Monday, April 25, 2016

Went Vineyards RR 55+ 1,2,3

Mark Edwards 5th place 

Well… it seems like forever since I’ve done a big competitive road race. That changed last Sunday as we rolled out at 8:15 from Wente Vineyards for the Wente Road Race.

While I’ve done a few competitive events as a 55+, I haven’t lined up with the best of the best in years. Initially I didn’t think Wente was going to be so competitive, but by Sunday morning that had changed. Many of my old advesaries/friends were there, along with several names new to me. 

Out of a field of 32, there were two World Champions that I know of, 4 National Champions I was aware of, and also a few District Champions. Specialized had their powerful duo of Larry Nolan and Rob Anderson. Rob would hit us on the climbs, while Larry would counter on the flats. Team Hammer showed up with the dangerous trio of Dan Shores, Jon Ornstil, and Hunter Ziesing. These guy’s trademark is rotating non-stop attacks, they didn’t disappoint. Thirsty Bear came with ambitions for the win, and had the horse power to back them up. Hans Gouwens, Max Thompson, and Brian McAndrews work well together, any one of them is capable of winning. Thirsty Bear stayed active, never missing an opportunity to soften up the field.

In addition Steve Archer (current National Champ), Mark Caldwell (former USA Pro Champ), Quentin Sims (So Cal strongman), and cagey effective Jan Elsbach, all had designs on a high placing.

In a testament to the strength of the field, many of the guys that weren’t familiar to me hung with the guys above and placed well. 

It’s also worth noting that with the Masters National Road Race next month, the group was in exceptional April form. This wasn’t a training ride, they came to RACE. This would turn out to be a perfect tuneup for North Carolina.

Along with Spokesman teammate, Jim Langley, we had our work cut out for us. My lack of race miles the past several years, and Jim’s rehab of his dodgy knees may not have been ideal, but we were determined to do our best.

A neutral promenade was friendly and conversational, but as we entered the course, it was GAME ON!

We’d be doing four 14 mile laps with about 5,000’ of climbing in the notoriously windy Altamont region. The single biggest climb, a little over a mile and 344’ elevation gain, seems to concern most riders. But, I think it’s all the short stair steps that follow the big climb that really inflict the trauma. A change this year was moving the finish from the top of the big climb to a 1/4 mile wall straight into the sky. With a strong tailwind, this would promise a surreal fast uphill sprint.

Every incline became a punch in the gut. There were a host of climbing specialist, and it was clear they had no intentions of coming into the finish with any powerhouse sprinter types. Any one of these guys could ride the series of climbs freakish fast, but rotate a new climber once or twice every incline? The speeds were punishing.

There was a big thinning the first two laps, not that I noticed in the moment, I was too busy trying to keep from being dropped. Subjectively, the third lap was my most difficult. I’d slipped out of the lead group of 8 on the stair steps just as we’d crested a climb into a super fast downhill. It seemed like 10, but may have ‘only’ been 5 minutes that I chased like mad to reattach. Once back I could sense that the last 5-10 minutes may have taken more out of some of the lead group than chasing took from me.

I felt my best on the fourth lap, but could see that there were still several guys that looked strong. The pace was high once again over the stair steps, and the downhill crazy fast. Hans had attacked the downhill with me 5 meters back, and the chasers 10 meters behind me. There’s a little chicane that Hans took at probably 35 mph, you’ve got to pick a good line, be smooth, and have faith you’ll come out with the rubber side down, I stayed with him and the gap widened. But, once the descent straightened out, we were all back together.

As we came off the descent, the Cat and Mouse started. This didn’t last long though, as the lulls were punctuated with crazy accelerations. One of these registered at 963 watts on my power meter!

I was near the front as we made the right hander approaching the finish ‘Wall”. I’m not sure how many had got back on, but I’d venture to guess there were maybe a dozen of us.

We’d all ridden the Wall 3 times so far, so we were familiar. You can’t see the finish from the bottom, riding it always felt longer than expected, and we had a punishing 60 miles already in our legs. When do we jump?

Dan Shores answered the question launching first and never looking back. A deserving winner, he was never challenged. Steve, Brian, Quentin, myself, and I’m sure several behind me, reacted to Dan’s move and jumped. It seemed too early, and I may have held back just slightly, but the tailwind was deceiving, shrinking the hill and distance to the finish.

All in all, one of the best races I’ve done. No negative racing, just a good hard fought battle. Fun!

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