Thursday, August 25, 2016
Masters 60 - 64 District Road Race 2016 / San Ardo
I have neglected my race reporting this year. In part, that’s because I haven’t raced so much, and in part it’s due to a lack of results. I have also been working at readjusting my attitude towards racing and cycling in general. All that said, this time I am motivated to write a race report. I learned something about me, and I learned something about bike racing.
Saturday was the NCNCA Masters District road race, and it is my first year in the 60 – 64 year old age group. I was looking forward to racing with teammates, Jim Langley and Mike Andalora, but I was also nervous about my ability to hang with the group. I have carried more weight this year (by far), and it was certainly one of the contributing factors to my getting dropped at nationals. There were a couple of other factors at nationals, not least of which was that I had not adequately trained my high end fitness, but also that I lost some of my focus during that race and had to work too hard to regain my position with the peleton. I was also on a new bike and riding position that I was still acclimating to. Saturday, I was still very big, but I had worked hard at training my high end fitness, I was really comfortable on my new machine, and I was seeing really high power numbers in my interval work leading up to the race. Plus, I raced at Dunnigan the week before, and that gave me a refresher on what not to do (I attacked the younger and stronger field early on in that race and blew myself up). Finally, I had rested the whole week prior to this race, doing only a couple of recovery rides. I was feeling very fresh, and quite rested.
Our race had 20 guys signed up, with the class of the field being last year’s national road champion, Steve Archer. I have raced against Archer a number of times, and he is always a true gentleman and a very good sport. A few years ago at San Ardo, he flatted on the second lap of our two lap race. He had a teammate who pulled over and gave him his rear wheel. Archer chased back onto the group and won the race. Afterwards, he came around and thanked us for waiting. I responded that I certainly hadn’t waited, but that I couldn’t get any help from the group in working to leave him behind. Two years ago, San Ardo was the district race and both Archer and I were still in the 55- 59 group that has a 3 lap race. Many in that peleton were tired by the 3rd lap. Archer launched a viscious attack that only Mike Vetterli was able to bridge up to. Archer won that race, Vetterli took 2nd and Larry Nolan took the field sprint somewhat after. I am admittedly not the gentleman that Steve is, as I enjoy colorful language within the peleton. I gain satisfaction in animating the races I enter, but I never intend to treat any competitor, official or spectator in anything less than a respectful manner. That said, I do not view colorful (read “profane” here) language as anything other than a means of expressing great drama and joy. I do so freely during races, and rides. Saturday after the race, teammate Jim Langley wondered if I couldn’t save some much needed energy by not talking. I can’t imagine that, but even if I do spend a few calories in the course of a couple of hours, I would not trade the joy of life that it gives me. My hope is that it is not found to be offensive by those with the great good fortune to be riding with me.
Other notables in our field included Paul Gossi who won this year’s district TT, and I also remembered from a Copperopolis road race a few years ago. He had been the only guy in our large and talented field who was able to stay with former world champion, Robert Anderson. Anderson and Gossi had gone 1 / 2 that day. We also had Mark Perry and Tim Davis in our field. I don’t know either of them, but I see their names often towards the top of the 55 races. From Santa Cruz, I know my teammate, Jim Langley is a very strong and talented racer. Also, from Watsonville, Chris Cerruti was entered, and I ride with him enough to know I probably couldn’t beat him. My other teammate, Mike Andalora, has been riding strong and I knew if he had a good day that he would be right in the mix. Then there were a few guys that I didn’t know anything about, including 1 guy from out of our district, and a few who I have raced with in the past but don’t really know. I ran into Chris Cerruti talking to Archer before the race, and Archer thought Gossi would try to get away, but he mostly was interested in not going to the line with Tim Davis. In his opinion, Davis had been on fire and would be very hard to beat in a sprint.
Then there was the course. San Ardo is not a climber’s course, but rather is a power course. It is not completely flat, but there are no steep, long grades, and the main issues are the nasty road condition and some wind. Each lap there is a climb at the beginning, but it typically doesn’t create huge breaks in the field. Still, it was that climb that was the cause of my nervousness. With my weight, it was possible that a really hard attack could gap me and end my race very early. The same possibility would be there for me on the second lap, and again at the finish. Beyond that, I was pretty sure that my fitness would keep me in with the group at the least. I also hoped to, at least, give myself a chance at finishing better than my usual , mid pack. I also was hopeful of being some use to my teammate, Langley, as well as possibly my friend Cerruti.
To warm up, I rolled around with the boys for about 45 minutes. We checked out the finish, and it had been shortened from its previous spot by maybe 100 – 125 yards. That left a flat sprint of 100 – 125 yards after climbing up to a left hander. I pretty much knew it was not my kind of finish, so my plan was to get away early if I could. And then we lined up for the start.
When I did this race 2 years ago as a 3 lap race, they didn’t hit the first time up the climb as hard as the second two times. I was unsure what would happen in this 2 lap race. We started up and the favorites were all sitting towards the front. I did as much work as I needed to in order to stay on the wheels at the front. Another racer and I commented to each other how glad we were that the pace was very sedate. Still, after we got over the top, or not long afterwards, Paul Gossi and Archer’s teammate were off the front. Even so, the group wasn’t showing much interest, and it soon became clear that Archer was going to have to set the pace. He didn’t chase, but he also didn’t let them extend their gap, at least not by much. This also led to the whole first lap of our race being uneventful and not very hard. As we rolled back into town at the end of lap one, Archer’s teammate came back to the group, leaving Gossi ahead on his own.
As we climbed up past the feed zone to begin the second lap, I was again surprised by how easy the pace was. Still, I moved up in the group towards the front. Archer had gone to the front, and I knew he wouldn’t simply float over the only place on the course that could be considered a hill. Sure enough, as soon as the road tilted up again, having passed the finishing line turn, he jumped hard. I called out, “There he goes!”, and spun my cranks all out. I was far enough forward, had enough power, and the distance to the top was short enough that I made it with the front selection. Unfortunately, our teammate Mike hadn’t made the front group along with several others. The lead group was down to 10, with Gossi still a little off the front.
Archer stayed on the front and began to chase down Gossi in earnest. I was a little surprise when my remaining teammate, Langley, went to the front and began to work as well. I rode past him and told him to sit in. If he felt that we needed to help in the chase, it was my job. He was to rest and sit in. Besides, I could see that Gossi was starting to wither from being off the front for so long, and I suspected that we could pull him in at will. Not long after, he was back with the group. I stayed towards the front, watching for Archer to make a move and trying to do any needed work so Jim could sit in.
I think this race was the first that I have understood the term, “negative racing”, that I’ve heard more experienced racers use. I haven’t really understood it in the past because, as I now understand it, negative racing is the definition of how the 45 4/5 category races. In short, everyone in the 4/5 races will choose to simply sit in for the whole race, waiting only to contest the sprint. In my opinion, this is not only boring, but can tend to be unsafe and is a waste of my time. Perhaps I am biased because I know that I am not particularly a sprinter, but regardless, I want to be in races that are challenging the whole way. In this race, the negative racing occurred because Archer was the prohibitive favorite. We all knew he was supposed to win. Thus, everyone in our race was happy to sit in and allow him to dictate the race, in hopes that he would make a mistake or have a mechanical. That is, of course, not an entirely fair appraisal on my part. Gossi had gone off the front, and Tim Davis had attacked a few times. Somehow, those efforts had seemed only feints to me, and Archer was left at the front to set the pace. And so we rolled along.
About 10 miles from the finish, the course turns into a tailwind leg that dips down before cresting a bump and then going flat back into town. As we made the right hander into the tailwind leg, I came around Archer, just because of our weight difference, and rolled off the front of the group. It was unintentional, but as I looked back, I saw that I was starting to get a pretty good gap. I decided to go ahead and push my advantage and use it to make sure I got up the bump with the group. A couple of guys came by me pretty hard over the top, but I was able to chase back on to the group. About that time, Jim rolled up and said, “If you are feeling good, now would be a good time to go!”. I just looked at him and smiled, and launched.
Breaking away is not hard for me, particularly in the flats. I knew I was the strongest guy left in our field, with the possible exception of Archer. Weight is where others get the advantage on me, but that is much less of a factor in the flats. If you don’t catch my wheel as I make my jump, most riders will not have the power to match me. In this case, I think I had a 75 – 100 yard gap when I looked back. From there, I tried my best to settle into a steady hard pace. As I mentioned, breaking away is not that hard. Staying away is. I had expected that Archer would bridge back up to me. I was less than thrilled that he brought the rest of the group with him. I jumped again, but they were on me directly. He was not wanting to chase down a large gap again.
I was pretty sure my day was done. I knew that I would be at a disadvantage when we had to climb up to the finishing turn. However, my teammate, Jim, and my friend, Chris, were still in the group. At the least, I could dish out some punishment to the rest of the group while they sat in. I sat at the front and continued to go as hard as I could, as often as I could. It was odd to me that during my recovery periods, not a single person came around me to take a pull. I think that for the last ~8 miles of the race, I was on the front the whole way. I hoped my efforts would be of some use to Jim and Chris. In the meantime, a couple of chasing riders, including Archer’s teammate, got back on to our group. I think we were 12 going back through town to the finish. I continued in the lead.
As we rolled through town, our turns shifted the wind from tail to crossing from our right. As we began the climb up past the feed zone, I moved to the left hand side of the road and got out of the saddle. I had nothing left to climb with. My legs just felt like jello. As I knew they would, the whole group came by me en masse, with a smaller group beginning to gap those towards the rear. I was gapped by all but continued to turn my pedals as hard as I was able. The only guy I caught going to the finish was Archer’s teammate, and I think that was because he didn’t care. I finished 11th, but 10th in the district, because one finisher ahead of me was from out of the area. My friend, Chris, finished on the podium in 5th, and Jim took 8th!
This was the most fun I have had in a race in a long time. It didn’t matter that I didn’t place too high. I helped Jim and Chris, and I was the animator in the last part of the race. I wish I could have helped Mike to stay with the group, but I think when he came off the group, I was going all out. Bike racing continues to be a tough sport!
Paul Gossi 4th, Tim Davis 2nd, Steve Archer 1st, Mark Perry 3rd, Chris Cerruti 5th