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.