May 9, 2011

Cruisin’ to the coast and the Berkeley Hills Road Race report

Before I get into the meat of this blog, I’d like to devote a few words to what happened during today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. As many of you have heard, Leopard-Trek’s rider Wouter Waylandt crashed on a descent and sustained fatal injuries. My deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and team. It made me sick to my stomach to hear the news of his passing. I was actually watching the live broadcast of the Giro this morning, but stepped away during the moment of the crash and luckily wasn’t subject to what I hear was a gruesome visual. This is a dangerous sport and today served as a very grim reminder of that fact. Be safe out there! I thought that Bike Snob NYC did a great job summarizing my thoughts on this, so please give him a read here.

Ride to Waddell

Now then, as hard as the transition may be, on to this weekend’s biking adventures. 

I haven’t ridden with my friend Mike in a long time. In fact, the last time we rode together was Levi’s Granfondo in 2010. Then ski season came along and he became mostly unavailable on the weekends. With the ski season now officially over, I called him up to see if he was up for a ride on Saturday. He was, but also wanted to get down to Waddell (a few miles north of Santa Cruz) to watch some of windsurfing’s best duke it out on Cali waters. I guess to the windsurfer types the event was the equivalent of watching Armstrong and Cantador going up against each other in a hill climb or something. I was planning on racing Berkeley Hills on Sunday and wanted a couple of hours on the bike with a few leg openers. Over the phone, we agreed that I would come to his place on Friday, spend the night, we’d get up early in the morning and do an hour or so in South Bay before driving to the ocean.

The other part of that plan was an MTB ride with kids followed by a dismount and hike to a waterfall near Waddell. After questioning Mike about the terrain, I decided to leave my MTB at home and grab the cross bike instead. 

When I got to Mike’s house, our ride plans have been somewhat altered. Instead of riding for an hour in South Bay, we were going to leave the house at 7 and head to Waddell on our bikes, while everyone else would head there by car. We estimated that it would probably take us around 3 hours. However, I got a bit suspicious after the route we mapped out with Google map’s bike routing said it would take us over 7 hours to get there by bike.

We rolled out of the house on schedule and after about 20 minutes of easy pedal through Saratoga, we came upon our first obstacle, the 6.5 mile climb up highway 9. I’ve been up this climb several times (in fact, it was the first climb I’ve ever done in California) and I knew that I could take it easy and do it in about 45 minutes. I had a race the next day, remember? Mike was taking it even easier, as this was his second time on the bike this year and we finished the climb about 5 minutes apart and proceeded to drop down to Route 236. This was a very, very quick descent as we were bombing it down and pedaling all out. The only thing that held us somewhat back was the fact that parts of the road were very wet due to the fog dropping from the trees like a rain shower. I ended up averaging almost 32mph on the 6-mile descent (good enough to be in the top 10 on Strava).

After the fun descent, we rolled over a couple more very mild hills, which of course were followed by more fun descents. We stayed on 236 through Boulder Creek until it was time to turn onto Jamison Creek Road. As we made the turn onto Jamison Creek, the road began to climb gradually with slopes of between 2 and 6 percent. I was going conservatively keeping in mind that I have to race the next day. Then, all of a sudden, for the first time in my cycling life, a dog charged at me while I was passing a house. It was an old, fat chocolate lab, so I wasn’t really worried about it biting me as much as I was worried about it knocking me over, so I accelerated up the hill as quickly as I could and the dog very quickly gave up the chase. It also didn’t chase Mike at all, which I found odd, but good.

The acceleration caused us to split up and I continued at my own pace up the hill until I hit a very steep switchback and thought to myself, “oh, this one has some kicks.” I was surprised, however, at how little the pitch dropped as I got onto the straightaway. And then it hit me, this pitch isn’t stopping anytime soon. For the next 1.7 miles (I know that now, but didn’t then) I continued to wind up Jamison Creek road on pitches between 10 and 20 percent with very long stretches at 16+ percent. I had two things on my mind as I kept climbing: (1) I’m going to feel this tomorrow; and (2) Mike must be hating this climb right now. See, that’s what happens when you map a route, but neglect to carefully check the topo! I was still trying to go as conservatively as I could, but when you’re going up 16 percent, you have to push some serious watts or you just don’t move forward.

After that was behind us, it was only a matter of a few minor rollers and a long, fast downhill before we were on the coast. This was the first time I was going 40mph into a corner. I was going so fast that I felt the fabric on my leg warmers vibrate. This descent was also good enough for a top 10. After a quick stop at a café in Davenport, we had just 7 miles to go north on Highway 1 to our destination. The problem, however, was that these last 7 miles were into an obnoxiously strong headwind, but we persevered and made it to our destination in a total of 4.5 hours. Going tempo and not stopping for coffee, the ride is doable in 3.5 flat if you’re curious to try the route.

The CX ride

This was I think my second time on dirt this year (or maybe first) and it was a fun little ride with Mike’s wife and kids along. It was also a chance to spin easy after just having climbed 6400 feet in 57.5 miles. The ride was a 5.5 out and back trail that was followed by a 1 mile out and back hike to a very plentiful waterfall. Totally CX appropriate, even with some wet dirty spots.

Waterfall at the end of our bike-hike.

Berkeley Hills Road Race report

I think if you’ve just read the above, you can kind of predict how this race went for me, and I’ll be as brief as I can.  During the warm up, my legs actually felt okay, but my Achilles felt like total crap. It was aching, and painful, and just bugged the hell out of me. I was popping ibuprofen like candy and nada. The pain wasn’t the type that made me cringe, but it was definitely something that was on my mind. As I was on the trainer, I debated whether I should even show up to the start line, but figured that since I’m there “buttered” up with a number glued, I might as well.

I staged near the back as I was one of the last guys to the start line and hung out there for the first few miles of the race. I then moved up to the front to make sure I stay there when the climbing started. In the first few miles, there was a long roller (baby bear) that everyone hit very hard and I stayed with the group, but I could already tell that my legs were not where they should be as that felt very, very hard. We then hit the downhill and were going through some narrow country roads where I performed my first and only logover on a road bike. Smack in the middle of the road there was a 3-4 inch log, about a foot long, but it was right in my path. By the time I saw it, a move right or left would have caused a crash and I didn’t have enough time to set up for a bunny hop, so I did the only thing left to do, got my front wheel up, then popped my rear wheel over it and kept going.

I managed to hold onto the field over mama bear, but when it came time to the third climb, my legs could no longer hold. I got spit out the back on papa bear going into a very strong headwind. I made it over the top and started to try to chase, but papa bear has another little climb right after the initial brief descent, and that one sealed the deal – I was officially dropped. A Squadra Ovest guy caught me on that little descent and I dropped him on the next little climb while being dropped by everyone else. As I was about to make the descent, I noticed he was chasing with another rider. I sat up and let them catch me because I knew that in a group we’d have a better chance at maybe catching the field. We picked up more riders along the way and at some point had eight working in a very organized rotating paceline.

I have to say that when I got dropped, my first thought was to finish out the lap and pull into the parking lot. However, before I could even finish that thought, another one came along, suggesting that I wasn’t going to become any stronger of a cyclists if I just packed up and went home. I reminded myself that this was a C race for me, something that I would just go out and do for fun, forgetting about tapering (check there!) and rest and just riding it as hard as I could. From that point on, I was resolved on finishing the race and doing another two painful loops. Our group of 8 came undone on papa bear the second time around. And when I say came undone, I’m saying I got dropped again.

I kept on pushing along and soon enough I found another rider from our group of 8 that was dislodged from the pack. His name was Matt from the UCSC squad. As I came upon him, he was making a U-turn to go back to the parking lot, but I told him, “let’s go, only 14 miles to go, lets make this a fitness ride.” He agreed and we continued to work together. I took a very long pull initially to let him rest up and begin working with me. Results at this point didn’t really matter, so tactics went out the window and we rode like riding buddies and not like adversaries. We picked up another rider along the way, Alex from Team Roaring Mouse. The three of us would finish up the ride together, but again, I got dropped on papa bear, which conclusively proved that my climbing legs were left somewhere on Jamison Creek Rd. the day before. For the record, I suspect that I might still have some lingering fatigue from last week's double, but I'm not making excuses here - I knew what I was getting into.

Yes, I had a crappy race performance, but I rode hard, trashed my legs, had fun and gained some fitness out of all of this. Okay, so I can’t do 7000ft on day one and race well on day two – lesson learned! 

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