Oh, how I wanted to win this one. Go out with a "bang" so to speak. Unfortunately, I didn't get my wish but I had a great time, on a great course, in a great race.
Having watched my friend race in the 35+ 1/2/3s last year, I felt trepidation about confronting the dreaded Cat's Hill. It loomed large in my imagination like some dreaded beast from a fable. However, I am discovering that each rider faces the same obstacles in a race. So even though Cat's Hill is hard, it is hard on everyone. Being a power rider could even be an advantage because the hill is not long enough for the pure climbers to get going.
The course is wonderful, really fun. The start/finish is on a long, straight segment of road. The race gently rises from the start with a 90˚ right turn after about 150m. Another 90˚ right turn after 75m takes you toward Cat's Hill. A 90˚ left takes you into the paws of the beast. The best approach for the hill is to come from the right side of the street, making sure of a clear line, and keeping as much momentum going into the hill as possible. The best place to attack is through the top of Cat's Hill and the gentle rise that comes 20/30m after cresting its top. This is where the eventual winner of our race made his triumphant attack.
After cresting the top of the hill, the road rises, falls, and gently drifts right. Here, there is another slight hill on a 90˚ turn. Once cresting this rise there is a gentle decent on one side of a park. After about 150m you come to a 90˚ turn that takes you into a steeper, but still gentle decent towards the final 90˚ right turn back to the finish. The finish is slightly down hill.
The race started with a bang! Well, a whistle, but the front line of riders reacted aggressively. I was in the last third of the peloton because the rider in front of me slowed dramatically as he struggled to get his shoe clipped in. I allowed myself to be patient. Cat's Hill worked its magic and the group settled after about three laps, allowing me to move up towards the front. I felt good, surprised at how easily I could move past people on the hill.
The pace was kept fast at all points of the race. It only slowed after a couple of the prime laps and with four laps to go. Frustratingly, a few riders would drift out of their line on the hill and some corners. My voice blew hard when confronted by these dangerous riders. As riders got fatigued their attention lagged. Fortunately, we had no casualties.
On the first of four primes, I found myself feeling really strong, two or three back from the front. On the downhill section before the final turn, I put the pedal down. I was clear in front and easily won the prime. This is what I need to do at the finish I thought, push hard down the hill and take my momentum into the final sprint. If only I had remembered this thought more clearly at the finish.
I pushed on a bit after the finish, hoping to gap the peloton, but a couple of riders were immediately onto me. This was a strong group. On the eighth lap prime, I found myself in a similar position. Sean Estes, he beat me for second at Wente, was on the front. I bridged up to his wheel and pipped him for the prime. Two primes, this was fun! Sean was urging me to go hard, to try and string the group out. I went for a couple of turns, looked back and saw everyone just being pulled in my draft. I sat up and let him take over. I wanted to conserve and regain some energy - two primes and the hill was hard on the legs. After the hill, I settled into the pack. Time to relax for a few laps.
I realized that you could go easier up Cat's Hill, lose a couple or few spots, but gain them on the rest of the lap. Cat's Hill is also a good place to move up through the peloton. It's like a hitting a wall and ten yards can be reduced to five in an instant.
With three laps to go the pace really started to hot up. I made sure I was in the top ten. With two to go, Kevin, a Wente rider I raced in Copperopolis and the Wente crit, went hard on the front. I made sure to keep close and made way into the top five. I felt I should hold this position on the last lap and make my move into the last corner. This was my mistake. A Roaring Mouse rider led up Cat's Hill. He went really hard over the top. I was too far back to respond directly. He gapped us all, powering down the hill to first place. This was his first move of the race. Tactically, he timed it to perfection. I found myself responding to the 2nd and 3rd place riders.
This was where I made the mistake that cost me a podium place. After our final ascent of Cat's Hill, we were all chasing the Roaring Mouse - playing a good game of cat and mouse! My legs were tired but I was gaining on 3rd place rider Sean Estes. On the final decent before the final turn, the 2nd and 3rd guys slowed a bit. I slowed too thinking I should recover a touch and out sprint them after the final turn. What I should have done at that moment, was use my momentum to go past them instead of slowing in behind them. Basically, we held our positions from the corner across the finish line despite my well timed and executed lunge. I missed 3rd by a couple of inches, very frustrating! However, for placing fourth and winning two primes, I won three bottles of wine, a t-shirt, and a fifteen dollar gift certificate to a sports store - not bad! If you had told me last year that in one year's time I would place fourth in the fours at Cat's Hill and win two primes, I would have responded: "Fourth place? No way! And what's a prime?!"
In my last race as a cat. 4, I came 4th. Seems like a fitting conclusion. My next endeavor will be the Bicycling Spring Classic fondo organized with Specialized on May 10th.