Friday, May 31, 2013

Death Valley Stage Race, May 25/26, 2013

Death Valley Stage Race 2013 Race Report
By Mark Edwards

For someone who has spent his life in the temperate fog at sea level, I’m always surprised to find how natural the dry thin air of the high desert feels to me.

My recent quest to try new races brought me to the high mountains surrounding Death Valley for the Death Valley Stage race. A two-day race with absolutely no flat sections. On paper, this race doesn’t really look like much, 45 miles day one, 13 miles day two. Sure, there’s a bunch of climbing, 8,200’ day one and 5,200’ day two, but come on, only 58 miles over two days?

But I knew better. After enduring the Everest Challenge in 2010, I knew all too well how it feels to attempt to climb at race pace for 14 miles straight, reaching nearly10,000’ in elevation with 6% humidity.

This race typically has very small fields, and last weekend was no different. From years past I expected combined fields, and that’s what we got, four total fields, with my group starting last. My initial strategy was based on last year’s combination of the 45+, 35+, and Open 1,2,3. That went out the window when they decided to put the 45+ with the 55/60/65 groups. Now, instead of drafting off the 1,2,3s, I’d most likely have to play a larger tactical role, having to animate rather than follow wheels.

I’d been following the pre-reg list in the final weeks to get an idea of the competition I’d be facing. All the guys were from So Cal or Arizona, and their race results were all from races I’d never heard of. Not being familiar with anything other than NCNCA races, I really couldn’t tell what I was up against. Based on what I saw, most of the guys appeared to be mid pack racers, boosting my confidence. Until, that is, the final minutes of registration when a So Cal guy signed up with mid pack road race results, and a string of time trial wins. Granted, DVSR is a road race, but in reality, it quickly becomes a time trial against the conditions. 

As we rolled around warming up, the attitude was friendly and supportive. A few guys did have their race face on, but in hindsight that may have been more about nerves than psyching each other out. They gave us all 6xx series numbers, which made it impossible to figure out who was in which group.

At the gun we took off at a tailwind aided fast pace. Not attacking fast, but considering Stage one opens with a 14 mile 4,000 climb, it was a good pace. The guy driving the pace looked fit and strong, but a bit too muscular to be a factor. Soon enough the desert tanned lean guys moved to the front. Two in particular made their intentions known: Gary, who had just turned 60 (and was the spitting image of our own Larry Broberg, only in a 6’2” version) and Kim, who I believed to be in my race (I was wrong, he was a 55).

Kim and Gary went to work attacking one after the other. While it took some effort, I didn’t have any problem responding to their attacks. Most of the group was already in trouble, but there was one other guy, Nick, that was hanging close with Gary, Kim, and myself. Nick? Wasn’t that the name of the time trial guy?
We were about a Felton Empire Grade climb into the race when Gary attacked and put himself and Kim into trouble. I rolled on by, slow and steady, opening a gap, Nick on my wheel.

Over the next two miles Nick tested me a few times, but our breathing foretold what was to come.  Nick was now locked on my wheel. I was listening closely to his breathing rate, slowing slightly when he’d start to go anaerobic, accelerating when he’d start sounding comfortable. I wanted the GC win and was laying the foundation early.

Different from Everest, there weren’t any 120 pound climbers. Most of the guys were built very similar to me, tall and thin. While I was now confident my climbing was competitive, I still had two concerns: I was pretty sure these guys could descend well (and would work together) and, there was a lot of race left in very unforgiving circumstances.

Based on my concerns I was hoping I could stretch Nick to his limit, but leave enough that we could summit together and work the descent to our advantage against Kim and Gary. At mile eight, with six miles left to the summit, we rounded a bend and got nailed with a strong headwind. Now I had to make a decision, pull Nick into the wind for the next six miles, providing him the opportunity to recover, or attack and go the next 37 miles solo.

I attacked.

We had already caught and passed the women’s 1,2,3 that started 5 minutes ahead of us, and now I was catching the remnants of the men’s Cat 4 that started 10 minutes ahead. While this gave me motivation to chase, 4,000’ climbs, seriously thin air, and potential heat/dehydration are never far from mind.

I summited about 2-3 minutes ahead of Nick, grabbed some water, shifted into my 11 and tucked in for a fast and furious 14 miles down to the edge of Death Valley. One of the strange things is that you can see nearly forever in the desert. You often feel like you’re not moving at all because the horizon never changes. I could see the turnaround for probably a good 15 minutes @ ~30 mph (with a tailwind), I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to it.

Once past the turnaround, the real work started; a headwind, super course pavement, and 4,000’+ of treeless climbing visible.  This climb went on forever. In my mind I kept thinking I was slowing and going to be caught. I was going to feel like a rookie, going out too hard and paying as the smarter riders rolled by and waved, asking if I was okay, or the always discouraging “Good Job!”

The final climb took about an hour and a half, or roughly 3 consecutive Soda Springs at altitude. I won’t bore you with the blow by blow, but insert several paragraphs here of endless false summits, empty water bottles, and aching everything.
So far I’d stayed aware of the fact that I was going to have to get up and race the next morning. I felt I was riding within my limits, although the final 2K @ 9% planted some serious doubts as to my pacing for the day. Once across the finish line, the wait began. Did I have enough of a gap going into Sunday?

Unbelievably, 9 minutes behind me, Gary had dropped Kim and caught and passed Nick.  60 years old, 175 pounds, this guy is amazing. Next up… Kim, followed closely by Nick 11 minutes and change behind me.

We enjoyed snacks, told war stories, then headed down the hill to get some rest for Sunday.

Sunday morning was another beautiful day, and the Stage started just a couple of blocks from my motel. Too bad my legs felt so bad. I tried to convince myself that everyone felt just as bad, but you know how that goes… by the time I got to the start, I was certain everyone else felt great.

Then, just to mix things up, they did a mass start for all the groups, 13 miles and 5,200’.

The bigger group really amped people up and they shot of the line like it was a crit. Knowing I had a good cushion, and that I wanted to be able to do some sight seeing with Margaret after the race, I wasn’t motivated to kill myself. So I stuck with Nick who was responding to several of the attacks, but had let the leaders go.

Nick was the same weight as me and was riding with a power meter. At about 20 minutes in he told me he was at 289 watts average. A comfortable pace for me, but too much for his back, as he seized up from the previous days effort and would finish today’s climb well behind me.

I rode with Gary and the winner of the Cat 5 for about an hour before they slowed, then took off on my own. 

In the end, it really did come down to laying the groundwork on Stage One. In the moment it was hard to see, but it quickly became apparent during Stage Two when guys started faltering after seemingly impressive starts.

Stage One: 1st
Stage Two: 1st
GC: 1st

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

      5/26/13                 Mt. Hamilton Road Race 35 + cat 4                                     

                                                                                                                                   Morgan Raines

                 I really want to thank and acknowledge everyone that helps and supports me in this full time hobby called cycling.

     My wife "Mandy" for accepting and tolerating the time commitment that racing a bike takes, and my mother for all the baby sitting.

     Steve Heaton and HC3 cycling for everything from bike fitting to technical training that gives me clockwork progression. Thank you for the countless hours of comradery, punishment, and sharing your insight and experience of twenty years of racing.

     The Bicycle Trip, Aaron and the awesome shop staff, the team from Mark Edwadrs to Ed Price and every member in between  thanks for all the workouts and support.

     Gridmaster:  Geoff Mack from "Grid 6" apparel thank you for all your support and believing in a friend.

Oh, so the race..
It started out with the typical sleepless night with my mind spinning on the anticipation of a hard race, I struggle with calming my mind. Any suggestions please let me know. Morning is here, it's a slow start but I get to south San Jose and it's practically raining. The clouds are low and I can tell it's just temporary so no extra layers needed. On the way back from registering I must of hit some glass so a front tire tube change and two separate number pin on session leaves me with ten minutes for a warm up.
The race starts and it's a comfortable pace over the first hill which works great to get me lose. Second climb is a bit faster, this is showing me who's willing and capable to work, dropping down into the middle valley and were basically all together still. The main climb starts and this is typically the section that determines the outcome of the race. I stay in front pacing and following two smaller climbing type guys who are leading and putting a hurt on the race. I just focus on my pace and not going too hard yet basically I'm maxed out without going anaerobic, we've left the race behind with six of us in a lead group. Around 3k to the top three guys surge from behind, I pick up my pace but don't want to go anaerobic then lose them in recovery. They get maybe twenty yards up but we keep them there, one guy slows and we collect him while the other two continue to slowly pull away. With two over the top and the race well behind us I put in some work to clear the top first in our four man group. The hardest part of the race behind me and 43 miles to go I start seriously ingesting calories, electrolytes, and liquids knowing that cramping will most likely be my hardest competitor. Half way down the decent and we catch one of the leaders, right then I hear a tire blow, it took me a second to process if it was him or me who was out of the game. With relief I keep descending knowing that we just lost  a potential winner of the race. Up and down a few more hills and we settle into the valley with four of us and a strong head wind. We're all working well together taking rotations for about forty five minutes, then on a couple accelerations I felt pre-cramping conditions building in my legs. I begin to sit in and so does the other guy who's bigger then me while the two climber types rotate and pull us for some time. Obviously me and the other guy were licking our wounds and the climber boy's should have attacked and potentially dropped us. They just kept doing work and grinding a steady pace, and after awhile I started to feel better. I knew the finish was getting closer so I started to take some pulls and I felt good. The other guy who had been sitting in looked strong so I thought he was just waiting for the sprint. On one rotation he left a little gap so I went to the front and took a strong pull and he was gone, down to three. Before the last decent one guy asked me if I was going to sprint, I didn't say no I replied " I'm pretty tired". Thinking there was two riders in front of us he replied " Just do some work and take fifth" I didn't agree I just thought okay I'll play with these guys. So I just keep taking short pulls and let them tow me. So I'm behind these guys who seem smaller then me (at least skinnier given that I'm only 5'6")  I knew they had to be exhausted.  I thought I got this. Sure enough the "1k to go sign" came, then 200 meters and the boys looked around a bit and picked up the pace. I felt excitement and energy rushed over me, I waited a few seconds to build a little gap so there was space to accelerate into, I could see the finish line 100 meters up and bang I started my sprint. When I passed the guys there just a blur and I hear a faint "Hey". I had to weave around one girl who was approaching the line herself, I passed her and I was done.
The two riders caught up to me after wards with one word comments like "really" and "seriously", I complement them both on there riding and say " hey it's a bike race". I felt bad for a moment, but if it wasn't me it would have been someone else, hopefully they learned a important lesson in racing I know I did.
To my surprise there was only one rider in front of us, so I got 2nd. Mt Hamilton is one of the harder races around, big day thanks to all for getting me there.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mount Hamilton Classic - Race to the Observatory (Cat 5) - second overall. Lesson Learned.

Vincenzo Nibali taking off at Tre Cime di Lavaredo
and giving a few lessons in mental toughness 
Today was the day of Vincenzo Nibali. The man who won, under the pouring rain, the time-trial hill climb Mori-Polsa by almost a minute over the second (who rode before it had started to rain), and giving almost 3 minutes to Cadel Evans. The man who, two days later, broke away from the field with one km to go, amidst a blistering snow storm, to take the last mountain stage to "Cima Coppi", the mythical Tre Cime di Lavaredo made famous by the likes of Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx.

Nibali masterfully rode this Giro. He showed he has guts, in addition to being smart and, quite likely, having the best legs. Today, at Hamilton, I learned a lesson in mental toughness, something Vincenzo has plenty, plenty of...

The Cat 5 race had a relatively large field, with a lot of young folks. It was great to touch base with Jim, who confirmed the tactical suggestions Mark Edwards had given me (stay with the front group till the end of the second descent, then go, or try to). And it was great to warm up with Matt, who was going to ride up in my same race.

We went out at a steady but controlled pace for the first incline. I stayed in the top 10, but off the front. My new carbon wheels scared me in the first descent, when I went wide at the first curve, but nothing too bad. The second incline was led by a 7'+ tall guy, off of whom I drafted the entire time (very nice drafting off of somebody that tall!) including the second descent. At that point there was still a pack of about 10-12 people, and I was still in the first 2-4 positions.

About half a mile into the final climb, this skinny tall guy rides next to me and the tall dude, and after a couple of minutes starts pushing the pace quite a bit. Luckily I'm on his wheel since the beginning, and I stay there for the following 5 miles. The group is almost immediately entirely dropped. I have a moment of crisis about half way through, but I'm always right on his wheel. Up until my minds decides it's enough. The guy clearly doesn't have another gear compared to me, it's just my mind commanding my legs that it's quite enough already. So with about a mile to go I sadly let that wheel go... I get scared that the rest of the field could catch up, that I would slow down etc, but we have a rather comfortable lead, and I actually don't slow down dramatically at all.

I finish about 50" behind. Ironically, I discover the 25 year old guy who won is also a former (pretty good) runner, turned biker, and trying a few triathlons... Strava says the whole climb (Alum Rock/Hamilton Rd intersection to the top) took me 1:14:34, which I'm quite happy with. What I'm not happy with is that moment of unjustified weakness. But I guess this is, at least in part, a learned art. The art of mastering one's mind as we beat our body up.

Scott Martin once famously said: "To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain. Sure the sport is fun with its seamless pacelines and secret singletrack, its post-ride pig-outs and soft muscles grown wonderfully hard. But at cycling's core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn't matter if you're sprinting for an Olympic gold medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you're missing the essence of the sport."

Lesson learned.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cats Hill

                                       Mikes Bikes 40th Cat's Hill Classic                                      morgan raines

 It was a hot day in Los Gatos, the family came over with me and were to make a day of it, since my start time wasn't till 3:10. We hit the park that has  a steam train and carousel it's pretty nice if you have kids. Trying to re park near the race took a long time, so not too much warm up time before on the line. The race start's and it's a strong pace, this course is a route I really like and it work's well for me. Half way around the course is a tight left turn that leads into a wall of a hill dubbed "cat's hill", it's a long block at 23%. I try to pretend it's not really there and just ride hard and smooth. I start the hill in my big ring then around half way  carefully shift to my small ring, one miss shift and that could cost you the race. At the top of the hill you always want to "carry it over" your momentum that is over the false flat to the down hill and that starts to wear people down. This is a race you want to ride in the front at, for safety and to have clean fast lines into the corners. Some people were surging a little but no big moves, a strong head wind had arrived on the lower straight section and helped keep most of us together. On the hill I would hit it good then again on the top section and was stringing things out and controlling the pace. After 12 to 13 laps I still felt pretty good besides my back feeling a bit tight, but people were hurting no one except me and one SJBC rider wanted to pull. There was still a half of dozen guys holding pace but when I would make little jumps there wasn't that much reaction, I couldn't tell if people were just waiting or plain tired. Coming into the last down hill I let the SJBC guy in front of me for a little recovery, at the bottom of the hill you have a step right hand turn then about a 100 yard sprint to the finish. Approaching the last turn there's this guy who had been lapped taking the inside line going half our speed, so I surge before the turn to get a little in front of the SJBC guy and take the turn fast and tight so he's forced behind me. The last 100 yards are bumpy and fast pretty hard to pass on. I'm in the drops and start my sprint, i'm in a fast spinning gear to accelerate then shift and kept my speed up, just staring at the line. I don't look back I don't put my hands up just a clean win. One for the team.