Saturday, April 26, 2014

Wente Vineyards Road Race, Livermore, CA, 4-26-14, 35+ cat 4s by Matthew Sloan

Why are there windmills on the hills around Livermore? Because it's bloody windy that's why! Wente is a great race. Great organization, great support, and great riders - riders from all over Northern California.

The 4s started out at reasonably fast pace. There were a good number of San Jose Bicycle Club riders and they took to the front. The first time up the hill was quite steady. On the way out to the hill we pretty much had the wind at our back so it wasn't too noticeable. But when we crested the hill, past the start finish line, boy did we feel it! It was gusting enough to make a rider wobble. One needed to keep a firm grip on the bars to keep a good line. Everyone was pretty well mannered on the first lap. A good solid pace. There is quite a steep decent on the backside of the course but due to the wind it almost felt like being on the flat.

At the bottom of one section of decent, on a right turn, there was a wall of straw bales. Obviously in the right conditions this could be a treacherous spot. There was one other treacherous turn which I found out about. One which a rider afterward told me he had crashed on and had needed stitches to his eyebrow. So, this down hill, off camber, 120 degree turn was very tricky! Well, for me at least. How many lessons does one need to learn in a season of racing? Many!

Before leaving for the race this morning, I cleaned and lubed my chain. Nothing wrong with that; however, I accidentally got some oil on my wheel rim. Unwittingly, I rubbed the oil off with a cloth that had a touch of oil on it. So during the race, I came to this off camber corner. The wind gusts, hard! I got blown a bit, I braked to reduce speed, and... go off the side into the rough grass verge towards a fence. I managed to brake to a standstill. You know the scene in the Tour, when Lance misses the crash and careens off the hairpin - cross country style - and gets back on? Well, this was a similar type of situation but I had to jump off my bike, run it back up the steep verge, and jump back on. It took 5 or 10 minutes, but I managed to bridge back up to the peloton. I sat in, recovered, and slowly made my way to the front.

Sean Estes, who works for Specialized, took us hard up the hill and stretched the field out. I worked up to the front. Everything was going well until we hit my favorite corner. My carbon rims may have added to the situation but again, yes again! I got blown by the wind and the oil on my wheel stopped me from slowing enough. Once again, I was riding cyclocross style down the verge, bumpety, bumpety, bump! I jumped off the bike, ran up the verge, and jumped back on. Unbelievable, twice! I then had my work cut out for me as Sean was working the front of the pack. I managed to bridge up and sit on the back resting the legs and wondering how many matches I had burnt.

We had one lap to go. I was working my brake on the downhill to burn off the oil. I was praying in my mind to take the corner smoothly on the last lap. I couldn't afford to be burning matches bridging on the last lap. The third time up the hill was reasonably hard but not overly so. Everyone was thinking of the finish and saving it for that. We were all together going into the last lap. I think a few had been dropped but we were a group of about 20. On the back of the course, going uphill into the wind, I found myself on the front. I gently put in an effort and found myself building a gap on the peloton. I made a consistent effort but not too hard incase the group decided to pull me back. I was going down the hill and the gap was growing, about 40m. I went hard over a roller, round the straw bale right bend, and hard over the next roller. I looked back on the downhill, leading into my favorite turn, and the peloton had gained on me. I knew I would be caught. I eased up, making sure I was on the front, at my pace, going around my favorite corner. I held it well. I gave a whoop of joy! I had done it - I finally had got round the corner! Even if I didn't place, at least I had mastered that corner.

A rider went past me hard on the straight, unhappy that I had slowed so much on the bend. I jumped on his wheel. He basically dragged us all back to the final hill. A couple of other riders took pulls on the front but this rider really did the yeoman's share into the wind. I knew it was all going to come down to the last hill. I had seen Tobin Ortenblad at the start of the race. He had just finished and told me to make sure I was in the top 5 - 10 going into the final right turn into the finishing hill. The road went from quite wide to quite narrow in the turn. I made the turn in 3rd or 4th. A rider in a green kit, who was led out to the hill by his team mates, was going pretty hard. I made sure I was on his wheel. I could see Sean Estes working his way up to us. I made sure I was in a good position to jump on his wheel when he went past. He was being followed by a rider, Luiggi Zuniga, in a white and red kit with Lenon emblazoned on it. I jumped onto his wheel as he went past. I knew these would be the two to watch for. I was working hard. We got to the false flat, then 200m to go. On this course, on this hill, 200m is a long way. I didn't want to give it everything at 200m because I thought the guys who went at that point would slow up. Sean and Luiggi jumped. I followed them.

As we got to 150m - 100m to go, it was bedlam. The road was full of riders from other  races: cat 4 men, cat 5 men, women 4s, and junior boys and girls. I had to swerve in and out of riders. In the madness we held our places. Luiggi, 1st, Sean, 2nd, Matthew, 3rd. I was very pleased with the result. If the road had been clear perhaps I could have caught one of them, who knows? I definitely felt like I had earned the bottle of wine, bag of coffee, t-shirt, and ten dollars with my trips down the verge. Wente is definitely one for the Spokesman Team to race. The hill is right in our ball park. Those Wednesday night repeats had me in fine fettle for it. Thank you to you all for that!

1st Luiggi Zuniga 2nd Sean Estes 3rd Matthew Sloan


  1. Impressive! That is a tough course, especially with the omnipresent wind. And I bet harder than usual this year.

  2. Nice job, Matthew & thanks for the write up!

  3. Excellent job mate! 2 podiums back to back weekends!!! Scored some points for sure


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