Aug 24, 2011

University Road Race report

I woke up on Sunday with one thought in my head, “how much pain will I have to endure today?” That pretty much sums up my mental preparation for University Road Race. I knew that this would be a race of survival and much suffering for me as the pure climbers would tear the field to shreds, and I’d have to fend for myself on my already very, very fatigued legs.

The course is short and simple – a 2.7 mile loop with a 1.2 mile climb, followed by a 1.7 mile descent. The climb starts after a sharp right at the light. It starts very mellow and then kicks up a bit and holds that way through the start/finish, which is in the middle of the climb. Another 100 meters past the start/finish and the climb flattens for a about 250 meters and then kicks up to 13-15 percent for the last 50 meters before turning into a bombing descent. Simple enough? Now repeat 15 times.

My goal was to line up in the front and stay that way until we get to the base of the climb for the first time, but by the time I got to the line, I had about 60 guys ahead of me, so lining up at the back was the only alternative. The whistle blew and we were off, my only immediate goal was to get to the front, so I started to maneuver around the guys in the field and quickly made up ground as people were just getting going, but I still had about half the field ahead of me.

The first fast sweeper on the descent came and brakes started screeching and I knew I had to get out of the pack. Once we hit the straight part of the descent, an interesting phenomenon developed. The whole field contained itself between the first white line and the yellow line (the yellow-line rule was in effect), but ironically, no one rode in the “bike lane.” I saw that as my chance and shot down to the front of the field and was now sitting on the nose coming into the sharp right. Another rider came next to me and asked if I’d let him go ahead and be the first around the corner, and not seeing any problem with that, I let him through. As we climbed, I hung on to the field and let some of it pass me before we reached the summit again. Another downhill and up the hill we went once more.

On the third lap, I became unglued and the fatigue made itself felt big time. Now it was all a matter of finding a rhythm and staying within myself. I’ve done enough hilly races to know that if a lot of climbing is to come, the best climbers will get ahead of me no matter what I do, but if I hold a steady tempo, I’ll pick off those guys who think they have more in their legs than they actually do.  So over the next couple of laps I settled in with a group of 5 guys (all of whom I’ve caught) and we’d move together for a few laps, pacing each other up the climbs and helping each other up the descents.

After we would pass the finish line, the group would sometimes get a bit ahead of me, but somehow I always caught them on the kicker, where my legs didn’t have problems pushing up the steep slopes – maybe because that’s pretty much a segment on every single ride I do from home. Times that I was first at the kicker, I was able to put in a gap on the group, but they would chase me down on the descent. On lap eight or nine, we hit the climb and I, climbing at my pace, realized I was dropping everyone in our little group and figured their legs must be close to cooked, but I pressed on at my pace.

As I approached the finish line on lap 10, I looked back to see the main field coming up behind me, as I was about to be lapped. I didn’t try to latch on, but kept going at my pace, knowing that I had four more laps to suffer through (we all finished on the same lap). In another lap or two, I would be completely alone, passing climbers and not really getting passed by anyone else, as anyone who could have passed me already did. The little group I was with earlier was now somewhere behind me.

Finally, the bell was ringing and I knew it was one lap to go. Getting to the top of the hill on pure adrenaline, I flew down the descent one last time and dragged myself across the line. The hardest two-hour race I’ve ever done and one I’ll definitely do again. Because of the lapping, and relapping and all that going in circles, the results appear to be completely screwed up, as I’m listed 61st out of 75 riders, but I know I wasn’t top 10, so anything beyond that doesn’t really matter. In the 37.3 miles of racing, I climbed almost 5000 feet – good mini-prep for Everest Challenge.

[Edit: I almost forgot this crucial part. I wanted to thank M2, who while making it to the race, wasn't able to get registered and still stuck around for 2 hours to cheer me on. That meant a lot! Thanks, Mike!]

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