Before I get into this I will share with you a couple of thoughts I had as I was dragging my battered body back to the parking lot after the race.
1. Bike racing is HARD!! Anyone who says otherwise is either full of shit or isn't putting in the effort to work to get yourself or a teammate across the line first. Some races have been harder than others. I've felt invincible in some, struggled to hang with the pack in others but the outcome has always been the same......HARD! I might get grief for saying this but I can't think of another sport that any common man/woman can compete in that is harder. I have friends that run utlra marathons on trails and compete in Iromman events. I think they are intense, driven and maybe slightly crazy individuals and I would never even think of doing them. I do think that they are incredibly hard events but unless you are an elite pro getting paid to race them you are just racing against yourself and the clock. They also don't do it every single weekend. We do line up every week against individuals and teams that all have the same goal, destroying your opponents and winning the race. Goals and strategies change constantly throughout the race sometimes making you doubt wheather it is worth it or not. Suffering on and off during a race is always part of it and that is one of the things I love about it......Anyway, this is just one tired man's opinion.
2. You can't call me champ anymore :)
It was the first day of May and the first time I've raced this year without some form of cold weather gear covering my body. The weather made it easy to get pumped. I'm not sure if there is a more interesting venue for a race than Vance Creek. We stage at the Satsop Development Park where a mothballed nuke facility still stands. It is quite spectacular but also kind of eerie. Mark, Cameron and I lined up with 65 others who were also looking to go home with a new piece of hardware. We raced on a 13+ mile loop that was mostly flat and finished on a grinding 1K climb. We did six laps for a total of 80 miles. A couple of days before the race the organizers decided to alter the finish because of poor road conditions. This removed the 90 degree right hand uphill turn and had us continue straight on Lambert Road for the finish. Six of that, half a dozen of the other.
I have mentioned before that I am not great at finishing races that end with climbs so I figured the only way I had a chance was to get in a break and hope the gazelles stayed hidden in the pack. The wind had been slowly picking up all morning and I knew I'd have to get in a break with the right guys to make it stick. As soon as we were let go a single guy jumped but no one went with him. Have fun with that! We still have 79 miles to go. We let him sit out there for quite a while before we brought him back. There may have been a few more small attempts after that but I think we were all together when we started up the hill for the first time. The climb started with a couple of rollers then slowly kicked up as we neared the finish line The hardest section starts at about 1K out. It's not a really tough climb on paper but it is when going all out in a race. The first trip up was really easy for me and I was right up with with the leaders. As we crested I looked back and saw that some guys were already struggling but most were able to catch back on during the following downhill section. At the bottom of the descent the course turned right onto a narrow, hacked up farm road. Two guys jumped and after a they got a nice little gap I made a split second decision to bridge. One guy decided to join me we quickly caught on. We started a nice rotation and our lead started to increase. I took a quick look back and saw Josh(Recycled) was trying to bridge. We didn't wait for him but he still managed to hook on. We let him take a blow for a few minutes before he started to help out. We had two guys from Olympia Ortho, one from Bikesale, one from Recycled and me. All had good representation in the field so I was hoping we could make some noise. I was hoping one of the Farestart guys would join us but that didn't happen. Since the wind was blowing and we were not even half way through lap two I knew it was not going to be easy. We still had a nice little gap when we made the turn on Wakefield road but as we started heading towards the climb a couple of guys started to falter. Instead of keeping my cool I got frustrated and when it was my turn to pull through I just gassed it and dropped everyone. I kept the pressure on and pushed hard up the climb even though I saw the field closing in on me.
WTF was I thinking! I burned more than just a few matches with that move. The pack finally caught me on the downhill section. I don't usually make stupid moves like that but I guess I felt I had to give it a shot. When we hit the farm road again my legs were screaming and I had to figure out a way to recover in a hurry. I slid back to mid pack and settled in, keeping my nose out of the wind. I didn't care if anyone attacked. A second later Ryan(Farestart) got in a break with anther guy and got a nice little gap. He is strong and I was more pissed that I felt gassed. I could only hope that he would suffer the same fate I did. The surges on lap three seemed a little more violent than the past two laps and I was just going to do what I could to hang on. The break was finally brought back and I could tell Ryan was feeling it some. I'm not sure if we climbed the hill faster the third time up but it felt like it to me. It was all I could do to stay on the back of the main field while guys behind me were dropping off one by one. I was relieved when I found my self slotted in mid pack as we headed down the hill.
Most of the next two laps were pretty much the same. Guys attacked, we let them dangle for a while, they were brought back. I started to notice that our numbers were getting smaller and smaller on each lap and I was just happy to still be in the mix. I was in a daze so I don't even remember if it was on lap 4 or 5 when Tom(Olympia) made his move. I can't remember who all went with him but heard there was representation form Bikesale and Recycled. Their teams, especially Olympia did stellar work disrupting the counter attacks. All I could think about were the fat, drunk guys that were "fishing" on the lake to our left. A beer sounded good! Now that is something that is NOT hard.......This move looked like it could stick.
When we reached the hill for the 5th time I'm sure we had already dropped about 20 guys. How do I know this? I was pretty much the last person who crested with the main field and I could see everyone in front of me. Not a good sign. When we descended into the valley for the last time, Mark moved up next to me. He was also just trying to hang on like me. I think our team strategy was now to get us both across the line with the main field. We talked for a bit about what was going on and realized that if we didn't get to the front now we would have no chance at all at the finish. Easier said than done! We got word that we were closing in on the break and we could finally see the lead car up ahead. Game on!! A couple of guys finally made a move to bridge and were able to get clear. As the pack started to get amped for the final climb to the finish we got bunched up and it became hard to continue to move up. I looked right and there was no one on the shoulder so I stuck my mug out in the wind and sprinted as hard as I could. It hurt like hell but I was able to move up to about 8th wheel. Now I just had to race smart and hope my legs did what my brain told them to do.
I was dreading the finish. I was hot, tired and low on fuel. I was just hoping I had enough in the tank to put in one last big effort. We went through the turn that leads to the climb one last time and one by one we started catching guys that had been in the break. This was going to come down to a pack sprint to the finish. We hit the first rollers and one by one guys started to attack. The surges to counter were tough but I was able to hold my position. At about 3K out one of the official cars came up beside us yelling something about 1K out. I couldn't hear what he was saying. He drifted back mid sentence and then came up again. This time all I got was 1K and left side. WTF was going on?? Again, he drifted back and the pack chatter started. It sounded like we were catching another field and they wanted us to move to the left side of the road at 1K out. I'm not sure how many of us really knew what was going on. I know I was just thinking about finishing. We reached the 1K maker and there was another official standing in the middle of the road. He motioned at yelled at us to move across the yellow line into the other lane. I don't think everyone did and it got a little chaotic. I almost got taken out by two guys going in opposite directions right in front of me I'm guessing they were confused about what we doing. The guy that had veered right now came back over the line right across my front wheel again. I had to move left and lost what little momentum I had. The big surge for the finish started and I was not where I wanted to be. With all the movement I found myself still near the front but I was boxed in the middle of the pack and couldn't accelerate. The guy right in front of me started to drift backwards and all I could do was slow down. Guys on both sides of me surged by. I was moving in the wrong direction. As we neared 200m I was finally able to get free and clear and started to accelerate and was passing guys again. We were dropping guys like crazy. It was a brutal finish but I was still hanging with the pack. That didn't last long. I soon found myself dangling about 4 bike lengths off. I then saw the guys who were free and clear up front hit the gas for the win. There was no way I was going to be in the mix. I was now just hoping to hold on to what I had. I got in a bigger gear, got out of the saddle and really put myself in the hurt locker. I looked back and only David(Garage) was near me and I made it a little goal to at least not get passed by him. I crawled across the line and barely had the energy to downshift. THAT WAS HARD!! I ended up 20th and wasn't disappointed at all. I fought the good fight, took some big risks, burned a book of matches and still managed to finish with the lead pack. There were a lot of casualties(dropped guys) on the way. Mark finished right behind me in 26th. Not bad for a guy his size grinding it up that hill lap after lap. Time to recover and get ready to do it AGAIN next weekend!