I have finally overcome the inertia that has kept me from blogging for the past few months and am back. I’m now regretting not having written up anything about my ride in the Cascade Creampuff last year when the experience was still fresh in my head. The main bits I recall at this point are that it was a really long ride, there was a horrendous amount of climbing, and it was brutally hot. It was also the most rewarding experience I have ever had on a bicycle. Here is a picture:
Now on to current events: The Piece of Cake Road Race. One of my main goals of the 2011 racing season is the Cherry Blossom Stage Race, which is coming up next weekend. Having not done any racing since 2010, the Piece of Cake seemed like the perfect event to get my legs ready for the upcoming thrashing they would receive in the blossom. I’ve been a bit reluctant to race so far this year, mainly because the weather has sucked so badly. I was out of weekends before Cherry Blossom, however, so I decided to brave the wet and kick off the season. The course sounded interesting at least – some rolling hills and 3 miles of gravel roads, which might help make the race hard enough to break up the field and generate some excitement. This turned out to have been true for the most part.
I got up bright and early on race day, and picked up my teammate Matt Baumann and Pete Moe from the Wolf Creek Racing team, both of whom would be joining me in the Cat. 3 field. Pete said that he had seen a weather forecast that predicted a break in the rain precisely corresponding with our race time. I thought he was joking as we drove north through the rain showers, but sure enough, there was genuine blue sky above when we arrived at the course. Perhaps the race wasn’t going to be as miserable as I was initially expecting.
Once the race got underway the pace was rather civil until we arrived at the gravel road section of the course. Once there, it was not long before someone at the front of the pack dropped the hammer, and the field strung out in to two single-file lines on the smooth car tire tracks in the road. As expected, there were numerous flats the first time through the gravel, as those who either showed up with thin, lightweight tires, or just got unlucky were thinned from the herd. There were so many punctures that the follow car with spare wheels ran out on the first lap, and had to go back to the start to resupply. All of the flat tires combined with the brutal pace caused many gaps to form in the lines of riders that I needed to bridge to avoid losing touch with the lead group. The most chaotic gravel segment had no smooth car tracks, forcing us to fish-tail our way through the loose rock. As if this wasn’t enough, that segment had a strong crosswind, so riders were spreading all over the road trying to find the draft. There were rocks and water bottles flying everywhere and all sorts of mayhem. In other words, it was a lot of fun in a masochistic sort of way.
|Our field enters the Gravel. Matt on the right edge. Photo by Kenji.|
After the loose gravel, it was not long before the shaking ended and we were back on smooth tarmac. The pace immediately slowed way down and I took stock of the havoc wreaked by the rough stuff. Our pack had shrunken considerably and about 3 riders were off the front. One of the breakaway riders was on the Therapeutic Associates Inc. team, and had several teammates in our group who were on the front, controlling the pace so that their buddy wouldn’t get caught (as they should). Despite the TAI guys, we eventually reeled in two of the escapees, and I chose the moment of them rejoining the pack to launch an attack and join the lone TAI guy who remained off the front. I thought that it had the potential to become a successful breakaway (even though it was only the first lap) because he seemed strong to have stayed away for so long, and had more teammates in the lead group than anyone else. Unfortunately, when I reached him we only traded a couple of pulls before he decided to rejoin the pack leaving me off the front by myself. This also happened to be in the headwind section of the course, making it suck really badly to be a lone rider with nobody to share work of fighting the wind with. I put myself in to TT mode and commenced suffering. I began to loose hope as I periodically looked back and realized that my gap was not getting any bigger, and sure enough, near the start/finish area, I was brought back into the main field.
We rode through the gravel again, and the pace was much less painful. I made it through without incident and the pack was all together on the smooth roads. Matt and I were working to stay near the front of the group, and that paid off when another TAI rider attacked hard. The guy shot off the front like a rocket, and Matt must have recognized that he was strong because he immediately followed suit and joined him. Again it looked like the move had serious potential because the front of the main field was dominated by TAI riders, and I was spending my time up there as well. None of us was inclined to do any work to bring back Matt or his companion. Unfortunately for Matt, the TAI dude almost immediately slowed down, or Matt sped way up (what’s with these guys not wanting to be in breaks with Paul’s riders?!?!) and Matt was off the front alone. I did my best to hang out near the front but did not contribute at all to making the pace. It was kind of nice actually to be able to rest a bit. Matt, on the other hand, was up the road alone turning himself inside out and got a sizeable gap on us. At this point, the sky opened up and a torrent of rain came down. It was ridiculously horrible, raining so hard that it seemed like a solid stream of water rather than individual raindrops falling. I felt kind of bad for Matt, but at least he wasn’t getting sprayed by water from anyone’s tire in addition to the rain.
|Me getting drenched. Photo by VelocityPhoto|
We rode through the start/finish, and began our third and final lap. We entered the gravel, and the pace picked up a bit again. I made it through, despite the usual gravel chaos, and was stoked when we emerged onto the pavement without catching Matt. I thought his solo move actually had a legitimate shot at working. Just as I was thinking this, we approached a rider on the side of the road removing his rear wheel, and I saw with disappointment that it was indeed Matt. He must have flatted just as he was leaving the gravel section. I felt really bad for him, and considered waiting up to try to pace him back on to the pack. I quickly decided that this would most likely lead to both of us finishing off the back of the lead group and pressed on. Talk about horrible luck though… Matt rode super strong staying off the front like that. If his luck changes in upcoming races, some awesome results are definitely coming his way.
At some point in the gravel, a Portland Velo rider attacked and got a gap on the field. He was doing a remarkably good job of holding his gap for most of the final lap, and the fact that no one was willing to work on the front of the pack was certainly helping his cause. I decided to attack and try to join him, but when I jumped, I looked behind and saw the field stringing out not far behind me. I then sat up, not wanting to be the chump that did all the work of bringing the race back together. That should be the TAI team’s job, although to be fair, this is Cat. 3 amateur racing, and they probably shouldn’t be expected to function like a well-oiled machine like a euro-pro team. Anyway, I tried to bridge to the Portland Velo guy a couple of more times, but the field was in no mood to let me go. Finally, he must have gotten tired and we began reeling him in. Just as he was about to get caught, I went again. I actually got a bit of a gap, but either the field got organized, or I got tired and slowed (probably both) and I was caught. I decided that I had little chance of winning the field sprint, and my only chance of winning was to roll in solo, so I attacked yet again. This move barely lasted at all, and I was brought back. At this point, I was getting frustrated and decided that I should at least get the best workout possible for the upcoming Cherry Blossom, and I attacked once more, again to no avail. I was pretty tired at this point, and the race was almost over since we were crossing the 1k to go sign.
A rider from the Hammer Nutrition team attacked hard shortly after the 1k sign, but couldn’t get a gap on the field. He realized this and sat up a bit, but we were running out of racecourse, so the pace stayed fairly high. I was on the front with Cort from TAI and a smaller dude from Bridgetown Velo. We were all kind of looking at each other with 500 M to go and I decided to try and catch them napping by starting my sprint early (temporarily forgetting that I kind of suck at sprinting). I actually thought it might work as I crossed the 200 M sign and was still leading. The line got closer and closer and I started to get excited despite the fact that my legs were really giving out on me. Sure enough, Cort and the Bridgetown dude came around me with probably 50 M to go, and even more riders came around right at the line as I finished blowing up.
|Tongue out, out of gas. About to cross the line. Photo by Kenji.|
Despite losing many places in the final few meters of the race, I am happy with my 6th place finish . I did all I could think of to go for the win and left it all out there on the road. Also, Matt rode amazingly in this race: he attacked multiple times in addition to his long solo bid. If we keep racing like this, perhaps our team will get an aggro reputation that will strike fear in to the hearts of Cat. 3 riders statewide! Either that, or we will just annoy everyone, or perhaps entertain them. Regardless, I’m enjoying being able to animate things in these races, even if I don’t win.