Friday, April 1, 2011

Back at the Blossom: Stage 1

            Last year I had a fantastic time racing the Cherry Blossom Classic as a Cat. 4 and ever since then I have been looking forward to doing it again.  The time has finally come, and I am now in The Dalles having at it. 
            I got up bright and early this morning for my 9:20 start time, and rolled down to the familiar middle-of-nowhere school at the start/finish area.  I got kitted up, warmed up, and made my way to the start.  There were several familiar faces in the field, including my Cat. 4 podium-mates from last year, teenage über-climber Travis Monroe, and the awesomely named all-arounder Rusty Dodge.  All three of us are in the Cat. 3 field now, and I was curious about how we would stack up against the competition in our new higher category.
            The first lap was pretty uneventful—very similar to last year in that it was very bunched up and difficult to move around in the pack at the beginning.  As usual, there were a couple of sketchball characters in the field that I had to work pretty hard to avoid.  I was quite thankful when the major climb on the course arrived and the field strung out a bit.  I was able to muster the horsepower to move up through the field when I had an open avenue, and crested the climb near the front.  Travis and Rusty were up there as well.  In that way, it really seemed like last year all over again, with a few new faces thrown in to the mix.
            Lap 2 had a bit more action in that there were actually a few attacks.  Most came on flat parts of the course however, and never came to anything of consequence.  The second time up the climb a rider on an older bike in a well-worn Guinness jersey attacked and got a gap on the field.  He had a herkey-jerkey peddling style which led me to believe that he probably wouldn’t have what it would take to stay away.  Surprisingly, he proved to be much stronger than he appeared and held his gap for much of the climb.

Like my field, but lots more estrogen.  Lisa's select group cresting the climb.
            The beginning of the third and final lap was pretty slow.  I kept finding myself on the front of the pack, where I would take a pull and then sit up waiting for a rider to come around me, only they often never did, even if I slowed waaaaaay down.  I guess everyone must have been saving themselves for the finish.  At one point, the herkey jerkey Guinness guy attacked again, and actually stayed away until the climb.  It was pretty impressive to see how fast he could go by flailing at the pedals like that. 
            Due to the slow pace leading up the climb, I was pretty sure that somebody was going to punch it once we started going uphill, so I made sure to be at the front.  Once we began climbing, it was true that the pace had gone up a notch compared to the previous two times, but I still found it manageable.  Travis Monroe was up there driving it, and we caught the Guinness guy pretty quickly.  The speed stayed uniformly painful all the way up the climb, and it was clear that some dudes were at their limit.  One of these gassed riders was in such oxygen debt that he couldn’t really ride in a straight line any more, and weaved over right in to Travis (who was right next to me), who went down hard.  It was almost exactly like the crash that split the field last year actually, only this time, everyone that made it around sat up and waited for the field to catch up.  I guess the one nice thing about the Cat. 3s is that they are more sportsmanlike.
            Going down the backside of the hill was pretty terrifying.  There was a lot of jockeying for position combined with some squirrely bike handling.  Sure enough, I heard riders behind me shout CRASH, signaling that someone else had hit the deck.  At that point, I decided that there were enough scary bike handlers between me and the front of the field that I was just going to make sure that I crossed the line with the same time as the winner, and not contest the sprint.
            I made it through the final hairpin turn at the finish line without incident, only to narrowly miss going down in yet another pileup near the 200 meter sign.  WTF, I thought the 3’s were supposed to be LESS sketchy than the 4’s!!  I rolled across the line in the lead pack, happy to have survived the day and not to have lost any time.  I chatted with Travis after the race who was pretty pissed.  He made it through with some road rash, but his bike apparently got a bit messed up.  Rusty got caught in the final crash and was pretty pissed as well.  Hopefully people will get their acts together for the coming stages and there will be less carnage.

The stage 1 finish line. Pretend that the Pro 1/2 women are in frame for the sprint. Hard to capture with my point and shoot camera..
            In other news, Lisa had an awesome ride today, making the winning break of 8 riders, and managed a 4th place finish despite ending up on a bad wheel and getting gapped in the sprint.  It is awesome to see her having such a great time racing her bike.
            We checked out the TT course and discovered that it is not nearly as flat as advertised.  I had high hopes for tomorrow, but now I am not so sure… We’ll see how it goes tomorrow morning!

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