This race was full of obstacles. Any race that starts with an 18.5-mile climb (even considering the two short downhill sections) is considered tough in my book, not to mention nature’s other gifts to make this one of the toughest one-day races I’ve done.
The E4 field of about 60 lined up at a leisurely hour of 9:10 a.m., and after some usual instructions, we were off. The .6-mile neutral promenade turned into an immediate but gradual uphill. The pace started out as manageable, and I didn’t really have any problems hanging with the main pack for the first 6-mile portion of the climb. Somewhere in the middle of that first section, two guys locked bars and went down pretty much right in front of me, which caused me to unclip to make my way around them without piling on to the mess.
After the two-mile downhill, the middle 3.2-mile climby section began. There was a small gap that developed on the descent, but it all came back together at the bottom of the climb. Around mile two of three of the middle section, I started to slowly get unglued from the pack. I made a couple of surges to rejoin the pack, but ultimately, the pace was a bit much and the rift between me and the main pack grew. I finished the middle section of the climb and recovered as much as I could on the downhill leading up to the last 6-mile climb.
I picked up the pace and started picking off other riders who were dropped from our field. About two miles into the climb, I got on a wheel of a Webcor rider who was setting a pace that was probably just a touch slower than what I could have done, but we were catching people, I didn’t want to totally blow up on the climb, and I wanted to have someone to work with once I made my way down from Hamilton, so I sat on his wheel for three miles. Along the way, we picked up two more riders, and proceeded to make our way toward the top. With one mile to go, I got on the front and started pulling at a slightly higher pace, and very quickly, it was just the Webcor guy and I. Oops!
As I looked down the switchback, I saw Isaac coming up behind us (he fell off the back when
he overcooked a corner due to mechanical on the first downhill he had to pull out due to a mechanical) and was happy to see him because it looked like we’d have a pretty strong chaser group forming. With about 500m to go to the top, I picked up the pace some more, and the Webcor guy fell off the back. Then it all started getting very interesting.
The first half a mile of the 4.4-mile descent is relatively gradual, but then it gets crazy steep and very twisty. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the greatest daredevil descender there is. I’ve gotten much better over the last year, but the backside of Mt. Hamilton was a bit more than I could handle technically. There were more 180 switchbacks then I could count and I just couldn’t find my rhythm. On one of the corners, I really overcooked it and went off the road into gravel, which did it’s job and I ended up crashing shoulder first into the ground. I felt as if I were tackled by a linebacker. I jumped up, moved my shoulder around to make sure nothing was broken, threw my chain back on the big ring and proceeded to descend.
In the meantime, Isaac, the Webcor guy and a couple other riders passed me. I figured that I’d rather take it slower than risk another crash and proceeded cautiously. At this point, I had a minor cut on each of my legs, but the cuts produced a fair amount of blood that dried onto my legs as I was finishing the descent, so as I would pass people, they would either give me funny looks, or ask if I was okay. The shock of the fall, combined with the relative inactivity of the legs for the remainder of the descent resulted in minor quad cramping as I hit the flat section. Luckily, a bit of spinning worked that out of my system.
Not too long after the descent, I caught the Webcor guy, who told me that Isaac was about 30 seconds ahead, that was the last I saw of him. I charged forward into the headwind and caught Isaac and another guy after a strong effort. They were trading pulls at the front, and I told them that I needed a few to recover from the bridge and then I’d take up my share of work.
The three of us continued to work together and picking up more and more people along the way. At one point, there were five or six of us and we tried to get into a rotating paceline, but that almost resulted in disaster, so by natural selection, the single-line paceline was the MO. I took a pull, then Isaac took a pull, and we were whittled down to just 3 or 4 guys. We’d continue this way for quite some time, making good pace, until we hit one large roller at around mile 38 or so and I, for some inexplicable reason, decided to shift into my small ring and dropped my chain. Of course, at the time I had no momentum to get it back onto any ring, so I was forced to stop and get it on manually and the while watching my little groupetto drift further away.
With the chain back on, it was time to chase down the group again. They always seemed within reach, but the headwind was just too much to close the gap. I passed one rider from our field at the side of the road with cramps, then another (this one was from our group) and I could see Isaac and another Webcor guy up ahead. Soon they would disappear from my view as the headwind proved to be just a bit much.
With only flat/downhill sections of the race left, I continued to press on in no-man’s land. Then I turned around and saw a Tri-Valley Velo guy coming up behind me, so I slowed my pace just a touch and waved for him to come up to my wheel so we could work together in the wind.
Soon we were working well together and he was taking very strong, very long pulls. A that point, I thought to myself that if we ended up coming to the line together, I’d wouldn’t contest it against him for the strong work he was doing on the front. We eventually caught another rider, who seemed very beaten down. He would rotate to the front, but not for very long and at a much slower pace. I was okay with that, actually. I wasn’t racing for places or points any longer and just wanted to finish the race and stay out of the wind as much as I could, so whoever was blocking it, fast or slow, I was happy. I was still pushing a very strong pace when I went to the front, but I was okay with soft pulls, as long we kept the group together.
It was my turn on the front once again and I was pulling hard and coming up to a roller. Then, out of the blue, the Tri-Valley guy attacks and goes off. I think to myself, “WTF? Why would you attack a groupetto that is maybe coming in for mid-30s placement?” That seemed like a very asshole-like move to me. I was at my limit when he attacked, so I could not immediately counter, but he never went very far. I continued pulling and eventually caught a Hunter racer (I actually met him at Panoche, but forgot his name. Shame on me.) [Edit: I was quickly reminded that his name was Dom.] and we proceeded to work together. When I caught him, he seemed to be gassed, but then once I took a pull, he got to the front and made a monster effort to bridge us back to the Tri-Valley guy who was now working with a masters rider from another field.
Once we bridged, I wanted to make sure the Tri-Valley guy doesn’t go anywhere from the group, so I told the Hunter racer to sit on his wheel. I knew that if we gave him time to rest, he’d attack again.
Through rotations and things of that nature, the masters rider was on the front, I was sitting second wheel and the Tri-Valley guy was somewhere in the back. I reached down for a drink and as I was bringing the bottle to my mouth, he attacked again. “Oh, hell no!” – I thought to myself. I took my drink, put the bottle back and shot right up to his wheel. At this point, we had somewhere between 2 and 3 miles to the finish and I was determined to ride his wheel until the time was right and then beat him to the line.
I don’t generally make it a practice to attack a group of the back of the field for no gain (places/points) and think it’s unsportsmanlike to do so (others may disagree), and beating the guy to the line would simply be payback, and I was a bit pissed off, too. I could sense that the Tri-Valley guy was working extra hard with 1K to go and with 500m to go, all of my quads and hams started to cramp. I clenched my teeth and with 300 meters to go I jumped for the line. The only person to stay with me was the masters guy who wasn’t even in my field, so I didn’t care. As I crossed the line, I pulled a Vigil and dropped the f-bomb. Not because of any sort of excitement, but because my legs were in such pain I’m still surprised they didn’t completely seize up and made me fall over.
I thought I finished somewhere way in the back of the field, but as it turned out, I was 27th out of 59 racers who started. Given the crash and the mechanical, I’m not too disappointed in the result, but there’s still a lot of work to be done on my climbing if I’m going to keep up with the lead pack of this race next year.