There are probably a lot of race reports out there where riders have done everything right and ended up winning, well this one is completely the opposite of those. This report describes what happens when you bring good legs to a race and then combine them with stupidity and bad luck.
Panoche Valley road race in Elite 4s is a 55-mile race – 27.5 miles out and same distance back. The course starts out as nearly flat (with slight uptick) for the first 10 miles, then climbs gradually for the next 10 miles, then drops down for 7.5 miles and reverses itself.
We started off in a smallish field of less than 20 and were moving at a pretty ridiculously slow pace for the first few miles. On one of the first rollers at about 3 miles into the race, I attacked and no one came with. At that moment, I should have stopped and rolled myself back into the field. Instead, I got a bigger lead and stayed off the front for the next 7 miles or so. At some point, I probably had about 1k on the whole field, but right past the 10 mile mark, where the race began to climb, I saw them catching up to me. Soon, a Chico Corsa guy would pass me and invite me to continue working with him, something I intended on doing.
Just as he passed me, I must have ridden over some loose gravel or sand, or something that gave me the sensation that I had a flat rear wheel. I quickly stopped, jumped off and grabbed my rear wheel – turns out it wasn’t flat and neither was my front one. By this time the main field had caught the Chico Corsa guy and they were all in front of me. I jumped back on and tried to chase on quickly, but while I was still going up the roller, the group dropped down a brief descent and quickly disappeared from view. I continued to chase hard knowing that if I caught them by the turnaround, the race could be salvaged.
I passed the feed zone at mile 20 and grabbed a bottle of water, which was only half full (WTF?). Then came the 7.5 mile drop with a very strong tailwind. I was in 50x11 the whole time spinning and going 30+ to catch the group. With about 1k to go to the turnaround, I saw them ahead of me and as I approached the turnaround within the 200m mark, they were just past it on the way back. “Great!” I though to myself, “only about 300m to bridge. I can do this!”
Then came the turnaround point, which for some crazy reason was placed in the middle of a ton of gravel. Partially because I was desperately trying to catch on and carrying too much speed, and partially because I wasn’t as cautious as I would normally have been, I went down hard in the gravel. I jumped up immediately, but due to the shock of hitting gravel, my body was shaking and it took me 5 tries to clip my right leg in. Then as I got on the bike and clipped in my left, realizing that in the fall, my cleat twisted significantly and my toe was now pointing toward my front wheel. I did my best to straighten that out in the first few pedal strokes, but there was only so much force I could apply without unintentionally unclipping.
By the time I was done dealing with all of that, the field was out of sight and I would have to chase them into a crazy headwind. I was going 30+ for the last 7.5 miles of the out leg, and now I would have to repeat that in reverse at about 14-15mph. At that point, I realized that I would probably not catch them on my own, and I had no one else to work with, so I ended up chasing anyway, alone for the last 27 miles, into a headwind, with a crooked cleat. I never really let up until about 5k to go because you never know what could happen to the main field and in addition to all the screwups, I didn’t want to be angry at myself for having let up too early.
To make matters worse, I was out of water and got another bottle at the same feed station. However, about 2 miles past the feed, there was a big lip on a bridge that I bunny hopped. The bunny hop was a success, but upon landing, the full bottle I had just gotten earlier flew out of my cage (the first time this has ever happened with these cages in 2+ years). [Edit 5-24-11 - Upon further inspection, the bottle cage actually broke with the bottom breaking off. That's actually the 2nd time that happened.] The last 17 miles I had to ride on two gulps of Accelerade I had left over in my other bottle. I finished as the “lanterne rouge” (also a first): dehydrated, with a sore/bloody hip from the crash, a twisted cleat, a broken Sidi clasp (on reorder) and a torn pair of bibs (also on re-order), not to mention a heavily bruised ego (however small mine might be).
Many mistakes made, some bad luck had and things definitely could have workout out much better. But “could have” and “would have” don’t apply to racing, so I won’t even go there. Lessons learned, hoping for a better outcome on Hamilton this Sunday. The saddest part of all of this happens to also be the silver lining – the legs felt damn good, I just didn’t put them to good use.