On my race calendar, this was the “A” race for this part of my season. I absolutely love this race. It makes me feel like a climber. The stair stepping nature of the 1100’ main climb allows me to recover and hang with guys much smaller than myself. Still, I starved all week and lost an unadvised 8 1/2 # to get down to 181# on race day. Most races, I hope to do well, but this one is different. I feel like it should be my course. I don’t hope to do well here. I hope not to embarrass myself. That is a strong motivator in getting my weight down and my fitness up.
Last time I did this race was 2 years ago. At that time, the only 55+ category was open, so I was lined up against former pros and world champions. I had held my own in that race, but this year there was a 55+ 4/5 race available. I thought I could have a pretty good chance. This year’s 55+ 1/2/3 race was a small field, but it was stacked with a who’s who of Northern California racing. Robert Anderson went off the front the 1st time up the climb and stayed away the whole race to win by a 30 second margin. Pretty impressive.
Our race went of on time, on a warm day in Milton. There were 28 guys in our field and the action started the first time we started to go up at the feed zone. I didn’t look back but focused on moving up and staying near the front of the group. The climb was pretty much as I remembered it and I wasn’t trying for any heroics, but rather simply to still be there when the front of the race got to the top. For the most part, the pace was set by Craig Larsen who I remembered from prior races. It was a hard pace, and I was hurting, but I suspected there were others suffering greater damage than I. As we crested the top, I was on and felt like I recovered pretty quickly. Of the 28 starters, there were 13 left. I was sorry to see that my teammate, Mike Andalora, was among the dropped riders. I had hoped we would be able to help each other, but it was not to be on this day.
After most climbs, there is a descent. On this course, the climb leads to a windy plateau that goes on for 10 - 15 miles and leads to another shorter power climb. This is followed by a thundering and treacherous descent, after which you roll for about 2 miles to the finish; again on a bit of a power hill. The total course is 21 miles, and our race was doing 2 laps. The first time up on the windy plateau, I tried an attack and found that everyone was willing and able to cover it. There was only one other guy even close to me in size, and I decided to conserve my energy for the 3 remaining climbs. My assessment was confirmed the first time down the descent. Everyone was pedaling pretty hard to stay on, except for me. I was just letting my body weight carry me down the hill. At the bottom, I had gapped the field by 30 to 40 yards. Still, I knew from past years that this was not a good spot to try and hold a gap. We were all together well before our first time through at the finish line. I did the best I could to assess how I would want to position myself if I were still on the next time through.
We got back around to the climb for our second time up and I was concerned. There were a number of smaller guys still in our group and I knew I was going to have to go hard to be there at the top. Pretty much right away, two guys went to the front and set the pace. One was a Penn Velo rider, and the other was from San Jose Bike Club. They took turns at the front trying to open a gap. On a couple of occasions, they did so, but I was unwilling to allow that. I chased and closed at least twice. From that point, I stayed with those two. I had worked hard, but I was pleased that my heart rate never got over my blow up level. The funny thing was that when we got to the top, I was still right on them. They both immediately started signaling for me to pull through, but I was having none of it. I needed recovery, and I wasn’t about to start working for these two who had just done all that they could to drop me. Of the 13 who started the climb, there were 8 still together, but another 2 were not far behind. Those two did get back on to the group, so we were 10.
I tried one more attack up on the windy plateau, but the guys were not seeing it my way. We continued on toward the power climb and the end of the race. As we approached the power climb, Craig Larsen launched an attack. He was one of the two who had had to chase back on after the main climb, and I suspected that even though I know him to be a strong rider, he was probably not going to be able to sustain his pace. I let others chase him down, and so they did, as we were beginning the power climb. Pretty much right away, the Penn Velo rider attacked and got a 30 to 40 yard gap. Beyond that, it was holding steady, and I waited for the others to chase him down. They did not. As we were approaching the top, I made the effort and closed the gap. We were all together on the descent, and things were flying. I almost overcooked one of the final turns at a very high rate of speed, but fortunately, my wheels held the pavement. At the bottom, I had gapped the field again. I expect I should have just tried to go hard for the last two miles, but when I tried this two years ago, I just used all my available energy and had nothing left for the sprint. This year I decided to try and put myself in the best place I could think of for the sprint. I stayed up toward the front and rode to protect my wheel. At the 200 meter sign I was feeling pretty good, but I knew I wanted to get around the last corner before I went all out. Once we rounded that curve, the sprint was all out. I was caught off guard by how lame it was. I am used to always having to sprint against powerful sprinters at a finish. In this finish, I clearly had the most power and the most energy of anyone going for the line. Why didn’t I win? Two mistakes. First, I should have come through that last curve going all out. A few others did, and I was a few pedal strokes behind in getting up to full gas. The main thing, though, was that I failed to remember the centerline. I was among maybe 6 guys sprinting hard. I passed a couple after I got to full gas and was primed to pass at least one if not two others before the finish line. Then I saw the centerline and saw that I was closed out. I had to back off to get back inside it. I had no way to move up further. 4th. I got a Tee shirt for my effort, but I was one spot off the podium. Just missed my goal. But I had a great time. I may go back to doing a few more 4/5 races. I like having a chance!