When it comes to road races, I have no delusions of grandeur. I mean, road races involve climbs, and climbs involve gravity clutching your seat post like a 800 pound gorilla right? Well, if you’re me that’s how climbs typically play out, but they don’t seem to bother those 150 pound Billy Goats I was in the race with. Oh well, guess I need to continue on my weight loss crusade right?
On Friday Will, Newt and I all headed down to the lovely town of Hillsboro for what would turn out to be a gorgeous Saturday of racing. I mean, the course was challenging and those bricks will turn your iron horse into a hyper charged bronco in seconds. But hey, when it’s 70 degrees out and you can get a tan in April; who cares right?
Unfortunately, due to our late arrival the night before, we didn’t get to pre-drive the course so I didn’t know how bad it was (this was my first attempt at Hillsboro) or how it unfolded. But luckily I did have teammates who knew what to expect (Seegs, Matt, Nikki) and pointed out where things would get difficult.
The plan for this race was simple. We had about 18 guys in the Cat 4s, of which a good 5/6 were probably on good enough form to crack the podium. Me, I was there to survive (this would be only my 5th road race ever) for as long as I could and help out on the front when opportunities presented themselves. Other than that, I just didn’t want to wind up with a DNF or in last place. So when we lined up following the Masters field, I made sure I was towards the front – too bad it was like 4th row. We had a lot of guys on the first row so I was content to just stay put and work my way up when the opportunity presented itself.
We rolled “neutral” out of town and the pace remained relatively gentlemanly for the first 2 miles or so thereafter. After that there was a little bit of surging/blocking, but things slowed down when we hit the rollers, which allowed me to recover and start to settle into a groove. At some point we made a right turn onto a hilly section that had the wind at our backs and that’s when things started to pick up. I quickly found myself shuffled back to about 40th place and for several miles, it was an absolute struggle to find a lane to move up. Well that is if you were on the right, because there were plenty of jokers on the left who were venturing up centerline ally with out a license or care in the world. I could see our boys on the front with Cuttin’ Crew so I wasn’t worried that too much was going to happen up there, I just wanted to be in mix too.
Eventually the corners/wind did their job and opened up some lanes for me, at which time I marched up to the front to do my work. Our boys were still up there so I was happy to see Davey, Will and Patrick all in the vicinity. Patrick and a lot of others did a lot of work up at the front to keep things in order and for the most part, nothing that attempted to get away did, or it was quickly brought back as people tired from flailing out in the crosswinds. The only time I personally got worried was when I slid back to about 15th after being up front for a while and I see the Wild Card train go steaming up the left. Luckily, they were just going to the front to do a little work and not attempting to put a blockade on the field.
On our way back towards town I came screaming down a descent that links up to the main road. Between my weight and the massive tailwind, I quickly found myself shooting up a clear right side as everyone was echeloning to the left. As I motored in the wind, I told myself that I needed to find some protection so that I could recover as both the feed zone and main hills would be upon us shortly. Well, I managed to recover, but it was at the feed zone that I made my only mistake of the race, and it would prove to be a fatal one.
The feed zone was “supposed” to be neutral, but that’s not how it shaked out. All of the riders who wanted bottles pulled over to the right and all of the riders who wanted nothing to do with it kept rolling on the left. Guess where I was? By the time I got out of traffic I was shuffled to about 60th wheel and we were about to head into the climb. My climbing strategy is always the same these days, roll up towards the front, climb my own pace and when you get to the top, hopefully you are still in contact with the back of the pack. Being 60th wheel doesn’t lend itself to this strategy now does it? So as I climbed the hill, the pack rode away, as I bombed the descent the pack didn’t get closer and as we left town, they turned right just as I was entering the finishing straight. Race over? Far from it – like 27 miles far from it.
The hill had done a lot of damage and for what looked like miles ahead of me, all you saw was a highway of carnage – little groups of riders trying to get their bearings. I quickly found myself in a group of five and I wasn’t ready to give up just yet and neither were they. Fortunately this group included Zens from Spidermonkey and we were able to get a rotating pace line going after a little organization. SIDENOTE: When we were out at camp in CA, Dave Moyer helped our group see how a “proper” pace line should work. You think you know how to do a rotating pace line, but then when you see it in action you are like, okay I get how this works. So thanks to Dave, Zens and a host of other riders, we were able to go on a collecting spree.
I don’t remember how many riders we picked up, but at one point I think we had a group of 20 people with us. I was so focused on getting back into town that a lot of this part of the race escapes me. What I do remember is spotty at best, like seeing many riders with mechanicals, including Patrick and John (who I called Chris as I went bye). And coming up on a field that appeared to be headed out for a third lap and wondering what they were doing – oh wait that must have been the Pros right?
As we came back towards town for what would thankfully be the last time, I would have a brief moment of disaster about seven miles out. Within about 5 seconds of one another, BOTH of my quads started pulsating uncontrollably as they attempted to fully seize in “death grip” cramps. But by punching my legs into submission (literally) I was able to get it to stop and focus on just staying with our group. At about 4 miles out we caught up to Nick and another lone rider (who both joined our group) and at about 3 miles the pace line was starting to disintegrate and people were starting to skip on pulls. At two miles out Zens ask the group if anyone can climb and I sarcastically reply “If I could climb I wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place!”
Shortly thereafter we hit the feed zone climb and people start to go up the road. I then motor up the main climb and then shoot into the cobbles, which are now laden with about 90 bottles and their fallen comrades that could not survive the vibrations. As we hit the last stretch of brick a rider catches up to me and then as he shifts, drops his chain. Hey, it’s only fitting that after you race this demon of a course, when you try to give it your last ounce of blood, sweat and tears, it “cobbles” it all up and says, hey who’s next?
As I hit the sprint lane I heard Seegs tell me to go. Hey don’t think I didn’t hear you, my legs were just boycotting at the time. I mean, when Sandra told me to go at 100 meters out and I attempted to get out of the saddle, my quads promptly told me to sit my behind down less I want to face plant myself into the road. So unhappily I obliged and rolled across the line spent. I then shortly hooked up with Zens and told him thanks for all the work in the pace line. We then found our way over to the results and I was surprised to learn that we had come across the line 44th and 49th respectively. I guess all that collecting did some good huh? I was also surprised to learn that only 30 riders were in the lead group and that our group was “only” 11 minutes behind them. Go figure…
So for a guy who doesn’t specialize in road racing, I can’t say that it was a bad day at the office. We had two riders crack the top 20 and three finish with the pack. We had a host of other riders come across the line and a team that in general, worked hard and rode well together. I can’t say that you’ll see me out on the road for the rest of 2010. But I will say that I’ll probably be back down South in 2011 – hopefully this time with a pack finish!