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.