RACE REPORT #18 Salida Road Race – Colorado State Championships CAT 4/35+
Bronze medal, baby!
Wow, what a race. Guys were saying afterwards that it was the hardest they’d ever done. Judging by the difficulty I’m having just walking now, I’d have to agree…
Tim and I busted out of work a little early and after making a couple of stops, headed down Highway 285 to Salida (~ 150 mi.). We had the tunes going and the car loaded with 3 bikes and several sets of wheels. That’s my kind of road trip! The drive went well and we arrived in time for a team dinner at an Italian restaurant. The race course was a pretty hot topic around the table. Since the bulk of it was on private property (new housing development), most of us hadn’t seen it at all and were having to go off some pretty vague descriptions from the race promoter:
Road race is on closed roads except for 3 miles on state highway. 1300′ climbing per lap. Winding course with super fast downhills.
The course will be a 12 mile loop through the Weldon Creek subdivision connecting via CR 140/250 and a 3 mile section on hwy 50. Each lap has 1200’ of vertical gain and features many tight turns and some very fast descents. There will be numerous categories racing at the same time so use caution on the downhill. Slower packs and individuals should keep to right to be passed.
We eagerly devoured the tidbits of info given to us by a couple of teammates that had arrived in town early enough to actually get a ride in on the course. The main thing we heard was ‘steep climb!!’. So steep that Bob was saying a 27 tooth cog on the back wouldn’t be out of the question. What?!?! That’s what I used in the hillclimb race earlier this month. No way I was expecting anything that steep in this event. I was more than a little nervous, because my race wheels only had a 23. Then I remembered – I think my spare wheels had my 25 mounted. Yes! That was ohh sooo lucky – I could have been in big trouble trying to muscle that 23 multiple times up the climb. Anyway, we had all kinds of real and speculated info filling our heads for the night. I really hate flying blind like that…
The rest of the evening was spent getting our registration packets, checking in to the Super 8 motel – and cleaning chains, swapping cogs, and dealing with other maintenance issues. Then it was off to bed. Thankfully, we had a late starting time – so no crack of dawn duty for us.
Breakfast was in the motel lobby and consisted of french toast, bagels, milk, and oj. I loaded up for the day… It was really strange to have so much time on hand before a race. Normally it’s a mad dash to get everything ready and make it to the start line. Today, we went back to the room after breakfast and laid down with our feet up and relaxed for a while. I took the bike out for a quick spin to make sure all of my changes and modifications were working as desired. I had dropped my chain a couple of times on my last ride and wanted to make sure I had the front shifting adjusted correctly. I knew we would be slamming gears big-time in this race with all of the transitions from climbing to descending to climbing again. The last thing I wanted was to miss a shift and/or drop my chain.
We drove over to the starting area and dropped off our spare wheels to be loaded in the follow-vehicle, then parked back at the hotel and rode the bikes back to the start. We got there about an hour before we were supposed to roll out, then heard that there was a delay. Someone said it was a funeral procession of all things. Anyway, that set our start time back by an hour. So we basically laid around in the grass and BS’d for an hour and a half. The time finally came for our neutral roll-out (7 miles) to the real starting line where we would be staged and sent off in groups according to our respective categories. As luck would have it (not), my group was last to go, which meant that we got to stand on the open road in the baking sun for almost 30 minutes waiting for our 1:00 start time. I looked down by my feet and could see tar bubbling up between the pebbles in the asphalt. My cleats we hard to clip into my pedals because of all the crap that was stuck to them. FINALLY, we got the whistle and set off on our adventure. It felt so good to get going after waiting around and having the stress and anticipation build all day long.
Due to a last-minute nature break, I was at the tail end of the group. That was fine with me, I knew we’d have about 4 miles of very gentle climbing up Highway 50 into a headwind before the real action began. I was very surprised to look at my computer and see that we were doing 20+ mph on this section. I thought it would be a fairly laid back start, but I was actually working a bit to stay with the group. Whoever was driving the train was putting in a pretty good effort, I’m sure they felt that later in the race… When the course turned off the highway, I was prepared to make my move. I knew we’d be making a sharp right followed by a sharp left, so took my chance in those corners to squirt up the line and gain positions. When the real climbing began, I was in about 20th place (our group was around 60 riders) and ready to rock. A guy from Team Evergreen started pushing the pace and riders were immediately shelled out the back. The pace stayed high, and I fought my way around people that were faltering to get my shot at the front. I worked my way up there and glanced back to see a long line of suffering riders behind – as we crested the first major climb (which was only a kilometer long, but very steep), I was 3rd wheel in a group of 12 or so that had made a clean break from the rest. I was taking big-time mental notes of every rise and dip knowing we’d be seeing it all 3 more times. We made a quick descent, hit a fast corner and charged straight up another hill. It wasn’t very long, but it hurt. Then a little more flat/down followed by a gradual climb through the finish line and feed zone.
The pace was killing me at this point. As Phil Liggett (british cycling commentator) would say, I was digging deep into my suitcase of courage! I was hoping the T.E. guy up front would ease up just a little, but it didn’t happen. I was suffering really bad to stay on, but knew that it was now or never. To slip at this point would kill any chances I had for a win. A few more sharp climbs and drops, then it was a wide-open, ~60mph, full tuck drop for over a mile that ended as we flew through the gate of the development and got spit back onto the county road that would lead us back to the highway for another lap. The road through the development was closed to cars so we got to take the descents just like the guys at the Tour on TV – sweeping wide through the corners and using the whole road. That was FUN!
Our group consolidated itself to 10 riders and we started rotating through a paceline to keep our speed up and prevent anyone from catching back up to us. I wasn’t really concerned about that, figuring that anyone managing to come back would just get popped off the next time we hit the climb. Other’s didn’t see it like that and were getting anxious that we needed to be working it. Whatever… I did have a teammate (Brad) with me in this group which was very, very cool. In all the races we’ve done, it has never worked out for us to be in the front group together. We had just been talking the night before about how great it would be for us to both have a good day and be able to ride at the front together. Based on how badly my legs had been feeling in the past 10 days, I was less than optimistic about my being there. I was really happy to have made the split and to be able to race together like that.
Sometime while we were climbing on the 2nd lap, two guys sort of rolled off the front and hung out just 20 seconds or so ahead of our group. The pace was a little more manageable, and I actually felt a bit better this time around. I grabbed a fresh bottle in the feedzone and tried to drink as much as I could. I heard later that Tim took a bottle and dumped it all over his face, head, and neck in an attempt to cool off – only to discover too late that it was a sports drink!! He was covered in a sticky mess all while baking in the 99 degree heat! Not good…! We had a pretty good laugh about it afterwards, though. He also told us about falling over on the last climb as he got his chain crossed up and couldn’t pedal anymore – just in time for our teammate Bob to ride by, look down, and say, “Dude, that’s not pro…”.
On the flat(ter) section of this lap, Brad did a great job controlling our group and keeping us from chasing down the leaders too quickly. We wanted them to hang out there and bake, so we kept them within sight and held the gap steady. That worked for a while, but somewhere on the third climb they disappeared. The pace in our group heated up quite a bit as we got more serious about chasing and before I knew it there were only 4 of us left, with the two leaders out of our sight up the road. Then something strange happened. We shut off the gas and started to chat! I look back on this episode shaking my head… We should have been working our butts off to catch the leaders, and here we were swapping names, telling our ages, talking about the weather. The topic of the BAT (Best All-around Team) competition came up as one guy asked Brad if J.R. Engineering (2nd place overall) was close to our team in the points standings. They were, Brad answered, and with a huge smile and a nod towards me said; “but it’s looking gooood this weekend…”. Knowing that their guys had missed the key break and having two of us in it meant that we were going to bag some major points! Very satisfying for us – their team is not as large as ours, but they are very good riders and always seem to score. It was great for us to finally ride away from them in the most important race of the year.
The whole chit-chat episode was dumb of us and a waste of valuable time that could have made a difference at the finish. I think we must’ve gotten a little bit cocky. Knowing that on a course like this, anyone that had been dropped wouldn’t be catching us again – so I think we took a little breather and relaxed before we got down to the business of the last lap.
I was starting to feel pretty excited at this point. I mean REVVED UP! As we hit that super-fast descent for the last time, I was really happy to be in the position I was in – and confident that I could outsprint any of the 3 guys that were with me. I took a long look behind, and saw nothing but open road. This was it! We still had the two guys ahead of us, but in my mind I was riding in to at least 3rd place. I thought the leaders would probably stay away, and that our group of 4 would sprint it out for the remaining podium spot. I was right about my placing, but couldn’t have been more wrong on how I got there.
As we made the final turn onto Highway 50 for the last few miles of gentle climbing before getting to the more serious stuff, I stood to accellerate and my legs started cramping up like nobody’s business. I immediately had to sit down and go into damage-control mode. Brad was fired up to start a serious chasedown of the leaders, but I just could not contribute. I skipped a couple of turns at the front, then soft-pedaled through some more. Wow, I was in BIG trouble. I had been struggling with leg cramps off and on for the past couple of weeks, and I feared this would be my biggest limitation in this race – my fears were turning out to be reality.
I settled down as best I could and tried not to panic as every single muscle fiber in my legs contracted at different intervals and intensities. I’ve never felt anything like that before – they were shot! By this time, Brad had put in a steady pull and opened a sizeable gap on the 3 of us. I didn’t want to help the guys with me chase him down, but we had a lot of work invested in our race so far and I didn’t want to let that go to waste, either. I rotated through our small paceline a few times, just maintaining the speed – nothing more. My legs were still pretty crippled, but I got the sense that my companions were both wasted. I felt good except for my leg issues, so I tried to baby them as much as possible – then when the time was right, I made my move and started after Brad.
I could see him off in the distance, but he looked pretty solid and I doubted if I could gain on him in my current condition. Then, just as I was about to make the turn off of the highway into the subdivision and up the climb for the last time, I caught and passed one of the two guys that had been off the front! That gave me a huge boost, because I knew I was now 3rd on the road. I went as hard as I could on the steep climb and inched my way towards Brad. My legs were complaining – A LOT! I was on a razor-thin edge between catching Brad, and cramping up so bad that I would fall over in the road. The thought came to my mind that I might never walk again – but I was going to keep pedaling, dammit!
Finally, I caught him. Boy, was he surprised to see me, especially since I had made it alone and didn’t bring anyone else along. We worked together for a while, and I actually think I was hurting him a little when I was pulling because he would ask to stay in back for just a while longer to recover. As we approached the finish, things started to get interesting. You never know how these things are going to play out when it’s teammate vs. teammate. The winner was over a minute up the road so it would be just the two of us fighting for the remaining spots on the podium. I figured we would just drag race it to the finish and leave it at that. Brad had other ideas. He’s a really good climber (weighs around 135lbs.), but when it comes to a sprint I have the edge. Feeling worried about that, he started telling me that since it was probably his last race in our category before he got upgraded, it would really mean a lot to him to get the silver medal at the State Championships. Implying that it would be really nice if I were to sit up and let him go. After an awkward silence while I considered the proposition and reflected on the hours of training and pain I had gone through to get to this point, I replied. “Dude, we’re sprinting.” Click, click went the shifters and away we went.
Unfortunately for me, as soon as I stood up to start my sprint, the muscles in my legs all contracted HARD at once in a final act of defiance and I screamed in pain as I had to sit back down and soft-pedal my way across the line. Brad put 15 seconds into me in the last 200 meters. He was happy, and I was really happy for him – and myself. What a race! Much back slapping and story telling ensued. It was awesome to have been in the action together like that. So many times in racing you find yourself off the back just struggling to finish. It’s really nice to be up front once in a while!
That is BY FAR the worst I have felt in any of the nearly 20 races I’ve done so far this year. To pull out a bronze medal in the most hotly contested, hardest course, race on our calendar under those circumstances really made me proud. I did spend a little while in the “what if” zone afterwards, thinking that if my legs would have been closer to normal I had a great chance to win. I snapped out of that pretty quick, though and enjoyed the moment as much as possible. We got medals, pictures on the poduim (no kisses from girls, though), and a little cash. I split mine with my kids, they were happy about that! Probably set some unrealistic expectations. I can just picture it now, every time I get home from a race now they’ll be waiting for the payout…