Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sea Otter Classic 45+ 1/2/3s Crit & Circuit Race by Matthew Sloan

Thursday, April 16th Crit

The crit is on the lower section of the Laguna Secca race track. It uses the finishing straight in both directions having an uphill u-turn at both ends of the circuit. It was blustery conditions. I knew if a break went, it could stick.

About 15-20 riders lined up at the start. Only 12 finished which said something about how hard the conditions were. Local "fast man" Steve Heaton made several attacks from the start.  Each time he was brought back. There was a slight uphill from the start. It finished with a u-turn and the course went back down the hill into a strong headwind. On the third or fourth lap, after a few attacks, no one wanted to pull through. I did an easy push off the front and gained a little gap. I looked back and Steve Heaton jumped on my wheel--"game on!"

It was perfect timing. The peloton was tired of the attacks and Steve was a marked man. Steve had one teammate in the race who covered any attempts to bridge up. After a couple of laps our advantage was up to 30 seconds. It felt so good to finally be in a break that was working. Steve and I exchanged hard pulls and kept a strong tempo going. There was one point when you could see the peloton really starting to slack and sit up. That's when Steve really put the hammer down for a lap. We worked really hard and put the final nail in the coffin. At the race's end, we had three minutes on the group.

While we were working hard into the wind keeping up a good speed, the peloton were fighting not to be in the wind. No one wants to be the rider giving the group a break at that point. This is good to know when you are in the break. Just keep working at it in the wind. The group is more than likely going slower.

In the middle third of our break, I started to tire a bit. This was partly psychological with not knowing how far we had left. Steve gave a couple of pulls where I just sat in and recovered a bit. It was interesting how my legs and willpower came back as soon as I knew we had just seven laps left. Steve looked stronger so I said, "I don't care what happens on the last lap. I need some points, so let's just get to the last lap!"

On the second small hill on the back of the circuit, on the second to last lap, Steve put the jump on me. I wasn't expecting it and he got a bit of a gap. I held on hard, dug deep and kept him at the same distance. After the race he told me how impressed he was that I didn't just let him go. Well, in my mind I knew, "It ain't over 'til it's over! "Never, never, never give up!" He could have had a mechanical, he could have tied up, one never knows. When I realized going up the same section on the last lap that I wouldn't get him back, I eased up a touch and rolled in for 2nd.

It felt really good to be in the winning break. It also showed me what I need to work on.



Friday, April 17th Circuit Race

This is one of my favorite races on the calendar--racing on the Laguna Seca racetrack. It is absolutely awesome. A really hard climb followed by the best descent ever--the infamous "corkscrew!" It's more fun than a roller coaster!

My goal in this race was to hang in on the climb and see what was left at the end. Local rider, Chris Williams, broke away early. Everyone let him go. He did a yeoman's job and was only caught with about three laps to go. I did consider bridging up but with the effort made the day before I didn't want to risk blowing up.

This is a race of attrition. The climb is much harder than it looks. The width of the track makes the climb look less steep than it is. Believe me; however, that after a few laps of racing one's legs certainly know! We started the race with at least thirty riders; sixteen actually finished. The hill took them out in ones and twos.

A few of us worked on the front to bring back the loan breakaway rider. There were a few attacks up the hill, down the hill, and on the rollers after the descent but nothing stuck until the final lap. The final time up the main climb Rob McGee hit hard. I was right on his wheel, that was my complete focus. He was just edging ahead as we started to crest the hill onto the false flat with a headwind gusting into us. Robert Pasco and Cameron Perky attacked hard from our right. Rob was able to jump across, I got dropped. Eventual winner, Russell Shapley held their wheels. They probably got 40-50 meters on me by the descent. But did I give up? Of course not. I hit hard down the hill. I was edging up to them every moment. They started to play games for positioning. I went hard and eased up onto the last wheel. We were now five. I was the biggest amongst us and I really fancied my chances.

I may never give up but I still have to learn a thing or two about patience. There was a cross/headwind in the finishing straight. The straight going into the finishing turn had a tail wind. Instead of waiting in the perfect position for someone to jump, I went with the wind on my back. I charged and charged and charged but I could feel my legs tying up into the headwind before the line. Again, I got caught in the last 20-30m. "Ah!" so frustrating. Perhaps without all the hard climbing I had done my legs could have held on for such a long sprint but not on this day.

I came in a frustrating fifth knowing that with just a bit more patience and guile... Well, better luck next time! I am going to practice my finish on Sunday at the Redkite crit in the 35+ 1/2/3s and the 2/3s

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Central Coast Road Series II 35+ 1/2/3s, April 12th Following the Stars and Stripes by Matthew Sloan

Central Coast Road Series II: 35+ 1/2/3s
Following the Stars and Stripes
6 laps, 24 miles

This was a very competitive field including 2 national champions: road race champion, Scott Giles and crit champion, Matthew Corinio. Matthew's team Arts Cyclery was very strong. My friend and fellow racer, David Allen, said this was the fastest Master's race he has been in at Ford Ord.

It started out fast, the middle was fast, and so was the end: fast, fast, fast! The hardest part of the course is the first hill, a long gradual ascent with a false flat on the top. On every lap we were treated to an attack, usually hard, from the bottom to the top. All I can say is I hung on the wheels of a lot of stars and stripes on the climb! I knew if I could hold either of the stars and stripes' wheels, I would be there at the end.

Ben Albracht of Arts Cyclery and Jacob of Thirsty Bear formed an initial break. With both riders having teammates they were able to get quite a good gap on the field. Scott Giles and others tried to bridge up but Arts covered their attempts. This didn't stop Scott Giles from continuing throughout the race to close it down. On one attempt, I got on his wheel and exchanged a few pulls but we were brought back into the fold by Arts.

Finally, just before the last lap the break was caught. Arts attacked up the long gradual climb. I worked really hard to hold their wheels. Just before we got to the top, Matthew Corinio attacked smoothly and hard. I tried to get on but he was gone! He ended up winning. It was perfect team work. He had sat in while his team did all the work. Then, when it really mattered, "BANG!", he was gone.
The main group continued to ride hard to catch up.

Due to his many efforts during the race and the fact he may feel he doesn't have a sprint, Scott Giles dropped off the back over the rollers and let us go. Even with legs burning from the efforts of the fast, hard hills I found myself in sixth or seventh down the final descent. I was edging up the left ready for the sprint. Unfortunately, we were catching the tail end of another race. They were fanning out to take their final turn. We yelled out but their positioning forced us into more of a line and pushed me back out of position. I still got a good sprint going and was able to edge out a Simple Green team rider for 5th.

My first top 5 in a 35+ field and a competitive one at that. They even had a podium for 5 places. I have to admit that I tracked down the 4th place rider so I could get my podium picture taken. Unfortunately, it was taken by someone from Arts Cyclery. I will share it when they send it to me. I really appreciated the support of Rene and Matt during the race. It really helps to hear your name being called out by teammates.

I am feeling ready for Sea Otter on Thursday-crit, and Friday-circuit race. A couple of easy days then some sprints on Wednesday and I should be there.

Copperopolis 45+ 1/2/3s by Matthew Sloan

Copperopolis Road Race
45+ 1/2/3s: 3 laps: 63 miles 

This is thought of as a Northern Californian Monument. Often referred to as the Paris Roubaix of Northern California, it's definitely a tough race--a war of attrition! Apparently, over the years some of the larger pot holes have been filled in but many of the roads remain extremely bumpy. The hardest section of rough road to deal with is on the stair step climb. When someone attacks here it's hard to respond. It's difficult to have a good rhythm in the first place.

I contemplated doing the Elite 3s race for all of about five minutes. With an extra lap and lots of skinny climbing teenagers to contend with it was easy to press the button on the computer for 45+1/2/3s.

We started out at a good pace. The first time up the hill was steady. Attacks began once we hit the plateau. Nothing stuck and we were all together on the final climb before the nerve racking, twisty and turny decent that takes you into the finish on the last lap. Someone attacked on the climb and I found myself chasing back on the decent. The rider in front of me was a slower descender; unfortunately, he let the gap get bigger. It was too dangerous to pass him. I made a mental note--be closer to the front on the next lap so as not to waste energy bridging back up.

On the second lap I grabbed a bottle in the feed. I was contemplating not taking on the bottle because the climb is right after but I knew I would need the liquid. It would be great to have the feed zone after the climb. It would certainly help someone like me. Going into the stair step climb, I was in the back third of the peloton. This was a mistake. As riders attacked on the final steep section I got gapped. Fortunately, I was with three other riders. We worked hard to get back on. With some effort we caught the main group. This was a small victory which I celebrated quietly within myself.

At this point there were a couple of riders off the front. The pace became stronger as teams worked to bring the break back. On the final climb before the crazy descent I made sure to move up. Going over the top I was nicely placed in the middle of the peloton. I took the descent well and was in the top five going into the long bumpy section that leads to the feed zone. With a hundred meters or so to the feed zone, I went into the lead. I wanted to make sure I grabbed a bottle. The opportunity for two attempts would be worth the effort. First try, I grabbed a bottle, another little victory. I rode a decent pace on the front but let a Pen Velo rider take over for the climb.

I knew if I started the stair step climb towards the front I would have the length of the peloton to drop back and still remain in contention. The final steep section came sooner than I would have liked, doesn't it always! Digging as deep as I could--disgusting but true, I actually puked--I got dropped off the back. The gap wasn't too big but eventually even the following motor bike went past me. One of my mottos for life is Churchill's, "Never, never, never give up!" I didn't. I dug deep, got into a big gear, and used all the power I had to get back on. I got back on! It felt like winning. This time I did exclaim, "Two victories in one day!" Robert Pasco complimented me on my good work.

So now I was back. On the kind of territory that suits me well. One rider came up and asked me "Who's off the front?" I responded, "I don't know, I'm just happy to be back on the back!" I sat in and rested up. Three riders were off the front. I didn't even consider trying to bridge across. I didn't see the move when it happened as I was bridging back up at that point. A move to try and bring them back would have taken it completely out of me at that point. 

There were some small attacks from the group but nothing stuck. When we came to the final climb I was expecting attacks that I wouldn't be able to cover but the field must have been feeling it. I easily worked my way up to the front. My strategy was to descend on the front. I could take my own lines at my own speed. A few of us traded positions but I remained top three the whole way down. 

Last year as a cat. 4 I was further back on the descent. As I caught the group on a slight rise with 1 KM to go, I slowed rather than pass the group using my momentum to get a jump on them. This year I decided to go early. I took the speed from the descent and went with about 1.5-2 KM to go. It was too early. A bunch of guys worked hard to bring me back. I sat up with 750 to go and got on a Pen Velo wheel. I breathed hard and attacked with 200M left. Again, I was the man with the target on his back. I got caught before the line. The guy I had been eyeing as the wheel to follow for the sprint won it. 

I finished 8th overall. A bit of a tactical error in the final 2 KM but you never know unless you try. I am looking forward to next year. Perhaps, I'll hang back a bit; maybe I'll have the legs to hang on the climb and get in the break? Who knows...
Leading the attack to bridge back on!