Weather forecast was 100% chance of rain starting at noon and my race started at 12:35 so I was fully prepared to race in the wet. The course is fine for that as there are no high speed corners or descents. I sort of looked forward to the rain making conditions more difficult and creating more attrition.
Last year I did Turlock in the E3/4 category with 51 other guys. The race was 3 laps and 68.4 miles. I got in a break of 8 at mile 6 and we were gone the rest of the 62 miles getting more than 3 minutes on the group at the end. I felt absolutely amazing for that race and at 1 km I attacked with another guy but ended up with a big cramp in my left hamstring with 300 m to go and finished 5th. First cramp I had ever gotten while cycling. I thought I hydrated well and kept my electrolytes topped off but nonetheless the dreaded cramp occurred and dashed my dreams of a win.
This year I was extra motivated because of last’s years race and Turlock is a perfect course for me. Lots of small to medium rollers, wind, and generally very fast racing with a long drag uphill finis. My race preparation has also been very good this Spring. This would be my 10th race this season. Having the won the overall at Madera 3 weeks prior and getting 2nd overall at Chico last weekend my legs were ready for some hard racing.
Last year’s E3/4 race was at noon so it was very nice to be able to drive up the morning of. This year they moved it to 8:10 am which meant we would have to sleep nearby. I have been gone way too much lately on weekends for stage races so I decided to do the Master 35+ 4/5 race at noon. It was only 2 laps or 46.8 miles. I typically do better in longer, harder races but my goal nonetheless was to win at all costs. I knew I wanted to attack and attack often or see if I can get into a good move.
We had a full field of 75 riders and there were 5 teams with over 5 riders and 2 teams with 10 riders. This didn’t really phase me as we all know typically in 4’s races teams can’t really get organized or do a whole lot to control the race. Everybody is ready to chase anything, including teams chasing their own teammates. Ideally I could get in a break with at least one member of each big team represented but this ain’t no Tour de France and there was slim chance of that getting organized. So I knew if I wanted to get in a break I would have to form one myself or go with one that looked really promising.
Racing started off hot and heavy. There was a prime for like a bottle beer of something 6 miles in at the crest of a series of medium rollers. One dude in all yellow shot out of the cannon from the gun and went for it. We kind of chuckled and let him go. After he got a good minute up the road and didn’t look like he was slowing down the biggest team, Sacramento Golden Wheelman, began chasing. One little climber dude took off the man in yellow with about 1.5 k from the prime sprint. He made contact and the man in yellow immediately jumped again and took his bottle of beer prime… He let up, we caught him and the race continued. I was feeling super smooth at this point. Legs were telling me they were ready for action. My plan was to sit top 5 or so wheels and not relinquish my position. I didn’t like traffic. Especially not 75 4/5’s traffic.
A few miles later the strongest rider from the biggest team, again Sac Gold WM, went on the attack. Another guy jumped after him. They were building a good gap. I jumped up and road alongside the Sac Gold WM rider and asked if his team would block. He nodded yes so I went to the front and took a hard 28 mph pull into the wind trying to get our group of 3 further up the road. I wagged my elbow for one of them to pull through….nothing. I looked back and both of them were on the rivet and breathing hard and knew I didn’t have strong enough break mates to go the 38+ miles to the finish. Back to the pack.
About 10 miles later we hit a series of the largest rollers of the course. On the descent of one and before the beginning of the biggest, hardest roller of the day I blasted off the front as hard as I could go. I crested the hill and kept the hammer down. 4 dudes joined me. We had a gap and were going for it. Our group didn’t have a lot of the big teams represented and a few miles later the other teams pulled us back. That’s ok I thought, I feel fine. No worries I’ll attack again, and again until something breaks loose. I did not want to sprint with a full field of 4/5’s. I don’t have fast twitch 150m sprint muscles.
We rolled along relatively easily. There were several very short lived attacks from various dudes but each of them was brought back quickly by very enthusiastic teams. Apparently they all wanted to set their sprinters up for the grand finale.
With about 7 miles remaining in the race we once again entered the biggest roller section of the course. Once again on the biggest roller I hit them hard. This was it I thought. This was my big move. If I didn’t shake the pack with this attack there was slim chance for victory. Once dude bridged and we were gone. We built 30 seconds quickly. Guess there were a few tired legs in the group. My break companion did not have the best legs and began fading after a few big rollers. One other very strong guy, that I remembered from previous races, came across. As we exchanged hard pulls my original companion faded backwards. It was just my new companion and I as we took the right turn onto the flats with 3 miles to go. Well, the big teams didn’t like that we were going to spoil their fun and once again chased us down. I looked back and the pack was a long strung out single file line. At least I woke them up! We slowed up and some enthusiastic racers shot by. I got on the 5th wheel that flew by me and started yelling encouragement at them. “Come on, make it hard, keep going, we got this”. I wanted to recover and get a nice tow closer to the finish. Now the big teams wanted in on the action and started moving up to set up their sprinters. I didn’t panic. I was recovering well and my legs felt ready to go again. I held my position in the top 10 or so. I got bumped and elbowed a few times but held my spot. With 700m to go the seas parted and it was all clear in front and to the left of me. There were about 10 dudes to my right setting up for the sprint. We were hauling ass at this point. A voice inside my head said “GO! GO NOW! GO HARD!” Wellll….. I didn’t go. I hesitated and wanted to wait a little longer for the sprint…which was stupid and I knew it. I had about a 3 second window to jump. Then the real sprint opened up and I got stuck in traffic and ended up top 20. I doubted myself because I had just been on the attack for about 4 miles and did a lot of very hard work. I didn’t know if I had 700m legs to hold off a very quickly charging peloton. Now I guess I will never know. I was very disappointed that I didn’t listen to that voice in my head. Perhaps if I had not gone on the attack and waited patiently and followed moves and then gone with 500 or 700m I could have had the confidence and power to pull off a cheeky move like that. But you won’t know if you don’t try.
So lesson to everyone. This is one way to read a race. Listen to the voice that tells you this is the perfect opportunity to go. Don’t doubt it. Don’t hesitate. Just go. Best you can do is win. Worse you can do is give it your all and end up somewhere in the group. Unfortunately, I’ve become so competitive lately that if I don’t win I don’t really care where I place so today was a bit of a letdown but also great fuel for the fire. When in doubt, go for it!