Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 Tour of Walla Walla Stage Race

It's the time of the year when the Eastern side of the state warms up and is a nice escape for those of us still racing in cold weather gear. Not this year! It's not that it was completely horrible weather, it's just that I could have had the same thing right here in my own back yard......except for maybe the f'ing WIND!!!!

At the last minute I found out that I was going to be the only one on my team racing in the Cat 3 field this year. I was a little bummed but I had friends from other teams that were also racing shorthanded so I was hoping I could work with some of them. I also had a lot of teammates racing in other categories and my wife came with me so no need to feel bad for me....not that you would!

Denise and I got an early start Thursday morning and arrived in Walla Walla around 4pm. It was chilly for this time of year but the sun was out and the wine, beer and food were good. I wasn't racing until 3:55pm on Friday so I was able to sleep in and enjoy the town. I woke up Friday morning to semi-nice weather. I ran into Barb and Angela right near the start of the TT course. We took a nice, slow lap and just took in the scenery of the surrounding area, something we wouldn't be able to do on Saturday morning! After the ride Denise and I decided to pack up the RV and head over early to Waitsburg. It poured down rain the whole way and the wind started to pick up.....Great! As we arrived in town I could see that F'ing 3K hill I was going to have to climb multiple times in a few hours. As we made the turn into town I looked over into a pasture and saw a camel grazing, yes a big, one hump Waitsburg! WTF!! I also noticed that it had stopped raining. Maybe that was some kind of sign.

Stage 1 - Waitsburg Road Race:
This used to be the final stage of the tour but this year the organizers decided to mix it up a bit and switched the two road races. The course was shortened up a bit from last year. We were doing 2 laps on a 20 mile loop for a total 42 miles. The course was mostly flat with a couple of rollers and a big 3K climb at the finish. Last year we started with 100 guys. This year the numbers were down a bit but we still had 80 registered. There were only 2 two teams fielding the maximum team of eight: Audi, who I think has the strongest core of Cat 3's in the state, and Cycling BC, which is a young, strong Canadian team. They would definitely be the teams to watch.
After I warmed up I stopped back at the RV one last time and decided to shed some of my cold weather gear. The sun was peaking though the clouds and it was nearly 60 degrees out.
Our neutral roll out took us all the way up the 3K climb to where the finish line was. We were going to be let go a short time after that and then do two full laps. As we crested we were were not let go right away. It turned out that the Pro/1/2 field already had a crash on the descent. We only had a small gap on the left side of the road to squeeze 75 guys through and it got kind of sketchy. We were finally let go at the bottom of the hill. The attacks started immediately with Audi and Cycling BC sending guys up the road. My goal was to try to get in one of the breaks. I went with two early attempts but with the wind they didn't last long. I let the next couple go and then counter attacked to bring back the next one. A match was burned. I decided I needed to save my energy for the finish. Somewhere during the first lap the temperature dropped....a lot and it started to pour. I was not dressed for this. I was quickly soaked through but managed to stay warm for the most part. As we got into town to start lap two there was a stupid crash that took out a bunch of guys. I don't think anyone got hurt but those caught up in it were going to have a hell of a time catching back on when we hit the climb. I was feeling good and was able to sit in near the front of the pack all the way up the hill. It wasn't hard since no one attacked and the speed was manageable. After the descent the attacks started again. I was starting to feel slightly miserable so I just sat in near the front and watched them go. Finally, two guys were able to get away. I was pretty sure they would stick it. As we made our way into Waitsburg before the final assault up the hill to the finish I had managed to work my way towards the front of the pack. I am not great at big hill finishes. I can usually hang on with the pack on climbs and then set myself up for sprint finishes but when there is an all out leg burning attack up a hill for all the marbles I usually fade near the end. My goal was to just minimize the time gap. We were setting up for our last turn in town when I heard our lead motorcycle honking his horn like crazy. When I looked up he had bounced up onto the sidewalk. I'm not sure if it was on purpose or by accident but it looked like a bad situation. There was kid pedaling his bike through town delivering the local paper. He had no idea we were there. We were really close to having a huge pile up but at the last second the kid just stopped near the curb and we were able to avoid disaster. We started the climb and I got ready for the pain. This was going to hurt! We were dropping guys every second and I was surprised that I was still hanging on with the lead group. I could see the two guys that had been in the break up ahead and it looked like we were going to reel them in. No one had attacked so the speed, for me at least, was still manageable. About 2/3 of the way up I took a quick look back and realized there was no one behind me. I was the caboose now. Just then there was surge and I was now, as my teammate Brian would say, "Attacking off the back!" I was cold, wet and now my legs were exploding. I dug deep and upped the tempo. I stopped losing ground. I went to get in a bigger gear but my fingers were so cold I was unable to shift. I sat back down and started going in reverse again. My brain was swearing at my legs and my legs were swearing right back.....I was starting to mentally explode. I was ready to just give up and soft pedal to the finish when Morgan(Garage) rode up next to me and started to shout encouragements and told me to get on his wheel. A couple others jumped on and we started to accelerate. Morgan was flying!! I was able to hold on for a while but finally popped again with about 300m to go. I was able to get out of the saddle and power my way to a whopping 36th place, 49 seconds off the lead. It was better then I did during this stage last year so I was actually pretty happy. Thank you Morgan for helping me get to the finish!! I was happy to find out that Max(HSP)had finished 2nd!
We had to ride back down that hill to get back to the parking lot and immediately I felt I was bordering on hypothermia. By the time I got to the RV I couldn't open the door. Denise was there and quickly let me in. Thank God for that warm ass vehicle.
We drove back to Walla Walla and had dinner with Rhett and Marcia who had rented a house in town. It was a nice way to end the evening.

Stage 2 - Time Trial:
Our start times were based on how we finished in Stage 1. They never posted them online so we got up early to head over to the parking lot. I found out I wasn't racing until 9:43 so I had plenty of time to warm up. It was still chilly out but the sun was showing. The wind was still blowing pretty hard but at least it wasn't cold and rainy. I was on a brand new TT bike and this was going to be only the second time my ass had touched the seat. I was hoping I was dialed in.
It was a 9.3 mile point-to-point course. The first five miles a all slightly uphill with a short(try calling it that when your racing it) 5% section before a long descent.
I was determined to ride my own race. I was not going care what guys in front or behind me were doing. I took off, got up to speed and settled into a nice comfortable pace. I wanted to push it a little harder during the uphill section but was careful to not put myself into the hurt locker too early. I quickly passed my 30 second man and was right on my 1:00 minute guy just before the hardest part of the course. Instead of getting out of the saddle and powering up the hill like I did last year I got in a gear that allowed me to stay in the aero position all the way up. The climb hurt but I knew I had a nice downhill section to recover. I crested feeling pretty good and quickly shifted into my 54X11 and flew down as fast as I could. The wind was blowing me around a little but it wasn't too bad. I made the right turn onto the flat section and settled into a nice pace. I soon passed my one 1:00 man and then my 1:30 man. With about 2.5K to go there was one more uphill kicker followed by a sharp right turn and and all out sprint 200m to the finish. I ramped it up a bit while still staying in the aero position. I hit the right hand corner and powered my way to the finish, catching my 2:00 minute guy right at the line. I improved on my time from last year and ended up 13th. I moved up from 36th in GC all the way up to 19th. I was pretty happy with my race.
Our gals had raced strong in the morning TT(their first stage) and we had 5 placed in the top 20 overall, including a 10th place finish from Barb who is coming back from a knee replacement! Yeah!! Now it was time to get some grub and rest up for the Crit.

Stage 3: Criterium:
We really wanted to see the Cat 4 women race so we drove into downtown Walla Walla early and found a sweet spot to park the rig. The crit was going to be fun. Once again our gals had a strong showing with Sarah finishing 5th and Tina, who crashed, still managed to pull off 10th place!!

Some people LOVE crits, some people hate them. I fall somewhere in the middle. My goal is usually to try to help teammates and then just hang on with the pack and not lose time. The wind was still blowing pretty hard and it looked like it could rain. I didn't need that kind of stress. Since I had no teammates my goal was to just stay out of trouble and not lose any time. I had no plans to go for any primes. We had 70 guys lined up for the start and I managed to find my way onto the front row. At least I would be up front for a few seconds.
The course was a 1.1 mile, eight turn(I think)loop with a long straightaway to the finish. There were a couple of corners that didn't have any great lines through them but hopefully they wouldn't present any problems. We were racing for 40 minutes.
The wind was blowing at our backs at the start so I knew it would be fast going down the home stretch on each lap. It seemed that most of the early races were completely blown apart by the end so I figured ours would be no different. The race started and I soon found myself in the back half of the field. During the first couple of laps I noticed a few guys making sketchy moves but for the most part everyone else was riding smoothly. I'm not sure what lap we were in but somewhere on the backstretch we had our first crash. It was right next to me but knew I would make it though free and clear. It was about that time I noticed I was feeling really good. I decided to get my ass up to the front and actually race this thing. I think my wife was surprised to see me leading the pack through the start/finish on the next few laps. I only looked down at my computer once and noticed we were 30 minutes into the race. I was still feeling great. Change of strategy. I want to win this thing!! The clock was turned off and 6 laps to go was put on the board. Since we had a large international field I didn't how most of these guys could sprint. I did know a handful of guys that could sprint well so with three laps to go I started looking for guys like Jeff and Chris from Audi, Joe(Bikesale), Jeff and Ryan from Farestart, Nick and Brian from HB and a few others. I worked my way up through the field easily . We started the final lap and I was right on Jeff's wheel and Ryan and Joe were just to my right. I was right where I wanted to be and I was ready to battle. If I couldn't surprise Jeff I was just hoping to hang onto his wheel as long as I could. We came around the 2nd to last corner and all of a sudden I see some guy dart hard into the pack from the right. WTF was he thinking! We had a wide, long straightaway for the finish and there was no reason to make such a dumbass move. BAM!! The sound of carbon hitting the pavement was all around me. Shit, the bodies and bikes are flying right towards me. Can I get through this? Crap!!! Ryan was the next victim and he was crashing in in my direction. I was running out of any kind of escape route! I was either going to plow right into him or slam into the curb with my front wheel and end up in someones dinner. I had probably slowed to about 5 mph and all of a sudden I had found that I had somehow made it between Ryan and the curb with out hitting anyone/thing. I'm still up!! I looked back and noticed I was the first one to make it through the carnage but guys that were either right in front of me or far to my right didn't have to slow up and now had about six bike lengths on me. I hit the gas hard but with the tailwind and long straightaway I had no chance of catching back on. I knew we would all get the same finish time so I just sat up and coasted across the line for 17th place. I was pretty pissed for a few minutes because I thought I really had a chance at a solid top 5 finish. My emotion soon changed to happiness as I realized I was still upright and in one piece. I knew many of the guys that hit the deck and they all came out of it OK. I can't say the same about their bikes!
Jeff(Audi) had an impressive sprint for the win and Joe(Bikesale) took 6th. Because of a little miscommunication between guys on the Audi team(I won't go into that) I actually moved up from 19th to 18th in the GC.
Here is an awesome video of our race:

After watching the Pro/1/2 race we all headed over to a house near downtown where a bunch of my teammates were staying and were treated to an incredible feast, including homemade venison sausages that Aaron had made completely from scratch.....literally. I was a fun night and I almost forgot that I was the only one on the team that was able to sleep in the next morning before the last Stage. I didn't race until 12:25 but the rest of my teammates were starting between 8:00 and 8:30. Hopefully they all got a good nights sleep.

Stage 4: Kellogg Hollow Road Race:

I woke up Sunday morning and my 45 year old body (Yeah, I said it...I am an old man still trying to be a kid) was feeling the pain of first three stages! I had plenty of time to warm up and stretch so I was hoping I would feel better come race time. If not, I was hoping everyone else felt the same way I did. We wanted to get over to Waitsburg early to watch the finish of the morning races. It seemed nice out but as soon as we parked and left the confines of the RV it was COLD and WINDY. We first saw some of the Cat 4men's field come by. It looked like a citizen ride. Riders were all over the place. Their field had been completely blown apart. We then heard that the three Cat 4 women that were on top of the leader board had broken away and pretty much had it locked up. Sarah was out there in that wind solo, 2 minutes behind and was able to hold on for 4th. She is an animal! Theresa came in with small group 2 minutes later and out sprinted them for 5th! Man, if this happens to our field I could be in for a world of hurt.
The Kellogg Hollow Road Race is a bear. After the 7 mile start from town we were racing 2 laps on a 27 mile loop that was filled with hard climbs and fast descents. My Garmin showed that we gained over 4000 feet during the 64 miles. The weather was pretty nice but the wind had kicked up even more since the morning races. Our numbers had diminished some through attrition so we were starting with 63 guys. As we rolled out of town I could really feel the tightness in my hamstrings and I was hoping the attacks wouldn't start right away. Cycling BC still had the leaders jersey so I knew they wouldn't let anyone get too far up the road. Audi didn't have anyone sitting in the top ten overall and I was worried they might want to back up Jeff's crit victory with another one today. As we made the turn to start climbing the first hill and put our heads into the wind guys did start to attack. Screw that, I was only down 2 minutes and I knew they wouldn't let anyone within that time frame get too far off the front. If someone was able to do it and succeed I would bow at their feet. I was happy to just sit in the middle of the pack, protected from the wind. No one went to chase and we we just chugged our way up the hill. Right away I noticed guys were dropping off. This was going to be brutal. There was finally a surge to bring back the guys that attacked and my legs really felt it. I was able to hang on but I was thinking it could be a short day for me. We got to the next climb and I was able to will myself back up with the main pack. More guys were spit off the back. We finally reached the big KOM climb and when we were half way up I realized I had pedaled my way out of the hurt locker. My legs were starting to feel good again! I made it to the top but was just off the back. I quickly flying down the hill. The descent was crazy. When I say crazy I really me CRAAAAZY! I hit speeds of 50+ mph and I was getting blown all over the road. Smaller guys like Max were looking like they were going to go airborne and end up somewhere in the wheat fields. It was a little scary but I couldn't let up or there would be no way I'd catch back on. I finally caught up with Nick(HB). He pulled me for a few minutes while we waited for a small group behind us to hook on. We all worked together and finally caught back on when the pack slowed down in the headwind. Our pace slowed to almost 10 mph at times and I was sure some guys still off the back would catch back on. I was just happy to have a chance to recover. There may have been a couple guys up the road but since I had no plans of going on a break I didn't really care.
We started lap two with the long climb and we were pretty much moving at a snail's pace. No one wanted to put their head in the wind. As soon as we crested there were a bunch of attacks and I was really struggling to stay on the train. Just about the time I was back on a wheel another attack would start and I was back trying to stay on board. How long can I do this? We reached the next climb and we were pretty strung out. I feeling OK and figured that I could stay on the back and not get dropped. I went to shift into my small ring and.....Nothing! I couldn't get it to shift down. I tried shifting to a lower gear on the back and still nothing. I started to panic! I shifted down one more time then tried it again. BINGO!! I had been looking down at my gears and when I finally looked back up I was off the back. Crap! I didn't gas it but just kept a nice pace going. I wasn't losing any more ground and was actually gaining a little. As I neared the top I shifted back into my big ring and powered over the hill. The front of the field was completely strung out as they flew down the hill. I wasn't certain I would catch back on. I hooked up with a few guys and after burning a few matches we were back on. That sucked! The pace remained steady until we got near the KOM climb. I was still struggling when the field surged but each time I somehow managed to stay on. As we approached the climb I decided to shift down early in case I had problems again. This time all went well. We started the climb and it was insane. It looked like someone dropped a bomb on us. Guys were scattered all over the road. It looked like the field would finally be competely blown apart. I soon I realized I was starting to move backwards. This time I didn't feel I could put in the effort to hook back on. I was really hurting. Joe(Bikesale) came up next to me and I told him I was done. He said he would ride with me and I was content to just ride it out and stop this painful insanity. I jumped on his wheel and we settled into a nice pace. I can't remember the other guy that was with us but I figured it would be the three of us until the end. Just then, Max(Audi), who is a great TT man rode up and told us to jump on. He put in a nasty pull to the top of the KOM hill and once we hit the feed zone I felt OK again. I could see the field disapearing down the hill and still figured we had no hope of catching back on but we didn't give up. We got organized and started to work together. I have to admit that I didn't pull as much as Joe or Max but did take my turns on the front. Holy Shit!! we are closing on them!! We kept up the effort and made it back. I'm not sure where I pulled that from but I was glad to be back. We hit the wind again and as our pace slowed another small group hooked back on. We had 12 miles to go and we had lost over 20 guys. We were a group of 41 that would battle it out for the win. At this point I was just glad to be with the main field. I would not lose any time and would hold onto my placing in the GC. As we inched our way up the last hill....Yes, inched, we were going so slow I thought me might stop. The head wind was so severe that no one wanted to do anything but sit in. We finally saw the 5K sign and I had completely recovered. I decided to start moving up and as I passed Morgan he yelled, "Where the hell did you come from?" I'm sure most guys thought I was out suffering on my own somewhere. I moved up next to Ryan. I hadn't spoken to him during the whole race since he had been riding up front and I had been in the back. I got where I wanted to be and then shit started to happen. The initial attacks started and I was able to respond to the surges. The finish can be crazy because you can see the tent when you're still about 3K out. Guys see it and get anxious. More attacks started and my goal was to just hold my position until the real sprint started. I had forgotten that we were told we had the full road at 1K. Lucky for me one of our motorcycles pulled up to remind us. I'm not sure many guys heard him. As we neared the IK marker Ryan told me he was going to take off, pulling Jeff Dunn. We hit the 1K marker and he did just that. I swung wide left and got on Jeff's wheel. We were flying. I noticed that most guys stayed inside the yellow so they either didn't want to put their heads in the wind or they forgot we had the full road that early. After Ryan's herculian effort the head wind finally got him and he pulled off. Jeff was still flying. Right about then, just to the right of me, bikes and bodies started to fly. It looked violent!! I knew I was free and clear so I put my head down and gave it all I had. Holy Shit!! I went across the line in 4th and only a wheel length or so from the winner. I looked up and who was right in front of me? Joe from Bikesale. We were super happy for each other. Two old guys blown of the back of the field only to come back from the dead to sprint it out for 3rd and 4th! What an epic race. It was by far the hardest race I've done all year. I ended up moving up a couple more spots in the GC to 16th. I was really happy. If it wasn't for my poor finish in the 1st stage I probably would have had a top 10 overall.

I finished better every stage than I did last year. I was 36th last year so getting 16th with this strong field was great!!

My team had a great showing this weekend with a bunch of top ten finishes in stages and high placings in the GC.

Thanks to my teammates who hosted dinners for us Friday and Saturday night!!

I also want to give a shoutout to several guys from other teams:
Morgan(Garage), Joe(Bikesale), Ryan and Jeff(Farestart), Nick(HB)and Max(Audi). Not having a team during a stage race is hard but you guys really helped me(whether you knew it or not) at different times during the weekend. THANKS!!

Good job to Jeff Dunn(Farestart), Max(HSP), Morgan(Garage) and Ryan(Farestart) for finishing 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th respectively in the GC!!

photos 1,2,3,4 by Denise Phillips

photo 5 by Kevin Tu

1 comment:

  1. Nice ride! Especially in the TT and that last road race stage. Ouch!