hear that Jim lost any chance in his 55-59 road race when the battery fell off his electronic shifting bicycle on the long, fast descent that started the race. The battery cage screws weren't tightened and they vibrated loose. Because the battery cage was mounted to the chainstay beneath the bike, the battery fell off and Jim spent the rest of the race kicking his derailleur with his heel in order to limp to the finish. He was in good spirits at the finish anyway, laughing at his bad luck.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Winters 35+ 4; CCCX 35+ 3/4, 45+ 3/4

Winters Road Race 35+ 4

My last weekend of racing for the 2013 road season. There are more races on the calendar, but this weekend features the last that is likely to favor my strengths. I had kind of decided that I was ready to take on the hill at Winters, but only the race would tell. I was signed up for the 35+ 4 race because the 45+ 4 race had filled before I registered. No 55+ race on the board. I knew I would be giving up more than 20 years to some of the guys in the race, but both Ed and I felt that the 35+ group wouldn’t hit the hill any harder than the 45’s. I figure that much, at least, turned out to be true.

The drive to Winters is enough to turn a number of racers from our area off. 2 1/2 hours, and with an early race time, I had to get up around 3 to leave a bit after 4. No teammates, but I was excited enough about this race to head out on my own. I didn’t encounter any problems on the trip up, so I got checked in and began my preparations. I had eaten some nuts and a banana before leaving home, but I like to eat 1/2 a PB & J about 1 1/2 hours before my race. I did that and got my number pinned on my jersey. I consider number pinning one of the more challenging facets of bike racing. Nobody wants to have their number flapping around in the wind, but you also don’t want it so tight that the safety pins are being ripped through the jersey material. After much trial and error, I have found the method that works for me, but I’ll leave that description for another time. I set up my trainer, got dressed and began to warm up. I have recently developed a preference for warming up on the trainer over doing so on the road. Most promotors want to encourage the least amount of bike traffic possible being associated with their race, and warming up on the road also presents the opportunity for flat tires or other road hazards. I used to avoid warming up on the trainer, but I have recently adopted a program of simply spinning myself warm for 20 - 25 minutes. I find that suits me as well if not better than a structured warmup on the road with short intervals, jumps and one or two sprints. So far, since adopting my new routine, I have yet to find myself unprepared at the line.

Our group at Winters was off on two 24 mile laps in our race. The hill lies in about the middle of each lap and it covers about 4 1/2 miles. It is mostly a rolling climb with chances for recovery, but the last 2 minutes are 10 - 12 % on legs that have already been pushed. As we began the climb on the first lap, we were catching the Pro 1/2 women who had started before us. I could not understand why they were not climbing at a faster pace, but we just moved on by. I did not feel our pace was that hard. As we moved up the climb, I felt pretty good until we got to that last steeper section. At that point, I was in my big ring and had to shift onto my small ring so I could keep my cadence up. I thought I had let up my pressure to the pedals, but when I made the shift, my chain dropped. I called out the problem, raised my hand, held my line and tried to shift the chain back onto the big ring. No dice. I had to unclip from my pedals and dismount after waiting for all of my group along with most of the women to get by me on the narrow road. I got my chain back on and began to chase. I was passing lots of stragglers, but I was worried I wouldn’t have time to catch back on before the top of the hill. It had been several years since I had last raced this course and I was not sure how far the top was. I asked a guy on the side of the road and he replied, “Don’t worry, you’re almost there!”. Not the words I was looking for. I thought my chances of catching back on to my group were better before the climb had ended. Still, as I found myself with a couple hundred yards to the top, I could see the back of my lead group. I pushed hard, but I couldn’t catch back on and had to chase down the treacherous descent. When I reached the bottom, I had the group in site, but I was on my own and probably 30 seconds behind. I chased hard, but I could only make up minimal ground on the group. After a total of about 15 minutes of chasing, uphill, down and in the flats, I was beginning to lose confidence. Then I got lucky. A group of kids on horses were crossing the road ahead, and my group had to stop to let them pass. I was back on. I had plans to stay on and recover, and I was able to do just that.

When we got around to the hill on the final lap, I made a mistake. I allowed myself to fall too far back in the group, so that when the attack of the hill began, I was pretty far from the front. Still, I found myself to be strong enough to bridge numerous gaps that opened in our group. As we passed through the feed zone about 2/3 of the way up the climb, I had worked my way up into the top 15, but I think I may have expended too much energy in doing so. When we got to that last steep section, I found I just didn’t have the energy to stay with the leaders. Over the top, I was 15 - 20 seconds off the back. I caught a couple of guys on the descent, but the lead group was building its gap on me. I began to chase again, but this time it was not to be. I didn’t lose sight of the leaders, but I couldn’t bring them back either. I caught 1 or 2 stragglers, and 3 or 4 guys chased us down, but even together, we could not shut down the gap. I have to admit I got a bit discouraged. I thought my fitness was good, but it had let me down in this race. When my chase group of 6 came to the finishing straight, I couldn’t even bring myself to sprint. I just let the other 5 have it. I finished 20th. Still, by the time I got back to the car, I was able to find a positive spin to this race. Yes, I had been dropped twice, and finished 20th in a race where I had hoped to podium. And yet, I knew that my fitness is really good. I also know that my weight has been on the way down, naturally. This time, I think it is going to stay down. Plus, the second time I was dropped very well might not have happened at all if I had maintained better race awareness. It gives me something to work for in the off season.

CCCX 35+ 3/4

Sunday was a different animal altogether. I didn’t have any expectations for myself after racing the day before at Winters, but I did want to ride in support of my teammates, Dennis and George. Plus, the drive from my house in Watsonville to the course was about 1/2 hour, a great improvement over the previous day’s travel. There were a variety of races that I was eligible to enter, but I had decided on the 35+ 3/4 race as my main race for the day because both Dennis and George were in it.

I had raced this course with Dennis in the first CCCX race of the season. He had won that race, and while I don’t remember where I finished, I do remember that I had been completely unable to help him. Dennis is a sprinter, though I find that he has tendency to portray himself as merely an average one. I am an average sprinter. In the right circumstances, I can provide a good leadout, or I can usually compete for top 10 in a field sprint. When Dennis sprints, he is very likely to win. When he goes, guys like me can’t hold his wheel. I’d love to learn how.

George is what guys like me call, “a young man”. When I see George at the Saturday team workouts, his is one of the wheels that I would like to be able to hold. George is not as big as me, but he is a bigger rider. He has great power and he is a good climber, but all of us who aren’t 140# are challenged in the hills by those who are. I don’t think George has raced a lot of races this season, and he was looking forward to this one. I think that George, like me, simply wanted to see how he would do, and I think that all three of us were looking for the opportunity to ride as a team.

A word about that here. People who don’t race bikes can sometimes have a hard time understanding why there is any value to racing with teammates. Indeed, I have watched a lot of teams at my level who don’t have any grasp of the concept. Bike racing at my level can certainly be every man for himself, but it doesn’t have to be. On a given day, a given course may be more suited to a single rider who is not on my team, or another team. On my own, the possibility of prevailing over that rider or team is small. When I have teammates to work with, I can possibly change the equation that might give that other rider or team it’s advantage. Our tactics, properly implemented, can serve to conserve my team’s energy while expending the other team or rider’s energy. That simple idea is what can make team bike racing so much more fun than racing on your own. On this day, we all looked to Dennis as our best hope. Our simple strategy was to take turns covering the attacks of other riders.

I think we were about a group of 20 as we left the line. After racing hard the day before, I had planned to sit in at first, but I found myself right at the front from the line and pushing the pace. I finally smartened up a bit before we reached the first time up the leading hill, and allowed myself to recover. As we began to go uphill, the attacks began and Dennis was out to cover while I dropped my chain for the second time in as many days. I let my anger give me the energy to chase back on. I think George covered the second attack and I covered the third. By that third attack, we were well into the backside rollers featured on this course and the pace was torrid. I think we averaged over 23 mph for our first lap, and over 22 mph on our second. I expect we were all suffering, but I could tell that George was not in a place where he could cover any more attacks. From that point on, I took turns with Dennis in covering the attacks. I think I covered a total of 5 before a lone rider got away in a break. It happened before the top on the leading hill climb, and I continue to kick myself. I chose not to spend the energy to go with it at the time, but I know I had it at the moment. Dennis made the point later that it is unlikely that I would have been able to stay with that guy, and I suspect he is right. Still, for the next 1 1/2 laps, our whole group chased. At some point, George got dropped, and not too much later, I lost focus and got dropped on the first of the backside rollers. I chased as hard as I was able, but all was lost. I rode the last 1 1/2 laps on my own, but I was happy to have helped cover some of the attacks for Dennis. Dennis finished 5th. I am stoked to have been a small part of it. This was a very fast paced race. It was lots of fun to do it with teammates, even if I did get dropped. I’ll hope to have more opportunities to ride in support of teammates in the future.

CCCX 45+ 3/4

I also entered an afternoon race just to round out the weekend. In all honesty, I don’t have a great recollection of this race. My energy was less than premium and I found myself doing whatever I could to just stay on a good wheel. A couple of guys got dropped along the way, but it was on the leading hill climb on our final lap that a couple of guys got away. The group was chasing, but it wasn’t happening. Then, I got gapped on the first of the backside rollers. I was determined to get back on and chased as hard as I could. I finally made it back just before the last of the rollers, so I was on with the group for the final dive down the hill before the finish. With two guys up the road, and me already blown from chasing, I didn’t make any effort to sprint. I was very happy to finish with the group in this race.

Many thanks to Rod and Keith for putting on such a safe, fun and well organized event. I am going to try and be more supportive of their races.

Monday, August 26, 2013

CCCX Circuit Race #10, 35+ 3/4, Fort Ord, 8/25/2013

By Dennis Pedersen

Bob Montague, George Janour and I decided to join forces in a race we could all enter. In my case that meant racing with the younger group rather than my preferred 45+ group... but racing with teammates ended up being more fun.

The race course is the usual 4.3-mile loop on the closed roads of this former Army base, and we were to do five laps. We were determined to make this a fast and fun race. So right at the start, on Parker Flats Cut-Off Road, Bob took a nice hard pull at the front of the small group of 18 racers, and I pulled through right after him. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but some guys from Leopard-Sapporo then pulled through even harder than we had... game on!

The race was full of attacks which we had agreed we'd take turns marking. I was impressed at the number of attacks and how well-timed they were, but also with our ability to mark them. If I'd had to mark them all I would have been exhausted very quickly; that's a major plus to having teammates. Bob showed tremendous spirit when he lost his chain on Eucalyptus Road's climbs but managed to rejoin us and continue his hard work. Wow!

The 35+ group definitely races harder than the 45+ group (we had several laps under 11 minutes!). The attacks really tired us out and a few times I was worried about my ability to continue... but I didn't want to let Bob and George down and I always managed to dig a little deeper to stay in contact with the main group.

We ended up having a few breakaway groups form, always with one of us in it, but they were all reeled back in like fish. Until we started our fourth lap; that's when a guy (I think from Dolce Vita Cycling) soloed off the front on the climb up Parker Flats. Nobody followed him and soon he was well out front.

The rest of us took a few pulls and eventually the breakaway guy was brought a bit closer. On the last lap Dave Porter (Bicycle Blue Book Racing) bridged up to him on Parker Flats and the pace picked up. I looked back and saw we'd dropped five or six guys in the process. I was nervous the duo would stay away, as they still had a nice gap on the final climbs up Eucalyptus. By then I was so exhausted from trying to maintain contact that all I could do was gasp for breath as I followed at the very back of this chase group as we descended from the top of Eucalyptus for the last time. But I was relieved to spot the duo about 100 meters ahead as we hit the bottom of the descent, on the long, fast straight leading up to the last two right-hand turns on Parker Flats.

Somehow I managed to make the strong draft of the riders ahead of me work to my advantage and I flew around them all on the right, past the duo and into the lead. It was a long sprint, but I figured it was my best chance vs. trying to fight them all in a bigger field sprint. Well, it almost worked, but four guys managed to counter-attack me at the finish line, with Erik taking a well-deserved win.

So, finishing 5th in a tough race like this was still an accomplishment for me and I was very grateful to Bob and George for the work they had put into this cool team effort. Thanks guys!

Monday, August 19, 2013

San Ardo 55+

My road racing season is winding down, and this year I have been gratified to find myself with a second wind in August. The early season races are generally better suited to my strengths, with the exception of these few races that I often attempt towards the end of the summer. In past years, I have had a let down in fitness after competing hard through the spring and taking time off for family vacation in June. Although I have gone through that same letdown this year, the dynamic was a bit different due to a change up in schedule. In early May, at a time when I would normally be geared up towards racing hard, we went to Europe for 2 weeks. That served as a signal to my body that it was time to go from racing mode to recovery mode. I put on weight and I found myself unwilling and unable to engage in the hardest high intensity workouts that I typically do on a weekly basis. I recognize this change from past years, but typically it has begun with our June vacation. Having it start in early May has allowed me to have a resurgence in fitness that is peaking in mid August. My weight has come back down and I have found myself looking forward to and enjoying the weeks’ hardest workout.

That workout is an interval effort that many on our team engage in on a weekly basis throughout the year. I do the workout a lot, but I also allow myself to step away from it if I feel my body is telling me to do so. When we returned from our family vacation in mid June this year, I was feeling fat and fully recovered from my early season racing. I decided to see if I could get fit again for 3 races on the schedule in August; Dunnigan Hills, San Ardo and Winters. I wanted to bring my weight back down and increase my ability to ride with intensity. I began in mid June by doing repeats on the back side of Hazeldel, in the same direction that the Saturday ride does it. Rather than use my power meter, which is currently broken, I decided to use time along with weight as my measurement. The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many watts you can put out, and it also doesn’t matter how much you weigh. What really matters is the combination of those two factors and the resultant time that it takes you to get through a given interval. My given interval starts at about 10 mph from the bridge at the bottom of the Del to the Stop sign at the one way traffic control. The effort is to repeat this interval 6 times, with my perceived exertion the same at the beginning and end of each interval, as well as being the same across all intervals. I restarted doing these intervals in mid June, weighing in at 197# (Clydesdale material). My first week out, I found I could only complete 4 efforts before I was done. My best time was 5’ 45”, with my slowest effort at 6’ even. The next week out, my weight was down to 193#, but I continued to hover in the same time range. I think I had one effort in the 5’ 30” range, but I did complete all 6. After that, I found I was beginning to look forward to my weekly interval session on Tuesday mornings. It continues to be painfully hard, but I am now completing 6 efforts each week with a best time of 4’ 45” and at a weight of 186#. The truth is this is still not good enough, but I know the deficiency is weight related more than power related. I think it is an important fact about racing to explain how I know this.

I regularly do the Saturday ride. Many of the most competitive riders in our county do that ride, and I find it a good opportunity to test my fitness and race readiness. The normal Saturday ride route does not include any huge hill, but it does include this effort that I have been using for my interval work each week. There has never been a time, during the season, that I have not seen this section on the Del used as the means for separating the contenders from the riff raff. They always hit it hard. I am never going to make it over that climb with the 1’s, 2’s, pros and youngsters, of whom there are always at least a few. My goal is to make it over that hill with the guys in our area who I know are as good at climbing as the best race climbers in the 55+ age group. I have identified several riders who fit that description. Some of these guys weigh 40 - 50 pounds less than I do. It takes too many watts to make that up, more than I can train for. For me to get over with them, I have to do 3 things. I must train my power as best I can, I must lower my weight to the point where I will not sacrifice any of that power, and I must make the effort to hold those wheels that I want to get over with. That last is a key point that I think is often forgotten in training. While the value of drafting off of another rider is not as great on a hill, it can still be substantial enough to make the difference in making it or getting dropped. It is almost always worth the effort to stay with a rider you know is a leader in your category. When I began engaging in interval training in mid June, I would round the last corner heading up to the stop sign on the Del during the Saturday ride, and see those riders heading out of sight beyond the stop sign. I was more than 1’ 30” behind them and discouraged. Now when I do that ride, I am still behind them, but the gap is more like 30”, and my time with other riders is at 4’ 30”. It’s faster than I can do it on my own, but it’s still not fast enough. There is a place, not far from where I currently sit in this, where I will know that I can reach back, dig deep, and bridge that last remaining gap. Right now, I know that to try and do that would blow me up, leaving my body too devastated to continue at race pace. I also know that I have somewhere between 6 and 10 pounds that I can lose without giving up any power, maybe more. The challenge I have is that when I reach for these lower weights, my mind has a tendency to send me towards panic mode, even though I can tell my body likes it. I just keep working on it and I know that I will get there eventually.

I am rambling through this because next weeks’ race at Winters, has a hill. I haven’t done it in a couple of years, but I seem to recall it being a hill similar to the Del. I am signed up for the 35+ 4 race there, because the 45+ 4 race is full and there is no 55+ category. I thought about the E-4 race, but their course is too long considering that I am also planning to do the CCCX races on Sunday. I do not expect the 35+ 4 race to hit the hill as hard as the 55+ racers would. The 4 races tend to stay together more and come down to a sprint at the finish. My hope would be to alter this dynamic by attacking as often as I can, but I will sit in the first lap to see how I do on the hill. If I get dropped, I will have to chase, and that will change my plan. Still, I am realizing that this course at Winters is really what I have been targeting in my late season training. I want to use it to prove to myself that I can climb with my peer group, perhaps even punish most of them. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

My race at San Ardo was way fun. After entering the E-4 race at Dunniigan and finishing well, I was excited to enter this mostly flat race with the 55 open group. I was a bit disappointed to see that the race was not going to be a big group with only 10 guys preregistered. Still, one of those guys was Steve Archer, one of the best racers in our district. I knew he would make sure the race was animated, but I had a few plans of my own. At the line we had 12 total, as two of our team, Kem Akol and Jim Moran, had made the trip down and signed up for the race. I am always stoked to get to race with teammates, but in this race, it was not to be for long. The course meanders uphill from the start for the first mile plus and then proceeds to roll through about the first half lap. By the time we had gotten through that section, I looked around and saw that there were only 8 of us left. Both Kem and Jim had been among those dropped, but I give kudos to both of them for making the effort and for remaining on the course and finishing the race!

For my part, I was feeling pretty good and I wanted to do my part to make the race competitive. Dave Montgomery from the Sierra Nevada team had animated the first part of the race and his effort had shelled the early riders. He had recovered and attacked again, staying off the front of our group for 10 or 15 minutes before Archer and his teammate made the effort to reel him back in. Our race had pretty much ongoing attacks, and I did my share, at one point staying away for 10 - 15 minutes. Pretty much everyone recognized Archer as the favorite and made either he or his teammate chase down the attacks. Still, he is a very strong racer and was able to launch a number of attacks on his own.

Our race continued on in this fashion until the risers at the beginning of our second lap. At that point, a guy from San Jose Cycling went to the front and attacked really hard. I had a gap open up in front of me and had to chase very hard, but at no point did I feel like I was in danger of getting dropped. However, we did lose one more racer before it was over, and we were down to 7 in the lead group vying for 6 places in the medals at the finish. Dave and I continued to attack, along with the rider from San Jose Cycling, but Archer and his teammate chased us down each time. Then, an opportunity presented itself. Archer saw that he had a slow leak and was flatting. He told the group that he was pulling off, and his teammate pulled off with him. At first no one acted, but I suggested that we needed to ride hard and lose both of these guys. We began to do so, but it was late and never in an organized way. Before I knew it, I looked around and Archer was back with us. His teammate, sacrificing himself, had given Archer his wheel and remained behind. Archer had chased us down and was back in the group. Pretty impressive.

The attacks continued with no overall impact, and we began to contemplate the finish. I knew Archer was a force to be reckoned with, but there was also a Cal Giant rider in our group who I thought I remembered as a good sprinter. What was more, he had not taken a pull or launched an attack all day. As we rolled through town and began the uphill effort to the turn for the finish, I was sitting 2nd wheel behind the San Jose Cycling rider. I was giving my best effort, but I think I should have been in my small chain ring for this. The big ring effort was starting to grind and I couldn’t keep up as Archer and the Giant rider came around me. I was trying to chase, but I ended up getting in Dave’s way in the process, for which I am very sorry. Still, I regrouped and continued with Dave’s encouragement on my wheel. I was starting to make up some ground, as we entered the corner for the last effort to the line, but I did not have enough. Dave came around me and took 4th behind the San Jose Cycling rider in 3rd, the Cal Giant rider in 2nd, and Archer with the win. I finished 5th as the last guy in our lead group had nothing left for the effort to the line. Kem came in a bit behind in 9th, and I think Jim was 11th. I think Dave may have taken 3rd if he had not been on my squirrely wheel. I’ll do better in the future. Still, it was a really fun day of racing!