Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Monday, April 19, 2010

Walla Walla Stage Race

This is the biggest and most baddass stage race on the WSBA calendar. All categories were pretty much sold out weeks before the race. The Pro/1/2 men and woman as well as the CAT 3’s were doing 4 stages over three days and the rest of the fields were doing three stages over two days. We drove over Thursday and had time to drive the stage 1 course that evening. I could tell by driving it that is was not going to be an easy stage but is seemed to be a course that would suit me. There were going to be 100 racers starting in our field with some of the strongest racers from all over the NW, including many from Oregon, Montana, Idaho and BC.

Stage 1 - Kellogg Hollow Road Race
64 Miles – 5000ft of climbing - two good climbs on each lap.
We had a 3:45 start time on Friday. It was 70+ degrees at the start and the feed zone wasn't neutral and we didn’t organize in time and had to carry our water in our jersey pockets. I was hoping I had enough and wouldn’t have to conserve. Wes, Mark M. and I were representing our team in the CAT 3 field. After our neutral rollout it was relatively calm over the first several miles until we hit the right turn that took us on he first loop. Right after the turn the elevation shot up and the attacks stated. I had fresh legs and had no problem staying up front. After the initial climb we settled into mostly rolling hills. The attacks kept coming and it kept the pace was quite high. It was shaping up to be a tough race. A little over half way though the loop we had the KOM climb. It was a fairly long climb that averaged about 5% but got up to 7% in places. I had no ambition of trying to be a hero. I just wanted to hang on and get over the top with the pack. When we hit the base a nasty attack was launched and normally easy 5% climb felt like 20%. I started up it sitting about 20th wheel and had trouble getting though slower riders. The guys in front were really trying to weed out the field and drop as many of the 100 as they could. After driving the course I knew there was a long descent that you could recover on but if you were off the main pack you might never catch back on. I put myself in the red zone and got over the top but was about 10 seconds of the lead pack of about 20 guys. I hooked up with six others that crested with me and started rotating pulls at 40+ mph. It was hard work for going downhill but after some big efforts and about five miles we managed to hook back on in the flats. I took a quick look back and realized half the field was gone, HOLY CRAP!!! This thing was just getting under way. The pace slowed as everyone was recovering and one more group of about nine guys managed to hook back on. They had made it but they didn’t look too good. Just about the time I’d recovered the attacks started again and the surges were starting to hurt. I was still able to stay in the upper third of the pack but wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to keep it up. We were about 5 miles from the next KOM climb and the pace really slowed. It was bitter sweet for me. The temp was starting to drop and with the slow pace my legs started to tighten up. When the surges started again it seemed really hard for me to accelerate and I would drop off of a wheel for a second and have to work really hard to catch back on. But, I was hoping the slower pace would allow Wes and Mark a chance to hook back up. I was starting to worry that I’d have no chance on the climb and started to wonder about a solo ride into the finish. I started to really focus on my nutrition and was forcing down the food and fluids. I didn’t really think about it but when we hit the climb for the 2nd time I flew up it. I got in a good rhythm and crested with the leaders. Again, the downhill section was hard and you had to maintain contact with the main pack or you were going to be around for the finish. When we hit the flats again I looked back and again and now about 60 of the 100 starters were gone. Time to think about the finish. With about 10 miles to go the attacks were coming often and after a few more failed attempts one guy got off the front. Everyone seemed to be happy to let him go. With 5 miles to go things started to really heat up and there was a lot of elbow and shoulder bashing going as guys were trying to get into position for the sprint. We were catching the solo rider out front fast but wasn’t sure if we would haul him in. The finish was on a really long straight away so we would be able to see the finish tent way before the 1k mark. We hit the 3K mark and a lot of false attacks started to mount. I was able to respond each time and hold my position up in the top third of third of the pack. 1K and the initial sprint started. We were moving fast but everyone held their position. Right at 300 meters I saw someone jump and I made my move. Right as I did I got bumped hard and swung wide over the yellow. I had to slow so I wouldn’t make progress over other riders outside the yellow. This sucked but I was still on the bike and had a chance. At 200 meters I had no wheel and had no choice but to swing over the yellow, put my head down and drive to the finish. I ended up 10th. Next group didn’t arrive for six more minutes, then kept trickling in for 30 more. That was a toughest road races I've done. I was 10th in GC (for the moment) and was only 18 seconds off the lead (along with 40 others).

Stage 2 -TT
9.3 Horseshoe shaped course with one good 5%-7% hill and a short kicker at the end
My start time was at 10:50 based on reverse order of my finish in the road race. I was happy that I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and would be racing when it was getting warm. I had plenty of time to warm up so I wouldn’t have that as any excuse of why I didn’t do well. I rolled up to the start with about three minutes to go. My concentration was thrown off right away as my one minute man missed his start and after my 30 second man went off he showed up and jumped nervously in front of me. I only had 15 seconds to go and they told him to get on the other side, come to a start and go. He was in a little bit of panic and almost took me out coming back through. He ended up leaving five seconds in front of me. Great, now my hr was already at 170. I took off and actually calmed down and got into a rhythm pretty quick. My plan was to get into a good even pace and when I got to the climb I was going to give it all I had, crest and throttle it in the downhill section. Easier said then done. I started up fine but when I hit the 7% section I struggled to stay in the aero position and in the big ring. I decided to get out of the saddle and hammer it to the top. It didn’t feel right but I was over it and already in a big gear for the downhill. I stayed steady for a few miles so I could recover and then went for it again. At about 3k from the finish there was one more kicker and then a hard right turn into the final 200 meters. I wanted to get up in a big gear so I was ready to hammer the finish. It was hard but I got over and felt I finished strong. I slotted in w/ a 22.28 and was hoping for a top 15. I was actually surprised to find the leaders came in with a 20.XX. I finished 30th and was 1:50 down. I checked how others I normally TT against and my time was comparable. There were a lot of good out of state riders and juniors that did really well. I was still happy. I moved down to 26th in GC.

Stage 3 -Criterium.
40 minutes on a 1.1 mile eight turn course with both left and right turns and two long straightaways.
We were racing at 5:20 and I was admittedly a little nervous. I’d never done this course, I was racing with just under 100 guys and a pretty good crowd was hanging out to watch. I managed to get up into the front row to start so at least I had that. The gun went off and away we went. I was worried I was going to be too tired after my effort in the first two stages but I found myself feeling pretty good. I managed to get myself up towards the front. After getting the feel of the course on the first two laps I found myself liking it and was doing well in the turns. All was good. I had no aspirations of winning any primes or the race for that matter. I just wanted to stay out of trouble and finish strong. Easier said then done. All we had to do was make it half way through the race and we could continue onto the next stage unless we dropped out on our on. Good enough for me!! But, I was actually feeling good and found myself right on Mark and Wes’s wheel and was just following them around the course. We were in the upper third of the pack. We came through the finish and I remember looking down and seeing we were 23 minutes in. Then is started to lightly rain. The road was getting a little wet. I’m good to go, no matter what. Thank GOD.!! The prime bell went off and the pace shot up. For some reason, after riding comfortably behind Mark and Wes for four laps I decided I needed to move up. A guy came around us fast on our left and just before one of the right turns on the back stretch I moved over and got on his wheel. Right as we hit the corner He locked up the brakes and “fishtailed” hard right and then hard left. A woman in a big ass Suburban had somehow got on the course. She did get to the side but it was too late. He plowed right into the font of it and I had no place to go. I locked up the brakes and my rear end went hard to the right. I braced for someone to plow right into me but no one did. Shit!! I’m still in the saddle, how did I not hit the pavement? I quickly straightened out and tried to get up to speed. If it wouldn’t have been a prime lap I would have caught back on but the pace was too high. I was left out to dry. I rode hard for one more lap and I had to do two more lonely laps before the officials finally sent me to the showers. There were still 10:00 minutes to go. I was happy to have not crashed but I’d never been dropped from a lead pack or pulled from a race before so I was a little bummed about that. Oh well, At least I was able to race on Sunday. My prorated time put me another couple of minutes down on GC. I was 5:00 minutes down and now new I was out of contention. Time for a beer or two!! At least Both Mark and Wes finished strong.
Stage 4 - Waitsburg Road Race
75 miles – 5000 ft of climbing – finish on a 2 ½ mile 5-7% climb.
Our race wasn’t until 10:25 so I was able to sleep in a bit. I got up feeling OK but not great. Mark and I got to the start early and got a tent set up so we and others could hide from the sun. It was supposed to get close to 80 degrees out but at least we had a neutral feed zone for this one. After three stages we were now down to 82 riders. We rolled neutral up the hill we would have to race on twice and because the CAT 4 race was finishing we went really slow. It made for a nice little warm up. On the long descent that followed the pace was really fast but not unmanageable. A lot of guys started to flat. It seemed more than usual. I think the gravel on the right side of the road was causing it but I’m not sure. There were definitely areas that guys would have a hard time hooking back up if they flatted. Unfortunately Mark had a mechanical early in the race and had to limp around the course to make it back to the start and end his day. That was a bummer. The first lap was uneventful and when we hit the climb the pace was fast but I was able to keep up and crest with the leaders. We were separated out but I think everyone that was still in the race was able to slot back in on the downhill. Then things got interesting. I think the GC guys were playing games with each other and sending teammates off the front and then sitting in and watching each other. I was happy sitting in the back and didn’t really know what was going on but from mile 40 to 55 our pace averaged between 12 and 15 mph. It was like an easy club ride. Guys were telling jokes and wondering if the women were going to catch us. Finally, with 10 miles to go some guys really started to attach. Most were quickly pulled back but one guy did get off the front. Wes and I had been riding together and talking for a while and all of a sudden I didn’t see him. I looked back and he wasn’t there. Did he get a flat? All of a sudden with about 4 miles to go the pace shot up and we were all in one straight line. I heard a few four letter words and I was thinking that this was going to be fast all the way to the finish….four miles of fun. We hit a long curve and I could see the front of the pack. Who started this mess? It was Wes. This was awesome!! I decided to work my way up through the wind and get up towards the front with him. He was really stringing out the field. As we got into town the tension was mounting in anticipation of the big climb to the finish. We flew through town and hit the right turn and started up the last 2 ½ miles to the finish. I was not up front where I wanted to be and had trouble getting through the slow climbers. Once I did I felt pretty good and just paced myself up. Then the pace went from fast to scary fast and I was unable to hang on. The pack slintered and the pack was spread out all over the road. I ended up finishing a minute behind the winner but felt I had a good day and a good weekend overall.
7:36:16 hours of racing. It was a great weekend. The top 10 finish in Stage 1 was definitely my high point. It was great to see all my Starbucks teammates out there this weekend. Many, like me, had never done this stage race before and both men and women did great work and had some really great finishes, topped off with Mirna’s 7th place in GC in the Women’s’ 4’s!!

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