Friday, July 26, 2013
Little City Stage Race Masters 45+ 4/5
I have been somewhat discouraged about racing since flatting in the Time Trial at the Topsport Stage Race, back in April. When I took a look at the race calendar last week, I was thinking about Dunnigan Hills, San Ardo, Winters and possibly a time trial slated for the first weekend in August. I didn’t expect to be pulled in by the Little City Stage Race in Minden, Nevada, but I was. I invited my wife, Julie, and puppy, Tag, to join me on the trek, booked a room in Minden, signed up for the race on the next to last day, and began to ready my gear for the race. I really like stage racing, perhaps because it requires more preparation than a single race. In this case, I enlisted the help of Ed Price to teach me the ins and outs of tubular tires. My wheel that flatted at Topsport was a full disk rear tubular wheel that I had a pretty much brand new tire on. The problem had occurred because the shop that had mounted the tire for me had failed to put sealant in the tire as I had requested. They told me it could not be done after mounting the tire because it was one of the new Vittoria tires which have fully removable valves rather than simply removable valve stems. A bit more on this in a moment. Ed had offered to teach me how to mount tubulars so that I would not have to rely on someone other than myself to do the job properly. I picked up a new tubular and got help from the shop in getting the sealant into the tire. This turns out to not be a simple procedure with the Vittoria tubulars. There is an injector device for inserting the sealant into valve stems with removable cores, but it does not make up to the threads on the Vittoria that remain after the valve has been removed. The valve must be removed to inject the sealant or it will not go in through the non removable stem and it will clog the stem. We ended up removing the valve, making as tight a connection as we could on the remaining threads and injecting the sealant. A small amount leaked out, but the majority went into the tire. Much thanks to Tobin Ortenblad and Wade Hall who helped in this. Tobin suggested that in the future, I could cut out the valve stem from an extra Vittoria valve. This could then be made up to the tire for injection purposes. The injector would make up to the valve, the sealant would go in because there would be no stem and it might even prove possible to perform this process subsequent to mounting the tire. I have an extra valve and may try this at a later time. My lesson from Ed was really good. I had been willing to pay a shop mechanic to mount my tubulars because I did not know how to do it and I had heard stories about these tires rolling off the rims when not mounted properly. Having someone who knew how to do this process safely was all I needed to help me take this process over for myself. Ed didn’t really have to do anything except for talking me through the process. He had me prestretch the tire before applying 3 layers of glue to both the tire and rim. Each layer had to set up for a few minutes to become tacky and then the tire was mounted. It really isn’t a hard thing to do, but the job is a bit messy. I used too much glue on this my first try, but I think I will get better at it. Anyway, with my TT wheels ready, I lined up the rest of my gear and checked out the list of riders signed up for the 45+ 4/5 race. I felt like I might do well, but I decided not to get my expectations too high since I had not raced for a while and my weight is up a bit. Still, I found myself really excited about competing again as I set off for Minden with Julie and Tag. That excitement was subdued somewhat by my choice of routes to the race. I should have gone over from Watsonville to 101 and over to I-5 to go North to 88. Instead, I followed the google maps recommended route through the Bay area during Friday afternoon rush hour traffic in the middle of summer. Our trip was already going to be around 5 hours, but with the traffic, our first 90 miles took more than 3 hours to cover. The whole trip took around 9 hours, but the journey on 88 through the Sierras was nothing less than gorgeous. Still, we were gratified to finally arrive, and Tag was looking forward to his first bike race. Minden is actually a very charming town at the foot of the Nevada side of the Sierras. The Crit was my first race and it was held in the town center at a beautiful park with a Gazebo that functioned as race central. I got signed in, picked up my number and read the race bible. I was surprised to see that this race would have a different scoring system than the other stage races I had attended. Rather than time, the race was to be scored on points. Every racer would be awarded points for each stage. Racers who crashed or were pulled from the crit would get 1 point as would any racer who finished beyond the top 15 finishers. At first this gave me pause because I was thinking about the risks that racers might choose to take in the crit. Still, I see the advantage that this creates for the race overall because every stage counts towards the final total points that are needed to finish well. The other stage races I have raced have mostly been decided by the Time Trial because they were timed events. The Crit and the Road Race became simply a matter of not crashing and finishing with the group to get the same time. At this race, the top 15 finishers in each race would score points, from a maximum of 80 for the winner to a minimum of 5 for the 15th place, and 1 for everyone after the top 15. Each race would be competed for to the finish. I was excited, but I also realized that I might be losing a bit of advantage (Time Trialing). The other thing about this race was that the entry fee was higher than that of the other stage races I had entered, $135 vs ~$80. This allowed the promotor to offer multiple preems in the crit and greater overall prize money. With 29 guys in our field, I knew this was going to be a tough race all the way! Sure enough, the crit was animated from the gun. Looking over our field, I saw that there were lots of big but fit looking riders, typical of the all around profile that suits stage racing. These big engines were attacking on every lap, and the promotors kept it going by offering preems every couple of laps. My tendency in crits, since crashing out at Madera and having my ear reconstructed in my first year of racing, has been to ride conservatively and just try to be around for the finish. This crit had a chicane leading into the final turn and 200 meter sprint to the line. It became clear that you needed to be at the front coming out of that chicane to finish well, but my conservative crit mind was conflicting with the obvious during the race. Still, I took the opportunity on one of the non-preem laps to test my ability to position myself how I thought I would need to finish well. I came out of the chicane 3rd or 4th and that’s how I went over the line. Yet, I continued to experience a dichotomy between how I knew I must finish to do well and my conservative instincts in crits. Conservative won. Rather than attacking the group to get out in front on the last lap, I chose to sit in and went through the chicane mid pack. No one passed me in the sprint to the line, but I was 13th. I would score 8 points for that, but I had a lot of ground to make up. Still, I was through the crit and had made it safe. No crashes in our field. Julie and I watched a bit of the women’s race after I was done and it was a great day in the park. Later we went back to our hotel and I set my bike up for the Time Trial. I don’t have a TT bike, so I just attached bars to my Look, removed my bottle cages and switched out the wheels for my TT wheels. Getting the pump to work on those deep dish wheels seems to always be a challenge for me, and I was glad Julie and Tag were there to help. We had time to grab lunch before I warmed up on the trainer for the TT. Then we were off to the TT site at the Diamond Valley Road Race course about 1/2 hour from Minden. We followed the Google route again and it took us onto the TT course. That actually worked out okay because it refreshed my memory of the course which is a 5 mile out and back section at the end of the road course. It was clear from the riders I observed on the course that the outbound leg was fast and the inbound leg was a struggle. We got to the course and I rolled around a little while Tag and Julie grabbed a spot at the finish line. Before we knew it, I was in line and ready to go. I did my best to meter out my effort over the 10 mile route. It was my first time riding this course in a TT and I think that is a little bit of a disadvantage. I was not really sure where the effective points in the course were to give my maximum effort, but I felt that I rode pretty well and when I finished, I felt quite spent. I had struggled on the inbound leg through a section that was exposed, windy and perhaps slightly uphill. Still, I felt that I conserved myself enough to go hard in what I expected would be the last section. The only unfortunate thing was that the finish came up a bit before I expected it. I was coming around a sweeping curve and into the trees when I saw it looming 200 - 300 meters ahead. I tried to give everything I had left in that last push to the line. Overall, I felt I had done my best for the circumstances. I had finished 4th in the TT. Combined with my 8 points for finishing 13th in the crit, I was at 63 points and in 7th overall. The leader had won the TT by more than a minute over the closest competitor and had placed 2nd in the crit. I expect that he might be one of those guys who does not really belong in a 4/5 race. His point total was at 151 and the 2nd place guy had 108. I already could not win this race. All that remained was the road race, on Sunday morning. Before that could happen, we returned to the hotel. I set my bike up for the road race and we got ready for our Saturday night out in Minden. First, we hit the casino at the Carson Valley Inn and played blackjack for an hour before dinner. I made my usual contribution to the gambling gods, but we had fun. One of our biggest surprises of the weekend came at dinner. We had reservations at a place Julie had found online called Buona Sera, a small italian restaurant in a strip mall right next to our hotel. The place was fabulous. Friendly and knowlegeable service in a charming atmosphere that did not give you the strip mall feel. The food was not to be expected in a small town such as Minden. Fresh, housemade pastas, locally sourced meats and vegetables, creative menu design, and all this with very reasonable prices. We had a truly great meal and felt restored from a day of racing and logistics. A good night’s sleep and we were back to the races. On Sunday morning, we were checked out of the hotel and back at the Diamond Valley location for the road race. I had warmed up on the trainer before leaving the hotel so I just rolled around a bit before the race while Julie and Tag got situated at the finish. Ours was the second group to start behind the 55+ 1/2/3 race. There were only 7 of them, but I recognized most of them. Kevin Willits and Dave Montgomery from Sierra Nevada, the district champion’s jersey, the former world champion jersey on Rob Anderson, and a strong rider from Cal Giant were all in the field. I laughed when a guy in our field mused that we would likely catch those old guys. Having raced with both categories, I knew there was absolutely no chance of that happening. They went off, and a few minutes later, so did we. We were scheduled to do 3 laps of an 11 mile loop that constitutes the Diamond Valley Road Race course. I had raced it the last time it was used as the district road race course and had been dropped on the first lap. I am more fit now than then, and I expect a better racer, but I had a big image in my mind of the two hills that must be climbed on each lap to stay with the group. The first time up the hills, I went all out, chasing the man in 2nd place, Jeff, from Sierra Nevada. He got a gap on the group and though I was chasing as hard as I could, I could not bridge it and was back in the group by the top of the second climb. Jeff stayed away for the remainder of the first lap, but that was only because he was allowed to dangle. After that, there were no more attacks in our race. For my part, I had exerted a lot of my available energy on the first time up the climbs. I also was somewhat depleted by the amount of focus I had directed towards those climbs. I had forgotten the number one rule of 45+ 4/5 racing, “never do any work, but just sit in and wait for the finish”. Even though I really do not enjoy racing that way, that is how I have gotten my best results in road racing with this particular crowd. Outside of Jeff’s attack on the first lap, no one ever even attacked the climbs any further in our group. I expect that most of the group was following the rule and waiting. For my part, my energy levels would show themselves at the line. On the last lap, we caught 2 guys from the 55’s on the run in to the finish. One was the district champion’s jersey and the other was the Giant cyclist. I would learn later that Anderson had gone off the front and stayed away, but he was being chased hard by Willits and Montgomery who were in 1st and 2nd going into the road race. I think I may move to upgrade at some point because I would rather race like that and be dropped than race the way the 4/5 group does it. We came to line as a group, and for the last 3 -4 miles, I was sitting 3rd wheel behind the race leader and one of his team. At the 1 K sign, we cranked up the diesels and began the hard push for the line. At 200 meters, the sprint began in earnest. I jumped as hard as I could, but I soon realized that I did not have the energy reserves to sprint at my best. I continued to go as hard as I could while lots of guys went around me. I finally eased up before the line when it became too crowded and the risk of crashing outweighed any hope of finishing well. It was as I crossed the line in 15th place that I came to realize that I had not followed the cardinal rule of 45+ 4/5 racing. Still, I can’t help but want to race differently. I had a fabulous time at this race, and it was made even more fun by having Julie and Tag there! I spoke to Bob Liebold and advocated that he change the Madera race to this same scoring format. It really made every race count, and kept us racers thinking about how to be competitive. I lost a couple of spots because of my poor strategy in the road race and finished 9th overall. I’m okay with that, this time. My experience at Minden has me thinking about future races. Dunnigan has 3 possibilities for me to race. If I sign up for the 45+ 4/5 race, it probably presents my best opportunity to do well. All I have to do is sit in and try to position myself for the sprint finish. Even so, I know that I am not a strong enough sprinter to win without some stroke of luck happening. What I would rather do in that race is use it as a training race. I would try to attack the group on multiple occasions for differing amounts of time and see if it is possible to get a sustainable gap on this group. I expect that the training I have been doing will have to be adapted somewhat for this strategy to bear fruit. My other race options at Dunnigan are the E4 race or the 55+ open race. The E4 race is twice as long as the 4/5 race at 86 miles (2 laps). That appeals to me because I feel I have established pretty good endurance. The problem comes because the greatest part of the racers in this field will be less than half my age. They will not be sitting in, but rather, there will be constant attacks. I like that kind of racing, but I will have no teammates to help and will have to chase down every attack on my own. My only reservation about this race would be the unpleasant possibility of not being even in a chase group, but having to ride on my own for most of the race. The 55+ open race is only 43 miles, and I have raced with those guys before. I do expect there to be attacks, and the possibility of getting dropped is real, but it is more likely that I would at the least be chasing with others. It is also possible that I could finish well in this field, but there may be too few entries for that to be a real consideration. At any rate, I am excited to be racing again! What a great event was put on by Bubba Melcher at the Little City Stage Race! I will definitely do it again, if only for the beautiful drive through the Sierras.