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!

1 comment:

Dennis the Mennis said...

Thanks for posting such an awesome combined report; your two perspectives really gave us a sense of how the race unfolded. And congratulations to you both on your strong finishes!