Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Dunnigan Hills E-4 August 10, 2013
I have grown somewhat tired of racing the 45 4/5 races. I do not particularly think it is anyone’s fault, except for maybe my own. Every time I enter a 45 4/5 road race, we ride around at a non race pace for the entire race until we get to the last few miles. Then things crank up for a sprint finish. I think the thing that gets to me is my own inability to change this dynamic in my own favor. When racing in this group, I am likely to be among the top finishers, but I am unlikely to finish in the top 3. There have always been at least a few who are better sprinters than I, at the finish. The other tactic I have tried is to attack the group and try to get a break going. I continue to think that this is likely to be my best and most successful tactic in the long run, but as of yet, I have been unable to achieve any success.
In an effort to learn what I could from a similar but different group of racers, in a longer race, I decided to enter the E-4 race at Dunnigan Hills. I found even the prospect of entering this race to be somewhat intimidating and challenging. It was scheduled for 2 laps of the 43 mile course rather than my typical 1 lap. Plus, being an E-4 race, it meant that most of those who entered would be less than half my age. And yet, I was probably more excited at the prospect than I should have been. I’m pretty fit currently, and I wasn’t looking for a win at Dunnigan. I was more interested in testing my fitness in a long hard race, with an eye to developing a more informed point of view towards tactics in future races. My fear was that the kids would simply prove too strong for me, and they would ride away from me on the first lap, leaving me to ride alone for the majority of the 86 mile race. I think I have entered 1 or 2 E-4 races in the past only to get dropped early. A few years ago, I pre rode the course at Panoche with Robert Ameteli when he was a 4. I found I could not even keep up with him on that day when he was only riding a preview. Still, I was able to put my fears aside and focus on my goals. I made the decision to have a goal of staying with the lead group for the entire race. I felt this was a big enough challenge. I also knew there was likely to be at least 1 guy in this race who would have the talent to punish the group.
I made the long drive to Yolo, checked in, got my number pinned and got dressed. I warmed up on the trainer for about 20 minutes, but did not do anything more than spin myself warm. I figured this race would be plenty long, and I expected to need all my energy. Team manager, Ed Price, had asked me what I planned to eat during this race, and I had not really thought about it. For most of my races, I take a couple of goo gels and 1 bottle. At around 50 miles, I know that is all I will need. 86 miles is a whole different animal. Thanks to Ed’s prodding, I realized that I needed to be better prepared in this longer event. I stuffed 1/2 a PB & J in one pocket, 3 goo gels in another, took 2 full bottles of coke, and mentally prepared myself to take further bottles as needed at the neutral feed zones. I rolled up to the start line about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled race start and found we were running about 10 minutes late. No Problem.
As I joined in with my group to await the start, I saw 1 guy who looked to be in his 50’s, a couple of guys who might have been in their 40’s, and the rest who all appeared to be under 25. On the side of the road, I recognized John Albrecht from Santa Cruz, the father of a young mountain bike rider who has gotten a lot of local press for his accomplishments in the last few years. I said hello to John, and asked if his son, Jacob, was racing. He told me Jacob has developed an interest in racing on the road, and had been working on earning enough points to turn pro. I said that was great and asked which race he was in. “Yours”, was the answer. At that point, I spotted Jacob in our group and realized I was probably in for a tough ride. John told me that Jacob had won the E-4 race at Patterson the week before. His power file from the race had shown a 5 minute period where he had averaged over 450 watts. I expect that’s where he broke away from the group on the final climb, never to be seen again. Jacob appeared to be a big rider and I asked John if he was 190#. He laughed and said the young man was 160#, and racing age of 19. I was hoping the group rides I had done with Tobin and Sam C were going to have me prepared for this.
Our race started about 10 - 15 minutes late and we were neutral for the first mile or so. Once the flag indicating the race was on went up, the group began to surge. The surge would last between 1 and 3 minutes and then things would slow down a bit. Anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes later, the pattern would repeat. This continued throughout the race. About halfway through the first lap, we made a left turn and passed over the freeway, turning I think from a headwind into a crosswind. A split opened up in the field at that point and I found myself on the wrong side of it. Though the gap was no more than 50 - 100 yards, the lead group was surging. I jumped as hard as I could and dug deep, only to match the speed of the lead group. I was not making up any ground, but I continued to chase and at least held the gap. Finally the group’s surge subsided before I blew up, and I was able to get back on. I immediately drank a full bottle of coke and ate a goo gel. Luckily, the group was recovering from their surge, and that gave me time to recover as well. A few riders of the 50 starters had been dropped, one or two of the older guys among them.
Early into the 2nd lap, our group was passed by the 35 1/2/3 group. I was more than a bit surprised to hear a number of guys in our group calling for a natural break. I was more surprised when everyone pulled over to stop. I would expect this in my 55+ races, but it surprised me in an E-4 race. So much so that it made me laugh and I told the group I was going to attack. But I didn’t. Our whole second lap was slower than the first, and that surprised me. I was feeling pretty good, and a lot of these guys were running out of gas. Still, as we approached the turn that would lead to the finish, I realized that my goal for this race were going to be achieved. At first, I thought I should try to move up for a higher finish, and I moved up in the group until I was near the front. There was a guy riding near me at that point who gave me pause. He had started the race in a torn and obviously crashed jersey, his demeanor was clearly somewhat belligerent, and he was a somewhat squirrelly rider. After experiencing his riding style for a while, I chose to allow myself to drift back into the group a bit. I had a fundraiser to attend that evening, and I wasn’t willing to risk becoming a crash victim to maybe finish top 5. I was already aware of the possibility of a crash going through the chicanes that would lead us to the finish, so I just decided to sit in a bit farther back in the group and do my best when the sprint started.
Probably a mile before the turn towards the finish, a guy to my left hit a bump in the middle of the road and went over his bars. I was in the unfortunate position of watching his cheekbone drive into the asphalt, followed by his shoulder and his bike. I did not look back, though others did. I did not want to see the pain that guy must have been going through, but this event did confirm my decision to simply sit in for the finish of this race. Another guy went down as we went through the first chicane going to the finish, but the rest of the race was safe. When the sprint started, I was probably sitting about 35th. I sprinted in the saddle and found myself passing lots of guys. I was very happy to find that I finished 16th. Jacob had seemed to do little more than spin throughout the race, but when the time came to sprint, he rode away with the win. Its funny how obvious that kind of talent can be. I think I got some tactical ideas for future races.