RACE REPORT #16 Hugo Road Race CAT 4/35+
Well, I opened up a huge can of kung fu on this one.
Hugo is a couple hours east of where I live. Not quite in the middle – but definitely on the edge, of nowhere. There is a big stage race in Wyoming next week that several of my teammates are going to. Since I’m not going to that one, I wanted to make a little road trip out of Hugo. I picked up Jonathan after work on Friday and we headed across the plains. It was sooo windy! My poor car was struggling bad – I had the pedal on the floor in 4th gear and sometimes had to drop down to third if there was a small grade to climb. Bikes on top, AC full blast, and a huge head/cross wind were not making it happy. The thing is supposed to get up to 36mpg on the freeway, I figured I got around 17…
The race has a reputation for being windy, but this had me a little concerned!
We finally made it to the motel. First class accomodations at the Econo Lodge. Dinner consisted of a sprint across the highway to Arby’s where, when presented with my Big Montana sandwich, I told the kid behind the counter that I had a salad coming as well. He looked into the bag, then the quote of the weekend, “Uhh, are you sure??”. HAHA! Am I sure!?!?!? I timed the roll of my eyes perfectly with the flick of my wrist as I flipped the receipt on the counter. “Yeah, bro. I’m sure…”. The manager came up and grabbed the reciept and went into full scramble mode to get me my salad. What a crack-up!
I didn’t sleep so great. I woke up around 4:30 and pretty much just layed there until 7:00. I was glad not to be getting up at 4:30, though. I mostly thought about the race and tried not to get too nervous. I knew I had a good chance to do well in this one. It was going to be a 63 mile war of attrition, which is my kind of race. I had been training hard since Utah and feeling stronger all the time. I didn’t really back off on my training to try and peak for this one, but decided to just take it in stride and try not to put too much pressure on myself. The forecast was for lots of wind out of the south, sun, and 90+ degrees.
We started on a pretty small road, and were supposed to keep to the right of the center line. Umm, yeah… I was in the middle of the pack somewhere, and using way too much energy just to fight for position and not crash into people. I knew we’d be heading straight south (into the wind) for the first 20 miles. I decided that I’d rather go sit on the back, and gamble that nothing would get off the front of the race. I started drifting backwards through the racers for what seemed like ten minutes before I was finally the last rider of the bunch. Turns out our field was 110 riders. That was huge! The biggest I’ve ever raced in by far.
My strategy of surfing the back turned out to be a pretty decent one. I was able to sit up, relax a bit, hydrate tons, stretch, and generally try to conserve as much energy as possible. It’s not a totally free ride, but as long as you keep an eye on the riders that are about 20 ahead of you, you can anticipate the accellerations and respond in time. This being a mostly straight road helped a lot too. I just kept telling myself – save the kung fu, save the kung fu…
We finally came down a 35mph descent into a 90 degree right turn. This is where the biggest hill started and the crosswind would begin to play a major factor. I was dead last around the corner, which concerned me when I saw the leaders hit it seeminly 30 seconds before I got there. Once the hill started, I was able to hold just inside the center line and started passing people like crazy. Luckily, the wind wasn’t too terrible on the lower part and I was able to slingshot quite a ways up the bunch. I stood on the pedals and started cranking. Soon, I found myself about 10 riders from the lead. A lot of my training rides have consisted of 30 miles of steady tempo riding, followed by an all-out effort up a 30 minute climb, then tempo riding home. Perfect for the situation I was in now.
I was working hard, but knew I could go harder. It’s amazing how much you use your ears in a race. Mine were totally tuned to the breathing, shifting, and pedaling rythmns of those around me. I heard suffering… I thought to myself – “Ok boys, KUNG FU TIME!”, and took off as hard as I could go. I pressed on for 30 seconds and then took a quick glance back to assess the damage. A couple of riders were coming up, so I eased up and started working with them. Eventually more and more came up, I think probably around 40 in all, but the rest of the field was like a stick of dynamite had been tossed in there. Riders were strung out all over the place. BOOM! I was ready to rock.
The next 10 miles were super tough. Bad crosswind. Nowhere to draft, rolling climbs, and a very hot pace. I was at the back of the group – I didn’t really worry about getting dropped, but I was worried about trying to recover as much as possible from my earlier efforts. Tough to do when your heart rate is only 4-5 beats below your absolute MAX!!(which was at a new record of 187 beats per minute after my first attack). Riders were continually dropping off in one’s and two’s. We passed a kid from an earlier wave throwing up in the grass as we went by. Good times.
We finally made it to the feed zone (chaos as usual) and made the turn back north. More rolling climbs and wind to deal with. I was finally able to start recovering here, though. The group was down to 20-25 now. As far as teams go, we had 3 guys and two other teams had 3 riders. I was fairly happy with that situation. I think we started with the most by far though (13-14??), so I was wishing we would have had more representation at this point.
We hit another good size roller after 40+ miles, and I could sense some guys were getting pretty tired. I launched another attack. Not necessarily to totally get away, but more to try and shed the dead weight. I did NOT wan’t to go down to the line with 20+ guys. My plan was to try and make the race as hard as possible. I knew if I could go the finish with a group of 5 or so that I would have a good shot at the win. The danger of the plan was that I would possibly be sacrificing a higher placing by doing so much work. I decided that I would rather try and attack and make something happen, than take shelter and wait for the sprint. My accelleration managed to shed a few more riders, including one of my teammates. Rats…
I tried probably 4 more times, attacking and covering other attacks, before we got to the final turn. Nothing would stick for very long. We had about 10 miles to go at this point and the wind was BRUTAL! Coming hard from the right hand side, it pushed us single file, into the gravelly edge of the opposite side of the road. Good thing there wasn’t any traffic out here! Pure suffering to hang on at this point. I was at the back again, treading on dangerous territory of getting dropped, trying to recover. After an eternity I saw an opportunity and shot up the left hand side into some shelter for a minute. I recovered a beat or two, then launched off the front again. Shed my last teammate – dang! I recovered for a couple of seconds, then the strongest team sent two guys up the road. Crap! I knew that was the move and dug deep to go with them. I was the only one to make it because I was still in good position near the front from my previous attack. It hurt me, though. Right after I made contact, the second guy started to waver and come off the wheel. Man, I just could not get a break! I had to sprint around him and finally made contact with the first guy. This was THE shot I had been waiting for all day. He was on the strongest team, and still had two guys in the group behind. If there was ever a chance to get away, it was NOW. I was hoping that his teammates would control/cover things in the group and let their boy have his chance. We had about 5 miles to go. I was yelling go – go – go!! And trying to encourage him to take shorter turns at the front so we could really get a move on. I’m not sure he was really committed to the effort, though. The thinned-out group of 15 or so made it’s way back up to us after a few minutes. I was smoked at this point, and knew my race for the podium was pretty much over and done with. We had averaged 26.2 miles per hour over the last 40+, which is incredibly fast for a bunch of old dudes like us. My heart rate averaged 173 for that same period, which is normally my threshold for much shorter efforts. Nothing to be sorry about there…
Our group split in two while I was at the back with about 2 miles left. I just could not get across to the leaders and worked it with another guy to eventually come in 10th place.
I had a great time and was totally stoked about how I rode. It was by far the most aggressive I’ve ever been in a race, and a good confidence booster. I may have been able to finish a little higher had I raced differently, but I don’t feel like I did anything stupid and probably wouldn’t change much about the day. No regrets.