Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2011 Cherry Pie Road Race

Well, well, well, right when you thought you wouldn't hear from me for a while, here I am! It's still the middle of Winter but it's time to come out of road racing hibernation. It's only been 2 1/2 months since my last cx race but the 2011 road race season has already started. Not much of a break but I'm a little lost without the competition. The first race in the NW is the Cherry Pie Road Race down in Corvallis. The fields are mainly stacked with teams from Oregon but it has become a pilgrimage for racers from all over the NW, eager to test their early season race legs. I was one of them.

I loaded up the new RV and headed south with my dog riding co-pilot. I was able to get out of town around 1:30, which I figured would give me plenty of time to miss any rush our traffic. It was beautiful out and I was ready to settle in for the four hour drive ahead of me I hit Olympia the weather changed quickly and it started pouring. By the time I reached Portland it had changed to freezing rain. That brought on stop and go traffic all the way to Salem, where the freezing rain turned to snow. "What the hell was I driving this far for?" I finally arrived in Corvallis at 6:45 with a headache and a growling stomach. After some carbo loading with a teammate at a local micobrewery I headed back to the RV to get some much needed sleep. I was so tired that I was pretty much out the second my head hit the pillow.
When I stuck my head out the door the next morning the rain clouds had moved on and it was partly sunny. It was only 34 degrees out and I soon noticed that the wind was blowing pretty hard. I was glad I wasn't racing in the morning. I knew it was supposed to warm up to at least the high 40's and hoped the wind would die down some by the start of my race. I ate breakfast and headed over early to find a good place to park the rig. I didn't race until 12:40 and had long time to get ready.

The finish is about three miles from the start so I didn't get a chance to see Rhett and Theresa finish but I saw Theresa when I rolled up to stage for my race. I was psyched to find out that she finished 6th and Rhett finished 9th. Two races, two top 1o's!! That gave me some extra motivation.

As I rolled to the start I ran into Alex T. from Farestart. It was nice to see a familiar face. I think there were only four or five of us from Washington in our field. The temp had warmed up to about 46 but the wind was still howling. This was going to make for an interesting race. We had the biggest field of the day with around 70 guys. Many of the Oregon teams each had 5 or 6 guys in the race. I was going to have to pick my battles wisely.

We were doing two laps on a 27 mile course with two fairly steep "walls", one about 1k out and the other right after a 90 degree turn that leads to the finish. The start to this race has the longest, slowest neutral roll out of any race I've done. We rolled down about a 2 mile straight away at about 5 miles per hour. When we were finally given the signal to start racing no one seemed to want to go. We had been neutral for so long I think everyone had started getting comfortable with the pace. That didn't last long.
My plan was to go all in and take chances, going with any early breaks that started. After the initial lull the attacks started in earnest. I went with the first three and each of them died right away. I don't think anyone really wanted to stick their nose into the brutal head wind. I looked at my computer and we were only eight miles into the race but I already didn't feel like sitting in for 53 miles with 70 other guys and then have a mass sprint for the finish. Another guy jumped and I was right on his wheel. I took a quick look back and noticed two others were with me and one of them was Alex! He seemed ready to go so and we kept the attack going and got a gap. A short time later about 8 others joined us. At first we were unorganized and I don't think many of the guys knew what they wanted to do. I barked at them that if we were going to make this stick we needed to work together and soon we had a started a nice rolling pace line. We soon had a little gap on the rest of the field but they could easily catch us if they got organized. Now we just needed to hold this for 46 more miles...easier said than done in these conditions. After several miles we were still working really hard but I think some guys were starting to get comfortable with our small lead. About half way through lap one there were a few turns through open fields that allowed us to look back and see the rest of the field. We were starting to ever so slightly pull away. We finally got to the point where we turned and hit the tailwind. We were now flying at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour but several guys stopped pulling though, thinking the tailwind would be enough to keep us out front . The pack could easily catch of if we didn't work harder during this part of the course. After a few minutes of cruising I decided to test my tt legs. I flew off the front and soon developed a nice little gap and was moving at 40+ mph. I knew I couldn't hold this pace for the rest of the race but I figured it would at least force the rest of the attack group to pick up the pace and maybe we would drop a few guys in the process. I manged to stay out front for several miles before they finally caught me. I quickly dropped back into the pace line and we started working hard again.....Mission accomplished!! Soon after that we got our first feedback on how we were doing. We still had about 8 miles to go till the end of the first lap and had developed a 1:20 minute gap. OK, now it's time to pick up the pace!! We got to the first climb and we all decided to stay together over the both climbs and keep the pace line going for the start of lap 2. I still hammered it a little bit up both hills just to see if we could drop a few guys. We did drop a few guys but still had a pretty big group. I was still feeling good but a few guys started skipping pulls and I knew we would drop a few more during this stint in the head wind. Things pretty much were the same on lap two but you could tell guys were starting to struggle. When we got to the point where we could see a good distance back there was no one in sight. I realized that there were sixty guys back there that had missed out.
We finally got to within five miles of the finish and shit started to happen. Several teams had two or three guys in the break and they started mounting attacks. I went with the first two but decided I wasn't going to help them and sat on their wheels. Soon we approached the first climb and the 1K mark. A couple of guys blew up on the first climb and I have to admit I was hurting as well. After all this work I wasn't about to give up. I got over the first wall, still sitting in great position. The last 400 meters up the 8% to 9% climb to the finish was going to be brutal. The climb to the finish comes right after a short downhill and a hard 90 degree turn. Unlike many racers were strictly forbidden to cross the yellow line during the turn. This made it hard to hit the climb with any kind of momentum so you really had to dig once through it. A couple of guys went off hard but I knew I didn't have the legs to keep it going that long. I tried to settle into a good pace for the first few meters. Guys were starting to swerve hard on the road in front of me and it was hard to pick a line to get through them. I was right where I wanted to be and dug hard to put in the final kick for the last 200 meters. My legs were on fire but I was passing guys and still holding my own. I faltered a couple of times as my legs felt like they were going to explode. I shifted to a bigger gear and just kept driving.. I was right there but as we crossed the line I ended up 6th! There were a few seconds when I thought I had a chance to win it but just didn't have enough gas at the end to pass the last few guys. I was still really happy with the result. I sat up, completely spent after the finish an turned around to see that Alex had finished with our group. He had done a lot of work and I'm glad he finished strong. We started the attack 8 miles into the race and made it stick. That makes the painful effort worth it!
We ended up having about a four minute gap on the rest of the field. It was an awesome break and a great way to finish the first race of the season.
2nd photo by Pat Malach

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