RACE REPORT #2 Grand Valley Classic CAT 4/35+
Something expected: a result that did not live up to expectations.
I can’t help it. I always seem to set lofty expectations (i.e. – WIN) for myself leading up to a race. This one was no different. The legs have been feeling better, cardio fitness is great, and the distance of the race (85 miles) was to my liking. So, why not dream?
The race was on the extreme western edge of Colorado, about an hour south of Grand Junction. It took 5 hours of driving to get to the start. Tim and I drove out the day before and stayed at a motel in Grand Junction. The travel commitment, holiday weekend, and distance of the race served to keep the number of racers down. The ones that did show were the usual bunch of hard-core crazies we go up against week after week.
The course started out with a looong gradual climb, had several miles of rollers in the middle, then a long and steeper descent to the half way point where we turned around and came back. The pace up the first climb was tenative to say the least. My heart rate was pretty high, but I remember thinking it felt like it was more from anticipation than the effort I was making. We were riding a steady pace in a double line, with everyone taking equal turns. I was going crazy thinking we were setting ourselves up for 85 miles of this crap. I came to RACE!
There was one small attack, more of a test to see if anyone would respond. I thought, great – here we go! Of course, everyone immediately chased. Led by the attackers own teammate, what a friend… Things settled right back down into the same steady rythmn as before, and left me fighting to stay awake (I had woken up at 3 in the morning – now I was sleeeeepy). With the bulk of the initial climb behind us, it looked like we may be stuck in drone mode for the next 20 miles or so before the climb after the turnaround would have a chance to break things up.
I was 3rd or 4th in line when I couldn’t take it any more and went to the front and took a hard pull to stretch things out a bit on a short climb. Sure enough, everyone was right on my wheel. I slacked off for a second and sensed the group start to relax. Then, POW! I jumped as hard as I could. That did the trick… With my teammates in front covering the guys that tried to chase me down. I was away.
I just made a solo attack at mile 15 of an 85 mile race with 5,000′ of climbing. What in the $#@^ @#$#@ !^%# was I thinking!?!? Pretty suicidal move. While I definitely burned a few matches, I was trying to keep my effort at around 85% so I would be able to hang on if/when I got caught. I hoped that by dangling out there long enough, I would entice another rider or two or three to leave the pack behind and bridge up to me. Then we would motor on.
It sounds like there were a few tries, but between my teammates shutting down the chase when they could, and the rest of the group still being relatively fresh, nothing managed to develop. Rats… I jammed up the final climb to the high point of the course before sitting up and grabbing a bite of food before the group caught up to me and ended my 7 mile stint in the wind.
From there, we generally descended for the next several miles. Starting out very gradually and getting steeper and steeper as we approached the turnaround. I used this time to sit at the back of the group and recover as much as I could. I also took time to check out the scenery, which was awesome.
Once we made the turn and grabbed a bottle or two, the race was on for good. Two guys from HART jumped to the front and pulled until they had a gap on the rest of us. I cranked hard and made it across the gap so the three of us were alone for a while. I was just hanging on as pieces of the group started to come up to us. One of the original guys plus a new one went hard and got the gap that would turn out to be the winner. They were gone for good. I ended up in a four man chase group just trying to survive the next several miles of climbing. My body started to completely shut down. I felt like I was riding in the death-zone. Goosebumps all over my legs, cold chills, etc., etc. Wow, I really went through a bad patch there for about 20-30 minutes. My stomach had been messed up and I hadn’t been drinking like I should. Not the best situation while doing a four hour ride in the heat.
I just barely managed to hang on, taking my turns in the rotation as best I could. Finally, one of the guys who was obviously feeling pretty decent, opened up a gap on the three of us that were left behind and just kept going. He would go on to finish in 3rd place about a minute ahead of us. With just a tiny bit of recovery brought on by his leaving us, I started feeling better and better. By the time we reached the high point of the course again I was feeling pretty strong. I was even entertaining thoughts about going after the guy that had left us behind (I could still catch a glimpse of him once in a while) – then the dreaded leg cramps hit again. I’ve really been struggling with them for the past 6-7 weeks. I’ve come to the conclusion that, while these may have been brought on by the dehydration I was experiencing, the biggest culprit is just muscle fatigue. My legs have gotten amazingly strong, but they are very much ready for a prolonged rest period. I think once they’re given some time to seriously regroup, I can start building for next year and come on stronger than ever. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to make it through these last couple of races.
Every time I tried to force the pace a little, the legs would start twitching and contracting. Other than that, I was feeling quite good. Luckily, the downhills were starting to come more and more frequently and I could stretch a little and give the cramps time to subside before I had to take my turn at the front again.
So, with no one in sight behind, it would just be the three of us sprinting to the finish. Myself, my teammate Bob (a.k.a. Coolio), and a local guy from Junction. We cooperated well until there was about a mile left to go. Coolio let me know that he was going to lead out the sprint. He jumped hard at the 1 kilometer mark and I stuck on his wheel, then he swung off at the last corner with 500 meters to go. Even though the Junction guy was drafting me, I had enough momentum from Coolio’s leadout to power across the line at 35 mph as best of the rest for 4th place. Not the fastest sprint in the world, but it was into the wind and came after 4 hours of riding – so I’ll take it! I was pleasantly surprised with the strength of my sprint, it felt really good. I won 10 bucks for the effort. Keep that up and I’ll have to hire an accounting firm.
Coolio hung on for 6th, and Tim came in with a hard-earned 10th a few minutes later. As is frequently the case, I could probably have gotten a better result by riding more conservatively. I really felt like I could have stayed with the decisive move had it not been for the energy I spent on the lone attack. I don’t regret it, though. I’m having fun actually racing and trying different things. One of these days it’ll all come together…