Jul 23, 2012

Cascade Cycling Classic recap

Kurt and I arrived in Bend early Thursday afternoon and the first thing we did was kitted up and rode to recon Sunday’s circuit race and then Saturday’s TT course. This also served as our leg openers, because after almost 9 hours in a car, we surely needed them.

Our stage race started on Friday with a 70-mile road race that ended in a climb up to Mt. Bachelor.

Stage 1. The Road Race

The race started luxuriously late for us, 11:40 for Kurt, who raced the Cat 2 field, and 12:20 for my Cat 4 field. This meant plenty of time for breakfast. This was probably one of the best pre-race breakfasts I’ve ever had. Kurt’s parents came down from Portland and his mom made some great pancakes with a variety of homemade jams for us to fuel up!

One of my concerns was that at 12:20 it might be very hot, but the temperatures were chilly Friday and never rose to uncomfortable levels during the race. Lucky me!

The course changed from last year and instead of starting with a ~3-mile climb, it began with a 10 mile descent (that usually came after the 3-mile climb). I’m not a pure climber, so I knew that I would be losing time on this stage. My plan was to attack early and often in hopes of getting a few guys to roll away with me and hopefully build up a healthy lead going into the climb. Of course, the other option would have been to sit hidden in the field the whole time and save all my energy for the final climb, but I came to Cascade to have fun and gain fitness, and that strategy wouldn’t serve either of those purposes.

I didn’t wait long to launch the first round of attacks. After the neutral roll-out, we made the right turn onto the course to begin the long descent. I made my way to the front and attacked on the descent. I did this several times, each time getting a gap, but no one came along and the field reeled me in each time. Once we reached the flatter section of the course, my bladder started to inform me that it was time for a natural. I considered doing it on the roll for about a millisecond before going to the front, telling the guys at the head of the field what’s up and gaining a gap to take care of business. Luckily the follow vehicles didn’t mind me drafting to catch back on to the field.

Once I felt I was rested from the 30mph, post-natural chase back to the field, I made my way to the font and put in a big attack. I looked back, no one came with, but I had a significant gap and the peloton was spread across the road, so I got into my TT mode and tried to keep an even pace, realizing there were 50 miles still to go. I stayed off the front for about four miles, with the maximum lead being 30 to 40 seconds, but as we approached feed zone one, the field chased me down and I was reabsorbed.

I ended up putting in a few more attacks and going with one move later in the race, but nothing stuck, so at about mile 42, I decided it was time to sit in and save what I had left in my legs for the final climb. This was also about the time that my left inner thigh began to seize up. I managed to make it to feed zone two, where I botched a bottle hand-up that resulted in me being at the rear of the peloton, having to briefly chase back on with a second bottle I actually managed to grab. I poured water all over my thigh in an effort to relieve the cramping. I also upped the Cytomax intake from the bottle I had on board. This seemed to do the trick in the short term.

The peloton continued to move along steady until we hit the first series of climbs at mile 57. It wasn’t too steep of a grind, so I didn’t have any problems keeping contact. Then we’d hit the flat section for a bit, and then the slopes pitched up and of course the attacks quickly followed. As if a passenger in a 007 car, I was ejected from the peloton with speed. At this point, I was probably 40th-something on the road. There was one rider ahead of me and the ref’s car was about to pass me.

Then, something clicked, and I said to myself: “Oh, no you don’t!” Alternating the two phrases – “Shut up legs!” & “Embrace the pain!” – I caught the rider ahead of me, getting ahead of the ref car. Then I dropped him and bridged to the next group up the road, before dropping them and doing the same thing two or three more times. I caught the last group as we crested the climb and drilled it as much as I could to the finish. It took some convincing for the three guys I caught to take some pulls to make up seconds, but I did get a couple of them to work with me.

I ended up 23rd and 2:40 down on the leader after stage 1 (2:30 on the road, plus 10 second time bonus). If I had to do one thing differently, I’d stay much closer to the front at the beginning of the climb. Given how I was able to climb it, I probably could have saved a couple dozen seconds having started further up in the peloton. I raced top 10 for most of the race, but lost a bit of focus toward the end and slipped back.

Stage 2. The Time Trial

The TT course is a 12-mile out and back course. Out being pretty much all uphill and back being an extremely fast downhill.

Not much to report here, other than I made two major errors and had one thing going against me.

The first mistake was not pre-riding the course from the start – Summit High School. On the map in the race bible, it showed I would be making a left, then a right and continuing on course. In reality, I had to make four or five turns in very quick order to get out of the parking lot and onto the straight part of the course. Had I known that would be the case, I would have taken a few laps of the first 1K to make sure I didn’t lose any seconds in the technical portion of the TT.

The second mistake was pacing. And this has something to do with what I had going against me. For some odd reason, my TT bike came with a 52/36. Why a manufacturer would put a compact crank on a TT bike is beyond me, but that was the case and I found out about the course too late to do anything about it. Knowing that I would have not been able to push to full capacity on the downhill, I should have started out much harder than I did. Instead, I paced myself as I normally would, starting out conservatively and building as I went along. On the return leg, I spun as fast as my legs would let me, but really could have used at least a 54 (a 56 would have been even better).  I ended up 18th in the TT, which moved me up to 16th overall.

Stage 3. Criterium

The course was a four-corner crit, with the first two corners being very wide, corner three coming into a very narrow stretch of the course and corner four again opening up to a wide road with a very long finishing straight, maybe 300 meters or so.

The crit was scheduled to be very short – 30 minutes – so the pace was high from the whistle and the first 10 minutes my legs were screaming. Then I settled in and moved myself to the front of field, taking a few pulls on the front and trying to go with one move late in the crit, but that was shut down from the get-go. With three to go, I realized I needed to be near the front, so I moved myself into 5th wheel after corner two. Just then, the guy ahead of me had some sort of noisy gear mechanical and moved off, so I was fourth wheel heading into the dangerous corner three. Two guys went down right behind me.

I stayed near the front for the remaining two laps, but got pinched in the last corner on the last lap. Sprinting to ensure no gaps in time, I ended up 12th and kept 16th overall. I could have done better with slightly better positioning, but while I did pass a few guys in the finishing sprint, my legs had no top end by this point in the day (the TT was in the morning).

Stage 4. The Circuit Race

Pre-riding this course was one of the best things I could have done. I knew exactly where I would need all my strengths and where I could rest up.

Unlike most other stage races I’ve participated in, all but one racer were at the start line on Sunday. Typically, the attrition rate is much higher. After the neutral start, we hit the course and I could immediately tell that there was much less spunk in the peloton than the previous two days. The first lap was fairly uneventful as we rolled around together.

In the middle of lap two, as we hit the climb up to the feed zone, I realized that a lot of people were cracking, as I was going up fairly easily while passing others on the road. There were two right turns after the feed. After the second right turn, there was a short downhill followed by a short but steep uphill. I ended up toward the end of the peloton and when the steep climb came, a gap opened up and several of us were caught out – including some riders high on GC. The gap wasn’t large, but did take us about 4 miles to close.

By the time we were four or five miles into the final lap, most of the field had come back together. As we made it up the climb to the feed zone, the field was starting to break apart. Just as we crested the climb and hit the flat part of the feed, a guy stuck his front wheel into my rear wheel ripping one of my spokes out of my wheel. I knew if I stopped for a wheel change then, I’d never see the front group again. The wheel seemed to roll fine and I continued with the group.

I made sure not to get caught out the second time and kept myself in the top 10 heading into the steep section for the last time. I crested with the main bunch, while half the field dropped off, as I expected.

Then a few attacks followed and one guy managed to get away. Two more took off after him and we (whatever was left of the main field) began to chase. The load of continued climbing did a number on the wheel and it was becoming more and more out of true as the climb continued. I opened up my brake as much as I could, but with less than 3k to go, it became pretty worthless. I dug as deep as I could to work with four or five guys who got gapped off the main chase group and finished 27th, much worse than I was hoping. I did, however, keep my 16th GC spot.

It was an unfortunate and perhaps expensive (I don’t yet know how much it will be to fix the wheel or if it’s fixable at all) note on which to end my first time racing Cascade Cycling Classic, but overall I had a ton of fun and really enjoyed the racing. I’ll definitely be back again next year!