Monday, April 26, 2010

Hooray! only 4 seconds away from Double Hooray!

Unlike all previous stages, I would actually had to get up early for Sunday's decisive time trial.  I spent Saturday night in frantic preparation for the race.  I was only 18 seconds away from the race lead and felt like it was within reach if I had a strong TT.  To have a shot, I knew I would have to pull out all the stops: I attached a plastic cover to my rear wheel for maximum aerodynamics, tinkered with the power meter on my TT bike so that it would work in every gear combination, and of course gave my legs a fresh shave.  I got everything ready that night and still had time to get 8 hours or sleep, but only just barely.  Thankfully sleep came easily thanks to the intensity of the circuit race that day.

I woke up feeling pretty good on Sunday morning.  After a delicious breakfast of oats and bananas, I loaded up all my time trial gadgetry and headed down to the course.  Once I got there and got my bike set up on the trainer for warm up, I got a little concerned.  My legs (aka the TWIN TOWERS) felt fine while spinning easily, but winding up to anywhere near TT wattage was pretty agonizing.  I could really feel the effects of the previous day's efforts.  Despite my misgivings I strapped on my futuristic "Spaceballs"-looking TT helmet and rode down to the start line.

In most stage races, riders start time trials at 30 second intervals in reverse order of GC.  The top placed riders have the advantage of those below them in the standings being out on the road in front, serving as rabbits to chase.  I was reasonably confident that I could ride fast enough to hang on to 3rd, but was worried about the rider just below me on GC.  He was a rather strapping fellow on who had crossed the line solo on Saturday, just over 30 seconds behind me.  The fact that he was strong enough to make his way through the last lap of Saturday's course by himself and only lost 30 seconds to the 3 of us suggested he had some good time trial power.  He was also on the Lenovo team out of Seattle, which contains many very fast category 1/2 riders.  On top of all that, he had even faster looking TT gear than mine.  I was seriously concerned that he would beat me by over 30 seconds in the TT and steal my place on the podium.  Since he was starting 30 seconds in front of me, I resolved to keep him within sight during the race and pass him if at all possible.  I felt that if I could achieve that goal I wouldn't need to worry about the two riders who were starting behind me.

I watched the Lenovo guy take off and lined up for my start.  I got clipped in, took a few deep breaths, and sprinted out of the gate.  Once I settled down in to the aero bars, I looked at the power meter and noticed that I was doing well over 400 watts (that is a lot of watts for me).  Last year, my best Coburg TT was around 345 average watts.  I knew that the out-and-back course was uphill on the first leg.  Since the uphill portion would be the slowest, I knew that it would pay off to go out a little bit too hard for the first half even if I suffered and was able to do fewer watts for the trip back down hill.  To my surprise, I found that holding over 400 watts was no problem for a lot of the climb.  I've averaged 389 up McBeth on the ghetto ride so I guess it wasn't too much of a stretch, but I was still shocked that I was able to go so hard for so long.  I think it must have been the adrenaline rush of being in a race because I really didn't feel any of the sluggishness that had plagued my warmup.  Before long, the wattage output paid off.  Within 5 minutes I was rapidly closing on the strapping Lenovo guy.  I slowed down a touch for a few seconds, and then cranked it up and blew past him.  It always pays to demoralize your TT competition by passing them at an elevated rate of speed.  I managed not to overcook it during the pass and held my pace until the turn around point.

At the turn around, I was able to see my chasers coming at me and noted that I had put a fair bit of time into Lenovo guy, but that the dude just ahead of me on GC was still fairly close behind.  There was no room to slack off on the way back down the grade.  I kept the watts high and my speed went way up with the slight downhill.  My time trial position is very aero with the unfortunate consequence of me not being able to see where I am going.  This caused a few terrifying moments because I really didn't remember the course being that curvy on the way up.  I actually had to get out of the aero bars and hit the brakes at one point to avoid a head on collision with a rider coming up in the opposite lane.  I managed to not crash, passed a few more riders, and accelerated for the finish despite the lack of a 1k to go sign.

On the way back to the staging area, I chatted with Phil (the Lenovo guy) who turned out to be a very nice dude.  He told me that he had never been passed like that in a time trial which made me feel pretty good about my ride.  I got back to the car and hung out while Lisa did her "race of truth", all the while wondering whether I had been fast enough to move up on GC.

My uncertainty lasted until I ventured downtown for the final stage of the race, the criterium.  It took some searching, but I finally found the time trial results.

I found the sheet for cat 4 men, and was elated!

Then I looked more closely at my margin of victory and looked down at the GC rankings following the TT.

NOOOOOO!!!!!  4 FREAKING SECONDS!!!!!!  If only I had not had to hit the brakes!!  If only I knew the finish was coming sooner and exhausted myself more completely!!  As always, I feel like I could have gone a little bit harder now that the race is in the books.  In truth though, I had a great ride in the TT and probably could not have gone any faster.  I decided to be happy with my victory and to see what the crit would bring.  Perhaps I could attack and get more than 4 seconds on the field... I've done it before in a crit...

I joined the throng of riders at the start line before the criterium and got called up to be recognized at the front for my GC placing, which was pretty cool.  Then the race got underway and the suffering began.  The pace seemed extremely high.  Either that, or I was extremely out of gas.  I am pretty sure both were true.  After a few laps I realized that there was no way I was going to get away from the field in my state of exhaustion.  I went in to survival mode and adopted the alternate goals of not crashing or getting shelled.  Fortunately for me, the crit was very short and I made it through to finish with the same time as the winner. 

 Not my field but similar.  You get the idea.

Travis Monroe, the skinny 15 year old from stage 2, won a boatload of primes in the race.  He is going to be a beast once he grows up and gets some meat on his bones.  I wouldn't be surprised to hear about him joining the pros one day.

Also impressive was the fact that the GC leader, Rusty Dodge sprinted to victory in the criterium.  That guy is one hell of an athlete.

After the crit I got to enjoy the podium ceremony for the time trial.  Climbing on to the top step was quite a thrill.  I have to hand it to the race organizers for allowing us rank amateurs to have a podium.  That kind of recognition made all of my lonely suffering on Wolf Creek Rd. this winter worth it.  Here is a shot of the TT podium (warning: skinsuit content)

And here is a shot of the top 5 on GC at the conclusion of the Cherry Blossom Classic.

I had the opportunity to chat with the winner a bit over the course of the weekend.  His name is Rusty Dodge and he is from Bellingham, WA.  I am alright being runner up to him for the following reasons:

1: He has one of the coolest names ever.  It is in the same league as Rip Torn and Red Fox.
2: He is a more well rounded rider than I am.  Sure I have the edge in time trialing, but he came damn close to me in the TT and won two field sprints as well.
3: He is a really nice guy.

After the podium my race weekend was officially over.  No more anti-embolism stockings and paranoia about eating the right things for recovery and hydration... at least not for a day or two.  After getting Lisa squared away for her race I went into relaxation mode.  It was a blast hanging out in the beer garden and watching the really fast people race in the pro/1/2 fields.  The knowledge that I had worked hard and had a successful stage race made the beer taste extra delicious. 

Hopefully the beers after the Cascade Cream Puff 100 this year will be just as tasty!