May 7, 2012

Turlock Lake road race report

This has been a race I had on my mind since last year, when I heard what a great event it was. The terrain suits me and my legs have been feeling better in the last few weeks, so despite the poor performance at Cat’s Hill the day before, I was feeling confident about Turlock. I had two strong teammates in the race with me, which proved crucial, Franco and Francisco.

I was going into the race with a three-pronged plan. Plan A was getting Franco or Francisco into a break, which as we were warming up, we saw succeed in other categories. Plan B was to try to get into a break myself; and plan C was to save it, position myself well in the final kilometers and give the bunch sprint a go.

There was one limiting factor in the race – the temperature. Our start time was scheduled for 12:20, and it was forecast to heat up to 85 or so, and as I’ve written dozens of times in the past, I don’t like the heat. I filled my bottles with Cytomax to keep the calories and liquids going during the race, and stashed a couple GU gels for later in the race. I was also trying something new – instead of the usual bibs and jersey, I raced the race in my Prooff skinsuit. I figured that if it so happens that I get into a break, the extra aerodynamics wouldn’t hurt. However, the main reason I donned the skinsuit was because it keeps me cooler than the bibs/jersey combo – and controlling my body temperature was way more important than any aerodynamics.

We started on time with 22 riders in the field. The wind was blowing steadily from the west, which meant a tailwind coming into the finish and on the first leg, head wind on the back end of the course and cross-winds on the other two legs. However, the cross-wind on the fourth leg of the course was much more noticeable than on the second, perhaps because it wasn’t as shielded. The temperatures were still comfortable, probably in the high- to mid-seventies.

As in most road races, the pace started out mellow, but after a few miles, Francisco and Franco came to the front and started to make things interesting. Tri-Valley Velo had four guys in the field, so we knew that one of them would have to get into the break with one of us for it to work because with each of our guys in the break, the remainder were 25 percent of the field and could try to shut down or interrupt chase efforts. A few break attempts were made on the first lap, but all of them were quickly reeled in.

At one point, a Fremont guy attacked and got a good gap up the road. I kicked to bridge and dragged two more across, but before we could get organized, it got shut down again.

For probably 95 percent of the race, one of us was in the front 3-4 riders. The minute the pace would slow, Franco or Francisco would come to the front and stretch it out again. Once we got to leg four into the cross-wind, Francisco immediately guttered the entire field, which I saw was draining a lot of guys in the field.

We made it through the feed zone and across the start finish the first time all together. Then it started to get really interesting. Franco pulled up to me and said that he just snapped his rear derailleur cable and was stuck in two gears. My heart sunk, mainly because I really needed Franco in that race, but I also felt bad for Franco because the way he was riding, we could have easily both had good results.

There were a few flat miles ahead, so told Franco to go back and rest and save what he had for the rollers, when he would really need to grind it out to stay with the field. The temperatures also went up and I knew that plan B was not going to happen because a long sustained effort in the heat for me means I overheat and go out the back like last week’s trash.

My efforts were now turned to staying near the front and trying to cause a gap in the field to give Francisco some room to get away, but the field just wasn’t going to let anything get away, and the few attempts that were made lacked organization and were quickly shut down.

What happened next still has me in awe. As we approached the rollers, Franco gets on the nose, and in two gears, drills it up nearly every single roller at a rate that had some guys in the back of the field letting out audible groans. And when Franco wasn’t on the front punishing the field, Francisco was attacking on the rollers trying to get away. By this point, I was mostly useless because with 10 miles to go, my quads began to seriously cramp up, and with five to go, my inner thigh, from the knee all the way up my groin, decided to seize on me. I still don’t know how I managed to pedal through that, but resting in the back and spinning a faster cadence relieved some of the pain.

We pass the 3k to go sign, and Francisco once again gets on the front and drills it, which stretches out the field in this crucial moment. Francisco pull off, and Tri-Valley gets on the nose and I’m riding their train as fourth wheel. We pass the two to go, then one to go, and a guy from Delta Velo jumps, Fremont covers and I kick hard to get his wheel. The Delta guy dies almost immediately and Matt from Tri-Valley attacks. I’m still barely recovered from the last kick, but I give it all I’ve got as we’re now flying out of the feed zone and it’s 100m to the finish. With about 20m to go, I hear wheels to the side of me and the Freemont rider slips in for third and Alex Lockwood of Fusion gets me by half a wheel. I finish up sixth, Francisco 10th and Franco 13th (beating out a huge chuck of the field with 2 gears!). 

I had no idea they were going to do podium shots with all 6 of us (they placed down to 6). So I had to run to my car and get a clean jersey that I just happened to have had with me. No way was I getting back into that skinsuit. 
A huge thank you to Francisco and Franco for doing an insane amount of work during the race, which kept the pace high, weakened a lot of riders in the field and kept the race safe. Squadra was on the nose of that field for probably 60 percent of the time, and about 90 percent of that work was done by Franco and Francisco. Thanks to them, I was able to go the back of the field and rest when I needed to cool off when I was overheating and to position myself well for the final sprint. When I was in the back, I never had to worry about something getting away because they were solidly in control of the front of the pack. Essentially, they allowed me to race the race I wanted to race. My only regret was that I didn’t wait for the second attack, which probably would have had me a few slots higher at the finish line, but I guess we all make gambles at some point. I also could have moved over in my sprint, which would have shut the door the Fremont rider, but as we all saw in today's Giro stage, moving sideways in a sprint is not a good idea. Next week, it’s going to be my turn to sacrifice myself for my teammates at Berkeley Hills.

I'd like to end with this. I've raced most venues in NCNCA over the last 2.5 years, and this is one of the best organized races there is, period. The low turnout is extremely disappointing to see. Five guys in Cat 5?!? And that's only because Heather McDonald missed her start and raced with the guys. I know that Golden State was on the menu that day, but I hope in the future, racers come out to this venue and keep it going. I'd hate to see it die due to the low turnout. 

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