Saturday, March 22nd, Paskenta Hills Road Race
This was a perfect course for me. Flat to begin with, some nice rolling hills 2/3s of the way through, 4 miles of gravel road (to sort the wheat from the chaff), and a slightly uphill power sprint to the finish.
The race started off at very reasonable pace. Team Velo Promo had a number of riders. I was expecting them to put out some effort to keep up the pace but they only made a couple of uncoordinated attacks. A Team Audi rider, David Page, pulled consistently at over 20 mph for a major part of the race. There were a couple of attacks on the rolling hills but nothing got away. We remained as a group until we hit the infamous gravel. Now, I was expecting something like the Strade Bianchi in Italy. Gravel roads worn down by lots of vehicle use. Basically, four hardened tracks with gravel in between, not the Paskenta gravel, oh no! There was loose gravel all over the road. There were some hardened areas but it was never easy going.
There was a short, sharp hill as soon as we hit the gravel. A Cushman Wakefield rider made an attack. The peloton was shocked into action. I went around the outside of everyone and found myself on the loosest gravel. It was like snowboarding. My bike was snaking from side to side and I had to use all my bike handling skills to keep myself upright. The Cushman Wakefield rider died and David Page hit the front with me on his wheel. I found a good rhythm - I held my weight back and turned a lower gear keeping a high cadence. Trying to power through it only made my rear wheel spin. Knowing how many of the riders were spooked by the gravel, I attacked. I looked back and found David Page on my wheel. I let up and he passed me. We dropped most of the peloton. We were now a group of six. David and I alternated pulls for a couple of minutes until I realized we weren't dropping anyone. So, I sat on his wheel until we got back onto the road. I tried another attack but the group stuck. I sat back and - most deviously - breathed hard, as though I were spent. David went past hard and I stuck to his wheel. Everyone else jumped on mine. I had hoped we would have dropped the others but they were quite classy riders for cat. 4.
With 3 km to go I made another attack. It didn't stick as riders bridged up. David Page, once again, took to the front. I sat on his wheel. We went past the 1 km mark. I could feel the pressure of the other riders as they pressed up around me. I could feel them waiting to pounce. I saw a white marker and thought it was 250m to go. I was wrong, it was 500m to go, but I attacked anyway. I launched off the front and left everyone. I got to 250 and realized I had gone way too early but I kept grinding it out and made another effort. Unfortunately, I was caught about 20-30m from the line. If I had even waited until 300m I probably would have nailed it. I was feeling so strong that day. It felt good to have been in command of the final few miles. However, I learned how my impatience isn't the best of friends with my winning. It was a great race, really enjoyable. As much as it hurt, I loved how the gravel weeded out the weaker riders.
That evening I met up with Bob Montague and his wife Julie for dinner. We shared war stories, ate good food, and lifted our spirits for the next day.
Sunday, March 23rd, 9:10 a.m. Downtown Criterium
I woke up feeling good - ready to ride, ready for action. I'd had a bit of a restless night but frantic racing dreams are nothing new to me. As a young track runner, I remember nightmares of coming up to my adversary's shoulder with 150m to go. I would be about to go past him and then my legs would turn to jellied lead. I wouldn't be able to do anything. Well, sometimes dreams just don't come true!
This is the best race I have ridden to date. I don't think I could have performed better tactically. It was a very fast, fun L-shaped course around the city center. I started out in the middle of the pack. There were plenty of prime laps to keep the pace fast. I drafted for most of the race, saving my energy for the end. I wasn't interested in primes, I really wanted to win. There were a couple of attacks from the front, but with a large team from Pen Velo, nothing stuck. With four of five laps to go I started to work up to the top five. Going into a small head wind on the back straight of the second to last lap the pace slowed. I launched an attack from about five places back on the other side of the street. There were yells of, "He's going, he's going!" and some furious action as riders tried to catch me. I got 50m or so past the finish line and a Pen Velo rider caught me. I eased up, let him past, and jumped straight on his wheel. He pulled hard down the back stretch. On the 3rd to last corner his pace slowed and another Pen Velo rider leapt past. I jumped on his back wheel and he brought me into the final turn. Pen Velo were keeping the pace fast to lead out their sprinter. I came into the final 150m and gave it everything. I could see the Pen Velo sprinter, Donald Lee, gaining on me. He just edged past in the last 10m. It was very close, but I was very satisfied with my 2nd place performance.
Sunday, March 23rd, 13:17 Ten Mile Time Trial
After the criterium I put my borrowed TT bars (thanks Bob Montague!) on my bike, adjusted my saddle, stretched out, ate some food, and relaxed.
An hour before my start time I donned my borrowed skin suit, TT helmet, and shoe covers (again, thanks Bob Montague!) and warmed up for my start time. I was a little envious to see my closest rivals on smooth looking tt bikes with disc wheels, but in for a penny in for a pound!
Time trials are hard. It seems to be a case of mind over matter. Going as hard as you can without blowing it all too early. All in all I did well. I came 7th in the Time Trial. I do think a better TT set up would have helped but it is nice to know I have something left in reserve.
Overall, I came 4th in the GC, a good result. I was only 12 seconds behind 3rd place. Mmm... oh for a tt bike, but we know how much one of those costs! After my first stage race experience I am really looking forward to the Topsport Stage race, April 5th - 6th.