Well the first road race of the year is in the books. I had wondered what this race was going to be like for me. I was given the answer...
Painful and humbling come to mind.
For one, the course is pretty rolling. I generally don't do so well on courses like that (Gasp and shock I know.)
Secondly, I didn't know how my legs would feel racing that kind of distance (52 miles). I've done some longer days in the saddle this winter. But nothing anywhere near race intensity. And what intensity I have done has been much shorter. So it was a big question mark in my brain.
Thomas and I arrived at the venue around noon. Our race didn't start until 12:50 (A real luxury for a Cat 4.) so we signed in. Took care of manly business (The essential PRD (As Graham likes to call it.) Pinned our numbers up and headed for the staging area.
The weather turned out to be really nice. Upper 40's, sunny and windy. I was sort of hoping for biblical rain. Mostly just to scare all the little climbers into quivering globs of jello. You know, so I would worry about one less thing...
As we rolled up we ran into a handful of Salem racers. Which really isn't all that unusual considering how close in proximity the race is. Scott, Rick, Lana, Steph, Lewis, Kenny, Kevin, and Mike were all mixing around the start area waiting for their perspective races to start or cooling down from their's finishing.
I felt pretty good. Calm and collected. But I still had those questions in my head as we started the neutral roll out.
The roll out was pretty long by most standards (2 miles). And it was funny to listen to the guys jadder and joke with all that nervous energy or caffeine or both maybe. Thomas and I were in mid-pack when we rounded the first corner and were given the signal that the race had started.
The speed instantly went from about 17 mph to 31 mph. I had kind of expected this. And since we were headed north bound, with a tailwind, it wasn't to bad. At least initially...
Because of the narrow road and the "strict" no crossing the yellow line rule (I did see several people do it with no ejection notice though.) moving forward in the group was a challenge. I still remember Loren's advise on moving up in a tight group. "If you stay attentive, and wait. There are almost always holes that you can cruise up into and fill. Wait some more and do it again until you are where you want to be." Which generally works pretty well in the lower categories. I'd be curious to see what he says about that now that he rides with the Cat 1/2.
As we continued on the north bound portion of the course we maintained a speed between 28-31 mph until we hit the first hill. Now this is where I figured I'd find out if I was going to be able to hang or not. Which I did an "okay" job of doing. Then the down hill came...
Did I mention how well a big guy goes down hill? Almost to a fault really. Because I was continually having to ride my brakes to keep from slamming into all the little guys in front of me.
As we started up the second hill (Which is right after the first hill.) it was harder, but still not feeling to bad. I was beginning to feel like this was promising.
Once we were over the second hill the course continues north bound on a pretty flat course. And again the speed rose up to that 28-31mph range. There was a lot less chatter in the group at this point. But I was still feeling pretty good. I was sitting about mid-pack as the peloton made the swing back into a southerly direction.
I was amazed at how the speed slowed. It went to 17-20 mph almost instantly. And that's where the real yo-yoing of the group started. I wasn't surprised by it. Somebody goes to the front, takes a long pull and then peals off. Only to have everyone else stare at each other for a while. Expecting someone else to take the reins. Then another goes to the front... Rinse and repeat.
The thing about the rinse and repeat cycle for me was that it was wearing me out. I did my best to be towards the front. But for a lot of the back side it's a pretty narrow road. And everyone's huddled together in an attempt to stay out of the wind. Making any shifts in places pretty tough.
With in about 2 miles of the first time around the finishing hill the pace started to gain speed. I knew if I didn't get towards the front of the group by the beginning of the hill I wouldn't be able to do the "sprinters slide" and keep in contact. But there wasn't anything I could do at that point to really change my position.
As we hit the base of the hill (If I had to guess I would say its about 10% grade for about 500 meters.) the road takes a sharp 90 degree turn. And where I was in the pack went from about 22 mph to 9 mph. Then as the elastic in the group started to snap back I gave it everything I had to hang on.
It didn't matter.
I put myself in the eye's popping out of your head, drool hanging down, legs feeling like someone set them on fire kind of place.
It didn't matter.
It's one of the beauties (If it happens to your enemies.) and tragedies (If it happens to you.) of the sport. There is no hiding. I can use my brain and all the wily tactics in the book (Minus the illegal ones.) and sometimes it still doesn't matter. They yelled... I couldn't answer.
So my mind quickly shifted modes. I figured if I could recover on the downhill right after the finish line I might be able to TT my way back into the group. I did the same thing 2 years ago. And I hoped I could repeat the performance.
So on the downhill I ate a gu, drank some water, and tried to get my breathing under control.
As the road leveled out I gave it everything that I had. I wasn't gaining any distance back but I wasn't losing anymore distance either.
I rolled up on Eddie (Portland Velo). I asked him if he wanted to work. He said yes. So that's exactly what we did. For a while it looked like we were making progress. But as soon as we got to the first hill the wheels started to come off (Not literally.). And by the time we crested the final hill on the north portion of the course the peloton were every bit of a half mile up the road from us.
We were done.
We both eased back on the throttle a bit in anticipation of the headwind section coming up. I figured it was going to be brutal.
I wasn't wrong.
According to Eddie's fancy cycle computer up to that point in the race we were only .1 mph slower than that section of the last lap. I don't know if he was right or blowing smoke up my ass. But it seamed like we were flying.
As soon as we turned south again. It felt like we almost came to a stand still. Our pulls were getting shorter and I was starting to get a fairly serious cramp in my left butt cheek which persisted for the rest of the race.
Every time I tucked in behind Eddie I would stretch my ass the best I could. Drink some and eat a little more too.
As the race wore on Eddie's pace got slower and the duration of his pulls were getting shorter. I didn't mind at this point to be honest. We both were just in survival mode.
With about a mile and half to go the road started to gently climb. I looked back and I had accidentally gapped him. I slowed up, waved my hand for him catch up to me and told him we had gone this far together we might as well finish. He grunted it out for the first portion of the hill and as we made that damn turn that I screwed myself on the first lap he started to fade a bit again. I didn't speed away by any means. But at this point I just wanted it to be over. So I left him to finish and trudged my way to the line.
I was lucid enough this time around to notice all the spectators and cyclists waiting around the finish line. Staring at my like a rack of yard tools at Sears. Most with indifference, others with sympathy. I won't lie. It made me miss cyclocross a little. Even just to have a bit of cheering would have made me feel better. Meh. What can you do? You can't change a tigers stripes. And these tigers just have silent stripes, that's all.
So I finished. I felt good where I figured I would. I felt bad where I knew I would. It was beautiful day. And despite the ass whooping I received I'm glad I did it.
I do think I'm going to pass on the Banana Belt Series this year though. I don't know. Maybe I'll change my mind. We'll see...
Thanks for reading!
Rubber side down,