As anyone who knows me may tell you, I have a fondness for craft beer, and a lack of restraint that goes along with my fondness. That, and a generally sedentary winter have me now sitting at the heaviest I've ever been in my life - 180 pounds. At San Luis Obispo team camp, this basically meant sitting off the back of most of the big nasty climbs for a week. Not that camp wasn't an amazing experience - it was - but suffice to say, gravity is a constant and all those winter beers have been haunting me lately on anything vertical.
So, I did what anyone else would do and signed up for a crit with a 100 foot climb every lap.
A bit of back story here.. I'd actually pre-registered to race monsters of the midway today. It's a nice flat oval with only one real significant turn in it, almost tailor made for a bigger guy like myself. However, I'd heard some rumblings about this race, and that XXX has won the cat 4 race two years in a row, so I thought it'd be a pity if we didn't even show up to defend our title.
Fortunately, I wasn't alone in the race. I rode up with Ben O'Malley - one of our ultra-light climbing juniors, and Nick V was at the race as well when we rolled up. This was good, as I'd seen Ben in action at camp when it came to going up, and he'd had some good results in races with climbs recently. Nick was our climber on back side of the wall day, so I was starting this race optimistic.
The start of the race faces up the second part of the stair step climb. It's quite literally an uphill race start. I knew we were racing for 40 minutes, and started doing the math in my head as we stood there awaiting the whistle. I'd done one warm up lap as hard as I could to get the lap time, which was a bit under 3 minutes when I did it. So, we were looking at 13 or 14 laps. That meant that I only had to get up this little hill at most 14 times, and I was good to go.
Lap 1. The whistle goes, and I'm in the second row. Perhaps because it was uphill, many racers, myself included, bumbled the clip in a bit. I got it sorted long before the guy ahead of me did, and charged up the hill to settle in 10-12 wheels. At the crest of the hill almost immediately the road levels off for a moment, then heads downhill into the single turn of the race. A very wide, slightly rough right hander that could be taken at full speed. We of course did not take it at full speed lap one, as I think some of the guys were a little afraid of that turn until they got comfortable. As we reached the start/finish, I was in about 3rd wheel...
Lap 2. Which is where from experience I know I need to be if there's a climb. I'm going to move backwards on every hill. It's a given. Now, if I move backwards from 3rd wheel, to mid pack, I haven't lost much in the way of position, but if I move backwards from the back of the pack, I'll be chasing on when the group accelerates at the top. That's bad. So, reading reports from years past, I know that both Will P and Ryan F have won this race on the downhill, somehow. I decide to see what the deal is with this, and take a flier as hard as I can. Which gets me about a foot on the pack. No, there's no breaking off today - this race is going to end together. This pack isn't letting anyone go, so further attacks may not be a great idea. One thing this does do though, is put us through the turn at the full speed I want to. Perhaps this woke the rest of the pack up, because we wouldn't have too many more slow downs into the turn for the rest of the race.
Lap 3. Now I hurt a little. That attack wasn't the smartest thing I could have done. The lap counter still isn't set, so I have no clue how many more times I have to get up this hill. I drift back a little far for my liking and get back on the group on the downhill.
Laps 4-6. The race settles into a groove here. It's go hard up the climb, coast, go hard down the hill, slow, turn, fight back up to the front, move backwards, fight up to the front on the rest of the lap. It's starting to get ugly when I climb the hill.
Lap 7. Lap counter is in action now. 7 to go as we cross the line. So it's going to be 13 laps. The fact that I have one less lap to climb makes me happy. I begin to start talking to myself in my head. 7 more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 7 more times.
Lap 8. Six more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 6 more times.
Lap 9. Five more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 5 more times.
Lap 10. Four more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 4 more times.
Lap 11. Three more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 3 more.. Crap, too far back, move up again or you're doing this for nothing. Where's my team? Nick doesn't look happy, but Ben's 5th wheel. Move up to talk to him. "When are you gonna go, Ben?" "I'm not strong enough to go." Ok, then I suppose I've just become the de facto sprint finisher for the team. I start to hope it's going to slow up as the final laps start.
Lap 12. Two to go. Noone's attacking. The field wants this to end in a sprint. I'm feeling better going up this hill at this speed. Contrary to every other crit I've done, I know I want to be first wheel across the start / finish (for the reasons mentioned above).
Lap 13. This is it, last time up this thing. And it's a charge. The climbers have let loose, the sprinters are moving up with all they've got, and I'm.. going backwards. It's ok though. Don't panic. This is why you wanted to be first into this lap. You've heard rumblings from wisconsin teams to each other about first one out of that turn is the winner. You know they are wrong. It's 600 meters from that final turn, on very wide, open roads. Noone is going to take that to the line in this race. Not when it's flat for 450 meters of it. You're safe letting them fight this out to the corner. And they do. We overtake some dropped riders through the corner and up front I see panic and chaos. That's not my fight though, It's not my fight until.. now. After the last corner I start my long slow rev up to speed. I'm heavy, and my sprint is not what anyone would call explosive, but give me a long enough launch pad with enough room to move, and I can hit 40 mph in a straight no problem. 37 today. I moved from near last and overtook all but one man in the field. I feel like a rocket amongst firecrackers for a brief moment. You've all made the mistake of giving me time to get going, and now I'm going to win. Well, except for this UofW rider who's done the same thing and I can't hold his wheel. Crap. Oh, and look at that, my legs aren't really responding to my commands anymore. That's because we're going up now. Another guy sprints past. I'm overgeared for this, but if I stop fighting and shift, I won't have a chance at the top ten. I muscle through and mash my way to a photo finish bike throw for third place. My legs nearly completely give way as we cross the line, but I don't want to be that guy who causes a wreck in front of the field, so I push it far enough to get half way up the hill and then the glorious downshift to get the searing pain to go away. I audibly grunt when I can finally let up.
And I'll take third, happily. I put my 180 pound behind up that hill 13 times, and while I couldn't hold our streak, at least we can say we've been on the podium three years running in this race. This race ended playing textbook into my strengths, and made me fight it every single lap. I hit 193bpm in the sprint, which is apparently a new max heartrate for me by a beat. I'm not sure I would do anything different, other than maybe going one gear lower in the final sprint, but then, that might have put me further back anyway. I exploded at the finish, so I can't say I had anything else to give that race. Perhaps being mid pack instead of rear pack when I started winding up? Probably would have just led someone out then. Anyway, that's Bike Racin, as Luke would say. And Bike Racin is fun.