Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Monday, April 5, 2010

Frozen Flatlands Stage Race

The weather forecast for the Spokane area looked to be crappy at best. Snoqualmie Pass was getting hammered with snow and crossing it was going to be dicey, not necessarily because of the heavy snow fall but because of all those heading to Grandma's house for Easter that never drive in the snow and are seldom prepared. The SUV was loaded with four bikes and tons of gear and I hit the road at 9:30AM to avoid the rush. By the time I hit North Bend it was snowing hard and with 10 miles to the top, traffic came to a halt as we were diverted off the hwy to get around a nasty little pile up. Once back on we were in a single file line doing 5mph and cars were spinning out all over the place. I finally made it through the pass in once piece and thought I was good to go but it snowed all the way to Spokane. It took me just under six hours to make the trek.....Fun times!!

My plan was to check into the hotel, kit up and ride the TT course. It was 36 degrees, snowing and the winds were coming out of the SW at 20 mph. I jumped in the car and drove the 12 miles with the climate control set to 75 degrees. I went to my favorite Spokane micro brewery for some carbo loading, picked up Paul from the airport and went back to the hotel and constantly checked for hourly reports. It was not looking good.

We got up Saturday morning and saw it had cleared up a bit. You could see the sun but it was 33 degrees and the winds were sustained at 20 to 25mph with gusts up to 35. What was I thinking? My start time was 9:17 and it looked like the temp might get up to 35 degrees by then.......Balmy!!
We were lucky, our hotel was only a couple of miles from the start so we decided to drive to the staging area, sign in and come straight back to the hotel to warm up. Time to lather on the embro and figure out how many layers I was going to put on. I think I looked more like the Michelin Man than someone getting ready to do a time trial. We timed it so that I would get to the lot about 15 minutes before my start time.
The Time Trial:
6 mile out and back course on mostly flat road for a total of 12.4 miles.
I made the last minute decision to switch out my wheels and go with my Zipp 404's instead of my normal tt setup. I don't think it made a difference. The wind was howling. I was trying to remain positive but it was hard. 5,4,3,2,1.....I'm off. The wind was hitting us HARD out of the SW and to me seemed to be hitting us at an angle, coming from the left. I wanted to go out hard into the wind. There was slightly more downhill going out so I guess we had that going for us. It was brutal. Cold air was being shoved down my throat and most of the way out my bike was tilted at an angle to compensate for the wind. Gusts would hit and it was impossible to keep the bike straight but I managed to stay in the aero position the whole way out. Every muscle in my body was working, not just the legs and lungs. I was not feeling great but kept hammering forward. I was passing guys that were just giving up and soft pedaling. A couple of guys even cheered me on as I flew by them. I finally hit the turn around and normally it's your time to fly. It was slightly uphill on the way back it was still hard. Yes, my speed increased tremendously but I still felt the affects of the wind and cold. I hit the finish and wanted to die. I was hoping for a top five finish and was happy to end up 6th. I managed to stay warm but within two minutes after getting off the bike I was shaking so hard I couldn't take it. The minute Paul was finished with his TT, we headed back to the hotel to recuperate.
Other highlights: Both Vern and Mark T. posted excellent times in the Cat 4 field and were placed 6th and 7th respectively and Mirna was sitting 3rd in the Women's 4. Everyone on the team worked hard and we were looking good. Barb had knee problems which forced her to drop out of the rest of the weekend. Looks like she is headed towards surgery.....Get back fast Barb!! On to the road race.

Road Race:
47.1 mile course with rolling hills with a short "Wall" 10 miles from the finish.
The Cat 3 race start time was at 12:40. Paul and I went through the same routine and we showed up about 20 minutes before the start. The weather looked to be improving (if you want to call it that). It was about 39 degrees, the sun was out... but the winds, oh those winds. They actually seemed to have picked up and the gusts were even harder than in the morning. I again showed up to the line with Winter layers on and for a brief moment thought I was over dressed. During the few minutes that we waited for our lead car and instructions from our official my body started to shake violently. Nope, not over dressed. Just as we started to roll out the darkest, nastiest looking clouds started to head right at us. No vest and no rain cape. This could get interesting. We had a long neutral roll out through town to get us safely through four sets of railroad tracks and then the race was on. It was really hard to hide from the wind and the echelons started forming right away. We were riding tight like sardines in a can. I was still quite cold and after about five miles a guy from a Missoula team jumped and I decided to go with him. We got a nice little gap and were working well together and then "Depression set in!" We got on top of a roller and were now directly in the wind. There was no way the two of us could keep this up. We just laughed and waited for the pack to come up. At least I was finally warm. After that, the attacks started to mount and if enough guys went and you didn't jump on the back you were done for the day. It was hard to do but you had to jump on because every time one went, guys were getting dumped off the back and into their own lonely hell. There was no way anyone would catch back on after being dropped. About half way though the race the weather gods decided it wasn’t bad enough and the snow and hail started to fall. It would come in waves and the wind made it feel like steel pellets hitting your face. At least the roads were staying dry, but what a mess.
I went to the front a bunch of times but never again did I start an attack. It was just like musical chairs, a surge would go and if you were the last one to grab on you were out. Every time we hit a roller someone would go. A couple of times I got caught napping and almost missed the bus. Even if you were a couple of bike lengths off the back you were in jeopardy of being done for the day. I had to max out a couple of times just to stay on. This kept going and by the time we were getting close to the "Wall" there were only about 15 of us left....yeah baby! The pace slowed for a couple of miles before the climb but when we hit it a guy from the Vertical Earth team took off....GAME ON!... It was a wall that was almost a mile long. It doesn't seem that bad on paper but, oh man! I was feeling good until about half way up and then five guys started to slip away. After the climb there is only 9 miles to go. It heads down hill for a bit and then you get a tail wind all the way to the finish. I knew if I didn't grab on I was done. My legs were pounding. I looked back and there were four guys with me and the rest had cracked like an egg on Easter. For a brief moment I thought that I would just sit up, work with these other four and cruise in for a top 10. No way. I had come this far and I wasn't going to give up. I would kick myself the rest of the weekend if I didn't give it a shot. I jumped out of the saddle, dropped the other four and crested the wall. The lead five had about a 15 second gap and I soon found out it was not going to be easy to catch them. I put my head down, got in the drops and did my best tt ever. There were a couple of times when I thought I'd be doing the last seven miles alone but I dug deep. It took me three miles to catch them but somehow I managed. The cool moment came when our wheel car came up beside me and asked me how the hell I did that. I could only shrug my shoulders. I was now hurting like hell but didn't care. I now made this a six man break and no one else was going to catch us. For the next couple of miles I just sat on the back to try to recuperate. None of the others seemed to mind. I only knew one guy with us, Adam Kaufman from Recycled. The other guys were from Montana and Idaho teams and I knew nothing about them. We were rolling fast but I think that was only because of the tail wind. We were all feeling the affects. We finally saw the 3K sign and I think I was more relieved than anything else. We rolled single file and kept our place in line. We hit the 1K mark and still and no one jumped. The 200m sign quickly came and I was still sitting last wheel. The front guy jumped and it was game on. It was the most pathetic sprint I’d ever been in. Everyone seemed to be out of gas. I thought I was sitting pretty but only managed to come around two guys and ended up placing 4th. I was extremely happy. It seems I keep saying this every week but that was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. This put me in 3rd overall for the GC. I got back to the lot, changed, jumped in the car and was amazed that guys in our field were still rolling in 20 minutes after we finished. Vern finished 6th in his field and was placed well in GC and Mirna finished 7th. Everyone on the team put out insane efforts in this race. It would be hard to describe to non racers the effort it took to finish this race. Many didn’t.
At the end of Day one we were looking good. On to day two.

Circuit race:
This is normally done on the Spokane race track but for some reason this year it was just going to be a short 24 mile lap. Compared to Saturday the weather was 100% better. The temp was a balmy 37 degrees, the sun was out and the flags in the parking lot weren’t pegged. We went though our same routine and tried to time getting to the lot right before my start. I actually almost missed the 20 minute sign-in cutoff and had to sprint over to get that done. I don’t think they would have been too strict on that. We rolled out at 9:10 and I think it may have been 40 degrees out. I thought we weren’t supposed to have wind but I thought wrong. It picked up right away and we had to battle it once again. I wasn’t sure if everyone would just sit in or go for it right away. They went for it right away. The attacks started early with the Recycled guys. This was going to be fast. There were a lot of small rollers and the guys that were tired started dropping off the back. I was actually feeling really good and decided to stay up front and just counter the attacks and make sure no one got away. A guy from Lenovo kept attacking and we kept pulling him back. I joked that if he did it one more time he would get away. Sure enough he jumped and this time no one followed. He got a nice gap and I didn’t really care. Someone else can start to bridge. With only 5 miles to go the wind was getting quite nasty and the echelons were forming again. We were riding handlebar to handlebar and I thought it might get sketchy at the end. We hit the 3k sign and the pace quickened. We were in one long pencil line, but by the time we hit the 1K sign the pace slowed and we were in tight again. Brandon from Bikesale, who is a really strong sprinter noticed that he had no teammates up front. Since I was the only one on my team racing Cat 3 this week he told me to get on his wheel, I did. I was feeling good but then with about 800 meters to go I saw how many of us there were and when a guy jumped I made the split second decision to try to catch people of guard. I jumped with him and we got a gap. The finish is on a short up hill and I was sitting pretty. Then, right at the base of the climb this guy completely blew up and droped off. Crap!!!! Now I was in the wind, climbing the hill on my own. I kept going and at the 100 meter mark I realized everyone was now lined up on my wheel. I’m toast. I just kept going and hoped for the best. I felt like a basset hound racing a greyhound. Guys flew off my wheel and I was lucky to cross the line in 10th. Oh well, sometimes you gamble and win and sometimes not……
The GC podium went five deep and my performance was good enough to put me in 4th overall for the weekend. Not bad. Mirna took 5th in the women’s 4 so it was a good weekend for the SCCA/Starbucks crew. It was a tough weekend of racing. Our team worked hard and showed a lot of character. I’m proud of everyone on this team.

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