It was my first race of the season and I was curious to see what my legs can do and what we could do as a team. Knights Ferry is a 60-mile, rolling race on an out and back, and out and back course that finishes on a hill just shy of a kilometer in length. Representing Squadra SF on the line were Alex, Brian, Graham, Mario and I. We had several alternative strategies worked out, but I guess that’s what happens when you have a doctor and two lawyers racing together.
The whistle blew and we headed north into a mild NW wind, with the temperatures in the low sixties. The plan for the first lap was to sit in and see what the field was going to do. I got to the start late, staged near the back and spent the first couple of miles slowly getting myself to the front. Graham got on the nose, I pulled up next to him and said I wanted to test the field and see how much they wanted to race, so I attacked (we’re at mile 4 here) and immediately got separation. I kept going at a steady pace, looking back periodically to see if there was a bridge attempt (no one that crazy in the field today), or a chase.
The field looked wide and not interested in chasing for a while, and I thought that perhaps if I got over the hill solo, it could get interesting, but as I began approaching what would be the climb to the finish, I saw the field narrow and start to get close. Given that it was still early in the race and I had oxygen in my brain, I figured at this pace I’d get caught before the climb, and that’s the last place I want a charging peloton to pass me. So I eased off and got reabsorbed into the group with about 2km to the top of the climb. I got in fifth wheel and we all crested together. However, after the catch, the pace never quieted down. We drilled it hard up the hill, fast down the other side and the race stayed really fast and on for the first 35 miles. While we didn’t drop anyone, it ate up a lot of legs in the field.
Graham was doing an amazing job rotating with a few others in the front and keeping the pace really high. At mile 25, I started to cramp. I’ve never cramped this early in a race, but I went to the back to rest, dumped some water on my thighs [read: crotch] (thank you, black kit!) and kept going. After the first turnaround, we come back through the start and were now heading south to the second turnaround. The pace is still very high and shortly after we cross the start line again, a Suffolk-SunPower (f.k.a. Webcor) rider attacks solo off the front and gets separation.
I get myself from the very back of the field to about fifth wheel, when in a matter of 200 meters, the four guys in front of me disappear. So instead of just eating wind and pulling everyone along, I attack off the front and try to bridge. Incidentally, that’s almost exactly the same place I attacked the last time. I was slowly but steadily getting closer to him, but the guy never looked back. “Does he not want to know if anyone is bridging or chasing?” – I thought to myself. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “slow the f**k down! Let’s work together!” And while I was gaining on him, the field was gaining on me, and the catch was also going to be made at the base of the climb. Now in addition to not being a climber, I have cramps to deal with, so I sit up.
Within a minute I’m caught, and Mario does exactly as we planned, attacks immediately as I rejoin the field. No one answers and he makes the bridge. The field, however, would not be held back and they get caught near the top or shortly after we crest. At this point I’m fading through the back of the field as we go up the climb, but still completely in control of the situation. We hit the north turnaround the second time and the guy front of me takes a horrible line, forcing me to unclip to avoid going in the gutter. The twisting motion of pulling my foot out causes my calf to cramp and I end up pedaling one legged around the cones. I clip in and catch the field on the downhill.
At this point I need to decide how we are going to end the race. One of our plans was for me to attack from about 3-4km out and hope to hold it to the finish (or be the carrot and have the field be the leadout for my teammates) if I felt good. So that clearly went out the window. The second option was for me to get on the front at 2km to go and drill it with all I have to the base of the climb and let Graham, Mario and Brian sort it out – climbing being their forte. So that’s what I commit to. Lucky for me, the attacks and the efforts put in by Graham on the front completely destroyed the field and we went into a complete lull after the abovementioned turnaround.
I ride off the back for a while, then pull up to Alex and tell him to pass on to Brian and the rest the plan for the remainder of the rest. Now my main focus is to get my cramps under control and have something to aid the finish. We were going so slowly, that after the second southbound turnaround, the Cat 5 field, which started a few minutes after us, caught us and passed us. As they passed us, I heard an unpleasant noise in the back – not a crash, but I knew something wasn’t right. Soon after, Tam Bikes guy, Dean, pulled up to me and said, one of our guys broke a spoke. I looked up and saw Mario, Brian and Alex up the road. “F**k! Graham is out!”
At this point, Alex was covering anything that moved on the front and putting in attacks to further hurt the field. I kept my nose out of the wind, spinning as easy as I could and not spinning at all if possible. We’re approaching the 2km mark. Alex did his job and is now toast.
I come up to Brian and tell him what’s going to happen. I see the maker, but I’m slightly boxed in, and Dean is to my right. I ask him to let me out, and being the gentleman, he obliged. I got on the nose and drilled it to 27mph into a headwind until I couldn’t do anything else. But by that point, we were at the base of the climb and my job was done; I pull to the side. Mario and Brian were sitting great, about eight-tenth wheel and as I faded back, attacks went flying and I saw Mario following wheels up the climb. The guys who attacked after I pulled off quickly faded back.
My race was done, I dropped my chain into the small ring and rolled to the finish for the lanterne rouge. Mario is the first guy I see, “Second place!” I’m ecstatic – it worked! Then a minute later, Brian rolls up, “I got third!” Now I’m elated through the roof! I’m so overcome with joy for a great team performance that I almost forgot I just rode for 35 miles with cramps.
Next up, Cantua Creek!