Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spring Hill Road Race 5/31/09 M45+ (52/53/75?)

While sleeping on Saturday night, I decided to do Spring Hill the following morning. I looked at the race a month ago and dismissed it. Chileno? That’s flat and windy – no way! Rollers? Forget it, I need hills! Last week the thought of Spring Hill reoccurred: a tune-up race for Pescadero, could be fun. Less than stellar workouts and dead legs pushed the race back into obscurity. Saturday (5/30/09) I watched Lisa do well at a crit, it was nice, exciting, yet somehow tranquil because there were no crashes and the constant droning from the nearby freeway was soothing. Racing looked appealing and if I got dropped I’d ride those roads on my own. Heck, I did three consecutive solo 100-mile days out in that wind and those rollers in 2007, so this wouldn’t be the first time.

There is a decent amount of uncertainty that comes along with race day registration and Spring Hill did not disappoint. The lines were long, the categories full, and the morning a bit chilly. After endless waiting I was put on a waiting list and told to come back in 15 minutes. Rumors disseminated, announcing that the race was running 30 minutes late, then 40 minutes late. I ate and drank, put on my kit, and returned to the check-in. “We can’t tell you yet, maybe wait another 10 to 15 minutes,” the registrar is friendly, but doesn’t seem quite willing to open up the list and boot one of the no-shows and give me his number. The start is fast approaching, other categories are being sent off, and my anxiety level heightens considerably. I figure I’ve got 10 minutes before the M45+ (open) group leaves. The trainer is not an option anymore for warm up and I’m contemplating riding up and down the road a few times. Unfortunately, I still don’t have a spot!

The women behind the counter finally relent to my pitiful presence and assign me a number. One of them even helps me pin the (two) tags to my jersey. We create wonderful little drag chutes that later flap around on the downhills and the headwind on Chileno. I rush over to the pack of M45+at the start, it’s an ‘Open’ field, not the usual Cat 4/5. The starter gives a nice dedication about a local rider who succumbed to a neuromuscular disease that predominantly strikes males in their 40’s(ALS). On that somber note we roll out and start up the first hill. The pace feels brisk, but not blistering. It’s about a mile, followed by some bumps and another hill. A bit over 4 miles into the race there is a nasty little power roller on this otherwise gentle uphill slope. My legs are on fire and the lack of warm-up costs me dearly. I desperately try to hang on, but the legs won’t budge another inch per hour. [Note: solo I went 0.5mph faster on this very same roller on the second lap and 1.0mph faster on the third lap – I would not have lost contact at either of those speeds] I watch the group crest the top a few yards ahead of me and descend away on the blistering descent about 5 miles in.

I get caught and passed by a couple of guys at the start of Chileno, losing their wheel in the process of trying to hang on. Finally someone comes around who is more speed compatible and we agree to do 2 minute pulls. We start passing some of the dropped W3/4s. On the last (long, gradual) hill we pass a guy from Z-Team. I tell him to latch on. He declines, but when we hit the descent he’s there anyways. Turns out he’s busted his rear derailleur cable and his choices are down to 39/12 and 53/12. I secretly praise the fact that I’m riding a compact, but that turns into a curse as ‘Z’ puts it into overdrive and time trials the short tailwind stretch on Tomales Road. I drop off, but my previous riding buddy sticks with ‘Z’ a bit longer. I’m incredulous when they both pull off into the parking lot. Wow, one lap down, two to go. I settle into slog mode: pace and keep those pedals turning… The M55+ pass me, the Juniors hammer by. A group of three W3/4s dangles out in front of me. At this point it’s the carrot I need to keep me going in the wind on Chileno. They paceline a quarter mile ahead of me and I hardly make up any ground. Then there is some discord and they split. I close in catch one, who (unbeknown to me) latches on. I catch the second one (Mouse), who turns around and yells:”you can’t do that!” Bewildered I look around to see the other W3/4 behind me. The two of them fall back, but a bit later they’re back and passing me. This is rather awkward, since we seem to be going roughly the same speed, but shouldn’t work together. I keep the pace and they fall back. Up over the last hill on Chileno, down to Tomales Road, pick it up in the tailwind, and pass another group of W3/4. I’m in the zone and start thinking about the potential first ‘DFL.’

Ping, ping, ping, ping????!!!!! This doesn’t sound good! I slow and get off the bike to discover a broken spoke on the rear 303. I quickly rap the spoke around another and hop back on the bike. Hmmm..., my thoughts go from the potential DFL to the potential DNF because of the mechanical. I briefly consider riding the remaining lap with the busted spoke. The trusty, old Zipp rim seems to be holding up pretty well. No wobble, no need to adjust the brake pads. I decide to ride the couple of kilometers back to the parking lot and swap out the Zipp for my training wheel.

Third time up the starting hill I still see Chris K. sticking a bottle in my face at the feed zone. It’s good to see a friendly and familiar face in less than ideal circumstances. That sort of thing keeps the spirits a little higher, puts a little more energy in the mental tank. Thanks for being out there! I cruise the third lap and get passed by the 3s (on their 4th lap) on Chileno. Go Scott and Eric (took 3rd! Congratulations!)! Unfortunately they sit up a bit just after passing me and the follow car brakes and slows me. Thanks buddy...

At this stage of the race I feel like I’m not just DFL for the M45+, but the race in general. Most riders have left by the time I roll past the parking lot and start the last trip up the starting hill (to the finish on top). There’s a spectator coming down the hill with a large ‘Touchstone’ sign, and she raises it as I go by. I’ve got no idea who she is, but thanks for being there! A little push over the finish line and the ‘race’ is done. 69.7 miles and a bit over 3800’ is what my Polar reads. Most of it was solo, in the wind. I placed 52nd out of 53 finishers. Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mount Hamilton Road Race - May 24, 2009

Photo by Michael Robertson -

It's funny how things work out. In January I took a look at the race calendar, penciled in a few races I was interested in, and even laid out a skeleton of a training plan. Nothing was set in stone, but I was pretty sure I wanted to "peak" for the Mount Hamilton Road Race, since its known as one of the classics in the Bay Area. Fast forward to May - the race is a few weeks away, and the perfect storm of too much work, lots of weekends out-of-town, and the flu have combined to blow my training out of the water. I thought about ditching the race, but the lure was too great - I'd only ever ridden over Mount Hamilton once, and never from the San Jose side. So I decided that I'd go, even if it meant soloing much of the way.

Fortunately, whatever strength my legs had lost through lack of training, they had also gained in recovery. Granted, I was not pushing the pace at the front of the race, but I did feel much better than I expected. This was one of the best-organized and supported races I've been too - kudos to the San Jose Bike Club. We started right on time, there was plenty of water as promised at Mile 25, good warning signage on sketchy corners, there was food at the finish, and results were posted within hours!

The race itself lived up to its reputation - the climb started almost immediately, and other than 2 quick descents, it didn't let up for 20 miles. Our group (Cat 4) hit it not quite full gas, but pretty hard. Hard enough to string things out and shed some guys. I had no ambitions of going with the lead group, so I settled into a group that swelled and shrunk between 8-12 guys. I was hurting on the 2nd of the 3 mini-peaks that made up the full climb to the top of Hamilton, but recovered and felt strong on the final push. My group splintered, and I went with about 6 guys who were surging past us. The 6 of us strung out as we approached the summit, and I was happy to have some space on the long winding downhill - managed to pass 2 or 3 on the way down, but then wished I was with a group again on the backside where things flattened out.

My wish came true - some of the guys I had pulled away from near the top of the climb caught me - I wasn't pushing full-steam, and even if I had been, I eventually would've been swallowed up. We worked relatively well together, although it was one of the most "surgy" pacelines I've ever been in. As we picked up stragglers up the road, our group slowly grew. Just as we hit the 2nd main obstacle of the day it became every man for himself once again. I was tired as hell, but my legs were cooperating and I passed a few riders going up the (comparatively) easy climb. The final 15 miles or so were fast and fun, except that I was dying for another bottle of water (I'd gone through 3 in the first 50 miles). When it came time to sprint, I had nothing.

I finished almost exactly midpack - 34th of 71. Nice to feel that racing adrenaline rush once again.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wente Criterium - 4/26/09 - Cat5 22(41)

I’m not a big fan of crits, but I’ve watched Wente for a few years and came away with the feeling that if there was such a thing as a perfect squirrel race it would be this one at the outskirts of Livermore. The course is about 1.2 miles long, perfectly flat, with excellent pavement, and smooth corners. There’s also the notion that one should at least try to work on weaknesses – to that effect I promised myself a real crit every once in a while. Wente also fell into place because the road race was full by the time I decided to sign up for it. The crit however had quite a few spots open.

Cat5s are the very bottom of the racing ladder, the part that scrapes the dirt below everyone else’s tires. I guess it’s supposed to be some sort of weird motivation to get people to move up as quickly as possible. Wente did not disappoint: a 7:30am start, 3 places, no cash, no prizes, and no primes. Compare that to the Cat 4 Women or the Juniors – yes, they get CASH, 6 places, and a nicer starting time. I must admit that the Juniors had a fantastic and very exciting race!

We started off with a pretty full pack, heading West into the wind which was blowing about 8-10mph. I figured that the wind would discourage any successful breaks. A few times someone would jump and make it 30 yards in front of the pack. Then they’d dangle for a while and fall back. We were destined for a pack finish and my strategy was to come around the last corner on the final lap somewhere in 8th to 10th place. The finish is on a wide road and can easily take six or more riders across. It’s also pretty far from that last corner and you’re going into the wind. Normally, being in the top three is advisable, but here it seemed like a good way to go nowhere. I duly noted that most riders around me probably weighed 15 to 30 lbs more than me, had huge legs (for 5s), and were probably stronger. I would have to suck wheel until the very end and hope for the best.

The first lap was squirrely with most riders trying to figure out the corners and even the straightaway before the finish line became chaotic for a short period of time. Imagine five or six wobbling bowling pins travelling at 25 or so mph. A bit later a dog runs right into the front of the field. Fortunately the road is wide and some of us see it coming, but the little mutt still gets nailed and a couple of riders go down. A few people stop, the pack rolls on at a moderate pace. It’s time to take a deep breath and wonder what we’re doing here. The dog runs off and I’m thinking about the owner. I figure they both have a brain the size of a walnut and keep riding…

The pack gets in a groove, the corners get smoother, and I practice my best Pufferfish whenever someone encroaches. This is actually fun! The pace picks up when the lap card turns to ‘2’ and I’m trying to tuck in. The speed is a bit above comfort zone, but manageable. A guy to my front left gets squeezed into a curb and locks up his front brake. His rear wheel lifts a foot and a half off the pavement, but comes back down. The last corner is in sight and my visions of glory fade as I round it in the middle of the pack. The sprint is chaotic since there are many riders with similar physical ability. I get a serious case of tunnel vision and roll across in 22nd place for the 2nd time in a couple of weeks. I guess my success is still measured by the big three: stay upright, finish, and don’t finish last…


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Copperopolis M45+ 4/5 B/C 22(48)

The course:

As one of the classic races on the NCNCA calendar, Copperopolis has a bit of a reputation, mainly because of the rough roads which have earned it the nickname “Paris-Roubaix of California!” “Tighten down your bike and hold on to your dentures!” Looking at all the DNPs one would have to agree, but what I encountered was no worse than coming down the Geysers or Black Mountain on the Terrible Two or the North side of Morgan Territory prior to this year. Don’t get me wrong: this is not Sea Otter Circuit Race pavement, it’s rough and bumpy, but it’s not riddled with massive potholes and exposed roots. Riding a Roubaix with its longer wheelbase and a 700x23 in the front and 700x25 in the rear, both at a modest 100lbs, my backside felt significantly better than after any of the doubles or brevets I’ve done. Even with a pair of Ksyriums…

The course starts in the metropolis of Milton, a few houses clustered around a rather oversized Masonic barn. Heading Southeast on Rock Creek Road one is quickly introduced to the rough pavement. It doesn’t get much worse than the stretch leading up to the feed zone a couple of miles into the race. The first hill is really a series of steps on a narrow road. This isn’t quite as apparent when looking at Polar or Garmin data files, but becomes obvious on a pre-ride inspection. While the elevation gain still favors climbers at this point it is different from very climbing oriented races such as Pine Flat or Orosi. The wind and rollers past the first hill keep things interesting for everyone and it’s my sense that the race suits strong roleurs. The second hill lasts only a couple of minutes and the grade is benign. The following downhill is rough, but quite fast. Yes, there is some barbed wire on the right…

The Race:

My warm up on the trainer was a bit short and just before the race – 15 minutes, with a 30 second hard effort at 5 minutes and another at 8 minutes. I switched skewers on the rear wheel and headed for the start across the street, lining up with other riders in the M45+ 4/5C field. Casual conversation with the rider next to me revealed some startling tidbits: “they’ve combined the fields…” “What?!?!?!” I’m in utter disbelief and my pre-race strategy falls apart seconds before the start. I dreadfully realize that being with other Cs puts all of us at the back of the now combined field, a bad place to be. On top of that my field just more than tripled in size, forty-eight instead of fourteen. Welcome to Copperopolis!

The race starts and people are hammering right from the left turn on to Rock Creek Road. I try to make up ground, but it’s a bit sketchy out there. For the most part riders are holding their line, but the rough road plays a factor. There is no center line, so we’re covering the whole road. By the first uphill (to the feed zone) I’m in the top third of the field and there’s some bumping going on. The pace is insane from my perspective and I’m longing for a lawn chair and margarita. The legs feel fine, but my heart is repeatedly trying to evacuate. Surely this must slow down when we hit some of the bigger steps on the climb. I pass Will H. from Touchstone and latch on to Lee Millon’s wheel. Lee’s a buddy from DBC who’s done a bunch of brevets and PBP with me. He’s solid on the bike and has been doing really well in races (should upgrade to 3s), so I figure he’d be a good wheel to grab. We hit the steep step and Lee’s coming backwards. I pass and yell at him to keep it going. The pace has intensified and I’m getting that drooling slobber feeling. It’s the hardest I’ve ever gone for this long. My HRM tells me I’ve been redlining well over threshold for what seems like an eternity and have equaled the highest heart rate from a max test last fall. We hit the houses on top of the hill, the road flattens a bit, Lee has found his second wind and passes me, my legs blow. The lead group accelerates and gaps me. At least half a dozen more riders pass me after the false flat, until I finally find the strength to latch on to a couple of wheels that don’t pull away from me.

Our little group of three gets into a pace line and works well together, we’re all putting in our fair share. One of the guys drops off, leaving me with a rider from TBS. We rotate well and work toward catching people in front of us. There’s a lone rider who’s been dangling out there for a while, but we only reel him in slowly and he crests the second hill before us. At the bottom of the downhill I see a Touchstone jersey. It turns out to be Amy - she appears less than thrilled. I give her a pat on the back as we motor past. A bit further we catch our carrot, the single rider (Tim), at the STOP sign toward the end of the first lap and work our way back to the steps in a pace line of three. The guy from TBS drops off near the top of the hill, but we pick up James from Roaring Mouse. He looks pretty beat, but still puts in some strong pulls. At the base of the second hill he fades. Tim sticks with me for a little while and then also fades. I keep on going, pass a guy from DBC and hit the downhill. Toward the bottom of the hill Tim is back and loses a bottle right in front of me. The thing squirts out and drops in front of me like a hot potato. I barely miss it.

We still rotate for a bit and then go side by side as we approach the finish. I’m thinking about how this will play out. He’s probably stronger in absolute power, but faded on the last hill and it’s an uphill finish. The 1km sign passes, then the 200m sign. I tell Tim I’m good with passing the line together and we roll across at the same time. It’s a good way to end a beautiful race. We worked well together and there’s no need to kill sportsmanship and fun with a last second dash for a mid-pack finish. Copperopolis was an awesome race!


Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Training Rides

For those of you not racing Copperopolis and/or Sea Otter John Swift and I are organizing two killer training rides to get in some good base miles, a fair amount of climbing, and to take in a little of the California springtime that seems to pass us by living in and around the city.

The rides are as follows:

King's Ridge. 4/11 - One of the best rides in Northern California. Start in Occidental, head north along King's Ridge to Sea Ranch (lunch stop), then back down the coast to Jenner. We can even add in Coleman Valley Rd if we want a little more pain at the end of the ride, but the plan is to finish on Willow Creek Road which is a little easier. 100 miles, 9000+ ft of climbing.

Big Basin 4/18- Another stellar ride! Start at Arastradero Park and climb Pagemill Rd to Skyline. From Skyline, drop down in to Big Basin all the way to Ben Lomond (Lunch). Climb back out Zayante Rd to Skyline. Scream down Rt 9 towards Saratoga, making our way past Stevens Creek Resevoir on our way back to Arastradero. 85 miles, 13,000+ ft of climbing

ROLL TIME WILL BE AT 8am for both rides. These are going to be long days, but both rides have options that will shorten them to around 60 miles if you're on a schedule. Please post here if you would like to join. For Kings Ridge, we'll have to pre-order lunch at Sea Ranch, and posting will also facilitate carpooling. Also, given the distances and climbing involve with these rides, please don't invite people that will cause the group to wait beyond just lagging a little on the hills. That said, please feel free to invite anyone that is willing and able to join.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Pine Flat RR 2009 (Part II)

I won't recount the drama that unfolded before the race even began - Chris has documented it well, and I really don't want to relive the horror anyway. But here's my rundown of race day, my first race as a mighty Cat 4:

I guess living in CA has softened me up, because at the race start it was 40 degrees, and I was freezing. I layered up with nearly all the clothes I brought, and except for the fleece cap I was happy to have it all on. There isn't really a great place to warmup at Pine Flat, and I didn't have a trainer, so I just hoped that the first part of the race would be mellow. Not so - after the "neutral" 200' steep starting climb, the action got going, with godspeed riders instigating. The first 20+ miles (out-and-back portion) had lots of little surges that got my heart ramped up quick. I think I had some first race jitters, because I wasn't very focused and let a few gaps open up on some corners, which then required accelerations that were harder than they needed to be. After about 10 miles, things settled down a bit and I took a moment to enjoy the view of Pine Flat Lake. Overall, the field was content to stick together, and didn't much bother to chase when someone shot off the front. I tucked in near the back, and tried to remember to keep drinking despite the cold.

The long descent toward Belmont Road was a blast - great pavement and nice sweeping turns, and all the folks around me holding pretty good lines. For several miles, things were unevenful - I tried to take shelter from the moderate cross-winds, and very slowly moved my way to the middle half of the group as opportunities presented themselves. On a dead-straight section of road, there was a pretty nasty crash near the front of the field - I didn't see what happened, but the sound was awful as both bikes and bodies piled on one another - I was able to scoot around the carnage, but did get clipped by a flailing bike. I turned to make sure Chris wasn't down, and then found myself near the front of a now smaller field. I think nearly 10 guys went down, and a few of their teammates stopped to assist. The crash took some wind out of the sails of the group (or perhaps everyone was trying to save their legs for the climb to come), and for a few miles the pace dipped.

Our Saturday pre-ride of the last 10 miles of the course was really helpful, because when we did finally hit the main climb, I knew where it was going to hurt. I figured attacks would come as soon as we were on the climb, but that didn't really happen - Chris and about 4 other strong men did go to the front and slowly pull away, however. It was clear that this was going to be the winning move, but my legs didn't care, so I settled for cresting the climb alone in ~20th place as the field strung out. Some regrouping happened on the downhill, and about 5 of us got into a semi-organized rotation. The leaders were well up the road, and I knew we didn't have a chance to catch them, but I didn't want to get caught by the stragglers behind us either.

By the time we hit the final 1/2 mile climb, our group had swelled to 7, and I had a little left, so I pushed the pace right away at the 1km mark. This shed a few guys, but Webcor and Dolce Vita were right with me, and when they came around me with ~300m to go, I was toast. Getting to the finish line was painful, and I got nipped at the line by a hard-charging guy that I was too delirious to even hear coming. 16th place. 10 minutes later my sweat was turning to ice as we awaited the rest of our gang from the masters race. Thanks to Elmar for lending a jacket - otherwise I think I would have been in real trouble!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pine Flat Road Race 2009

So, ever wonder what would happen if your bike flew off of the top of your car at 70 mph? Well let me set the scene for you….

Dustin, Mike, and I are on Hwy 152, just west of Los Banos. We’re in the fast lane making pace, but keeping it reasonable because it’s a holiday weekend. We are a half hour or so in front of the other car, planning to meet in Fresno before pre-riding the hill. Music is playing, we’re chatting it up, and we hear a loud thump. It almost sounded as if we had just hit a dog or something but with no shock to the car. Mike in the back seat says, “What was THAT?”. I check my mirrors and all seems in order. About 10 seconds later we hear and this time we feel another loud crash. Dustin is looking out the sunroof and says, “The BIKES!”, Mike lets out a “Holy Shit”.

I glance up at the rear view mirror. My stomach hits the road… The entire roof rack with about 12k of our precious carbon cargo is somersaulting down the middle of the highway. Absolute chance had left the lane behind us empty of traffic. I watch the bikes tumble to a stop as I slam on the brakes and pull off the road. We back up to the bikes, which have conveniently landed upright on the shoulder of the road. Mike’s Giant had ripped out of the rear tire strap, but the front fork is still engaged in the clamp. Both Dustin’s bike and mine are still fully strapped in to the racks. We do a quick visual inspection of the bikes. Mike’s bike certainly seems the have taken the major punches. The broken rear strap allowed it to swing back and forth as it tumbled down the road. The front levers are both collapsed inward. My beloved Cinelli was on the other outward side of the rack but stayed completely connected to the rack. It's come to rest with only having a few grams of carbon shaved of the left brake lever. Dustin’s bike, in the middle of the rack, has absolutely no damage.

We make a phone call to Mr. Rossi who is now only about 10 minutes away and we wait for them to show up. We pull the wheels off of the bikes, move their luggage to my car and put the bikes in the back of his station wagon. We head to the hotel to unload gear and meet up with John S. who is already there. Later that afternoon we reassemble the bikes, and give things a twice over. Everything is working, not a single component is broken on any of the bikes! We pre-ride the last 10 miles of the route, making sure the bikes are "ok".

Mike's bars post crash

Race Day…

As the high for the day is only forecasted to be 44 degrees at noon, deciding what to wear is easy. My strategy is to just sit in at the back of the field and wait for the hill. I know anyone that attempts a breakaway is going to be toast by the climb, at least I'm hoping it's so.

Two riders, each on his own individual breakaway are somewhere out in front of the group for quite a while, as the group turns on to Watts Valley Road. Shortly after the turn something happens and a pile of what looks like 8-12 guys is in a mound in front of me. Water bottles, bodies and bikes are all over the place. Those that are still up fan around the crash, and a few teammates stop to help their own.

The pace slows as everyone’s bodies absorb some adrenaline. It’s not clear exactly what happened to cause the pile up, but the pace is slow and doesn’t really pick up for a mile or so as people get their legs back. By the hard right on WVR, everyone is alert again, and it’s back to race pace. The tempo is very reasonable and I just sit in waiting for someone to go. The front of the pack where I’m at is a total mess. No one wants to pace set and we just inch our way to the start of the real climb. On the way we pick off a few dropped riders and one of our breakaway guys. By now I’m ready to split the pack up. I put on a little pace and a group of 4 other riders hop on. A CVC rider hops to the front of the pack and pace sets up the climb. I settle into a comfortable pace, while watching and listening to the other riders around me. I can tell some of the other riders are hurting. I remember there’s still five miles of rollers after the hill. Rather than pushing the pace some more, I opt just to sit in and ride with the group over the hill.

Descending, we catch the other breakaway guy, and work pretty well as a group for 2-3 miles. At least two riders seem to be hanging on by a thread or just are sitting back in the rotation. At one point I rode up to the CVC rider who was taking a huge pull (because the rotation wasn’t pulling through) and told him to ease off and let the other rides move to the front or he was going to shell himself. Looking over my shoulder occasionally I could see a chase group behind us. After talking with the CVC rider and signaling to the guys behind us to pull through with no results, I dropped an f-bomb at the other riders. I apologize for that… but it did seem to get people working again.

We roll up to the 1km marker and the pace picks up a little. At the base of the hill I singled out Roland from Webcor and the CVC rider as contenders. I move to the front, checking over my shoulder to see who would match my pace. Webcor and CVC are right there. I ramp it up a little and the group starts to string out. It’s just Roland and I at the 200m mark. I stay seated and maintain a constant pace. I can hear Roland’s breathing picking up. He’s out of the saddle but drifting back. I keep it comfortable for myself to the finish line.

Coming up to the finish line

Picture by K. Weixel

Dustin and Kim's husband at the line

Photo by K. Weixel

Chris K.