The Bike Rack Road Team had men riding in Cat 4 and 5 in this very hilly road race. A light drizzle added to the drama during the Cat 5 race, but all of our boys managed to avoid crashes and everyone finished the grueling race that ends with a steep 200 meter climb to the finish. Read on for race reports!
I started the weekend noticing that my crank had way too much play in it and knew the bike would need to be at the shop before the race with me hoping that it could be fixed and I would be able to make it for the late start (it was the second issue in a week, time for a tune). The Bike Rack staff took great care of me and had me on my way pretty quickly.
I am very grateful.
After rushing to pack the car and make it to the race we arrived with about 40 mins to spare and I was wound pretty tight after rushing all morning and dealing with traffic on 66 and not exactly sure I was in the right mindset but was going out anyway hoping that things would change course.
Well, they didn’t (kind of) shortly after the neutral start ended and things sped up the derailleur was unable to throw the chain enough to get into the big ring (way past time for a full tune). After playing with the barrel adjuster and having no luck I thought that the race was over and the best thing to do would be to hang on and just finish. Turns out that the mechanical was the best thing that could have happened, it really taught me a lot, most importantly to stay out of the wind and to be patient. I started at the back and was able to move up on some of the early hills getting into a much better position while hanging on to wheels during the flats. When gaps opened on the downhills closing them when the road turned back up was made easy by staying as aero as possible, this would bring me right back on to a wheel as the pack accordioned.
Based on my limited experience, the hilly race route (and maybe the rain) is what made small ring racing possible compared to other races, if any moves had happened on the straights it would’ve been over. By hanging on to wheels and taking spots on the hills I was able to make it into the lead pack and just hang on enough, only spinning out the gears a couple of times. By the time the last straight arrived my positioning was good and from there it was about the fight up the hill. A slide out on the last turn may have given up another position or two and the 9% grade towards the finish made it all about pushing hard and trying to limit the losses to better climbers.
All-in-all the weather for the Men’s 4 race was perfect. We got a little bit of drizzle around miles 40-45, but it didn’t do enough to slick up the road (too bad at least). This was my first cat 4 race, and coming off 2 weeks of sitting on a raft and drinking beer, my game plan was to just sit-in and be smart.
Over the course of the five loops we did, there was plenty of time to learn the route, get a feel for when people surge, when they back off, and most importantly, who to stick with and who to avoid. On that topic, I believe it was no later than the beginning of lap two when Dan was pointing out “red jersey” to me and some others. We’d all of course already noticed how sketchy this dude was, but he was hell-bent on riding toward the front, so we just had to keep extra alert. More on him in a minute.
Dan and I were together toward the front of the ~60 person pack for the first few laps, but then going into the steep hill on lap 2 (or 3), some dude dropped his chain and successfully halted the progress of some 10-15 riders, poor old Dan included. I was lucky and was not caught on the wrong side of him, and so was able to hold my position. In any case, there wasn’t too much drama during the race – there were some sharp turns, some steep ups, and some steep downs, but all in all the pack rode smooth and there were few attempts even at a break.
By the final lap, I was able to maintain (and improve) my position and simply prepare for the last hill, which was to be the deciding factor of the race. Old red shirt, not once, not twice, but three times tried to break on his own during this lap, putting in a valiant but stupid effort, and always getting reeled back in. The last of these was pretty annoying, as we all knew he couldn’t stick it, yet he went for it anyways only to die later and get in everyone’s way. He was a pain in the ass.
So, in the end it was a pack lead up to the final hill. Ahmed had been right with me on the previous lap, but then someone (ahem, Wayne!) scolded him for straying too far left and he got sent to the back of the pack. I basically just timed my effort on the hill, letting others surge early and die, and then passed them before the line to pull in a 9th place overall. Pretty psyched about that. (1 point to boot! – only 24 to go…). Wish Dan and Ahmed had better luck and could have finished all together. So it goes I guess.
As usual showed up 15 min from the start rushing to the start line.
First lap all went good till the first 40+mph descent, I started getting the speed wobble, it felt kind of scary and I did not know what to do. Tried to hold the frame with my knees,and I think as a reflex I hit the brakes and held the handlebar too tight which probably made it worse.
For the rest of the race I started counting the descents and that became my focus, next 3 descents were not that bad but I kept loosing position on the descent , maintaining on the flat and gaining position with the climbs , with a plan to use the first climb of the last lap to get to the front before the last finish climb.
All went well except for few cramps at the beginning of the last lap first major climb, half way on the climb I might have gotten to aggressive trying to improve my position crossed the yellow line, and then I heard Wayne’s voice “421 go to the back!” For a min I did not know how is 421 (I usually don’t know my number) I asked the rider next to me, who replied “yes you” ; so I did, used the rest of the climb to gain position again as much as I can , maintained on the flat till the turn of the finish climb, gained as much positions as I can to finish up 17 out of 57 finishers.
Leading up to the first climb was fine and I was feeling really strong, but lack of riding rollers has caught up to me this year. Having said that, I lost contact with the group on the first climb, something really stupid because I know better than to lose contact with riders and must subscribe to the theory of “burning matches”, something I kinda want to avoid because it was a long race and I did not know the course.
Once we crossed the finish line, it was more of a solo effort, but only in order to finish the race. Going downhill was a lot of fun at 49 MPH (thanks for holding up, Ginger) and as long as I didn’t think about it, I knew I would be fine. After the downhills, it was a TT effort throughout the whole course. I did get discouraged, but still continued to turn the pedals and had a decent 25-30 mph average on the rest of the course–just not the climbs.
Overall, it was my first true Cat 4 race and the off-season will be a grueling one for me since I don’t want to disappoint the team–hopefully shedding weight over the winter will help on the climbs. Oh, and burning a few matches in the climb would have helped because I gained a lot of confidence on the road and the turns were going so damn fast. All in all I am happy I raced, just not happy about the way I approached the race. At one point when the rain was coming down, I got really enthus because most people hate riding in the rain, I don’t and would have been able to do better–perhaps.