Sunday, February 23, 2014

UC Santa Cruz Road Race, Elite 4/5 First Place!

The home course. The climb that is my commute to work. The same hill we negotiate every Tuesday night. 10 times. This race was definitely one I wanted to do well in!

My initial worries of this mostly collegiate race being not well attended in the open category were not founded at all, as about 40 open cat 4/5 racers lined up at the start. Earlier in the day, an similarly large field raced the P123 race (in between my babysitting duties I had time to come out briefly and support Nils and Mark who were in that race, and to take a couple of pics, see below).

Mark and Nils in the P123 race
Mark and Nils in the P123 race
10 laps is a fair number, but not large, and I thought it would be to my advantage to set a decent pace and tire out my competitors'  legs early on. After a first lap when I was reminded why I want to upgrade quickly (some crazy scary squirrely action at the fast turn before the climb) I went to the front and put out a decent pace up the next 3-4 laps. A group of 5-6 riders stuck with me, until at I think lap 5 a Derek Unland, recent Cal Poly graduate from San Luis Obispo, put in a strong attack at the base of the climb. I stuck to his wheel, and he attacked again around the finish line area. At that point Eddie Santos (who was watching the race and passing water bottles to me - thanks Eddie!) informed me that the guys back were working hard and that we had a gap. Derek and I then pushed it downhill and pushed again up. After one lap we had 45" over the chasers, and after the second lap more than 1'15". Enough to really loose sight of the pack, which is always good.

Before the start, in the UCSC team kit
Leading the pack
The race was then a two-men story. We decided to work together and take it easy until the last lap. We then agreed that the game was on at the base of the next-to-last lap. Derek still looked strong, and was staying at the front. At this point, since the game was officially on, I didn't feel compelled to take the wind at the front, and I let him work, tried to relax, and waited for the last climb to start. I was expecting Derek to put out a big effort at the base of the climb, just like he had done on lap 5. But he didn't. He instead shifted down to the small chainring and chugged up. Shortly thereafter, I started spinning up, and saw Derek's shadow getting further and further back. I then started to really kick, with the finish line now in sight. He didn't try to stay on my wheel, and I crossed the finish line with a fair margin.

on Derek's wheel
Final effort just before the finish line!
An awesome race, I am so thankful to the UCSC kids for doing such a great jobs and supporting me throughout all 10 laps! I'm also very grateful to my wife, who came out with our two boys to support me. My son Alex was really excited and it was great to hear him cheer me up with his favorite cow bell!

The lesson learned for me was to remain mentally positive throughout the race. When Derek first attacked, I was doubting myself and the thought that he was going to take the race was looming on my mind. So I started to massage my thoughts and talk myself into believing I was going to get him and that I was the better climber etc. I guess in the end it worked…

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cantua Creek Road Race - 35+ Category 4 - First and Fifth!

Cantua Creek Road Race is not one for the climbers: A flat out-and-back course along Interstate 5, with a few rollers some could call a "climb" just before the finish area (a couple of miles with a net 2.5% elevation gain, with three bumps maybe 5-7% grade).

Matt Sloan and myself (Stefano) got to race HQ after a 2.5h drive, frankly too much for my taste (as it also implied a very early wake up time, the races started at 8AM). Minimal warm up, quick discussion of team strategy (control at the front, watch out for the "One Way" team, which had 5-6 riders, don't let anybody break away, attack at the base of the final climb with 2 miles to go).

The 35+ Cat 4 was the biggest field of the day, more than 30 registered, ~25 starting. Team One Way did try to pull away starting at the very beginning, but Matt and I, and a couple other guys, railed in every attempt and, as planned, patrolled the front. I would guess with some authority: at some point the two of us were cruising at the very front side by side, decided to ease up the pace not to waste energy, and for a while nobody was willing to pass us and take the lead, until the Ref kindly invited us to pick up the pace to avoid being passed by the women's field...

The whole peloton stayed together for the entire 2 laps/50 miles, until we approached the last IS 5 overpass, and the spot where Matt and I had agreed to unleash hell. Which we did, quite successfully. Unfortunately Matt missed my wheel, and got stuck between me and the chasing peloton. A rider who was at the very front when I went did manage to stick to my wheel for a while. I kept going full throttle and tried hard to drop him, in vain for the first mile or so. I attacked hard at every bump and tried to keep the momentum going on the rollers. In the final couple of bumps I saw his wheel losing contact, and he was quickly gone. The chasing peloton managed to catch him, and unfortunately also Matt, who, however, stuck to the front and was fourth (5th overall) in the sprint.

All in all Cantua was a great learning experience, although the race course is not at all interesting (barring the awesome blossoming almond trees), too far away, and the supposed "$100 prizes" were in fact pink tee-shirts for the first 6... It was absolutely great to figure out a strategy and to implement it successfully! Too bad Matt couldn't catch my wheel at the beginning - in retrospect I should have made sure he was on my wheel at the very beginning of the attack, while in fact he was not right behind me: in the turn just before the overpass he had swung on the inside while I was on the outside.

Now the more interesting 35+ 1/2/3 is a bit closer, as this win gets me 8/20 upgrade points. Next up: UCSC road race!

Full results at:

Cantua Creek RR - just after collecting the prestigious winner's pink T-shirt 
Trying to scare off competitors and photographers alike

Leading the bunch up the "climb" the first time around

Cruising up in front of the bunch