It is mid February and if you live in the Pacific Northwest that means the cold, rainy, dark days of Winter are still sucking the life out of the your depressed, vitamin-D depleted bodies. For a certain community of nut jobs it also means the off season is winding down and it's time to see if all the training we've been doing over the Winter will paid off. Usually the the first road race of our season is Mason Lake the first weekend of March but Mike Pruitt and his KR team upped the anti this year by throwing three races on the traditionally vacant February calendar. I chose to make my first race OBRA's Cherry Pie Road Race down in Corvallis, OR.
Denise and I loaded up the RV and made the trek South Saturday morning. The weather on the way down full on sucked. The forecast calling for nice weather on Sunday but I had my doubts. The drive wasn't the typical 4 1/2 hour boring slog.
Just after passing through Olympia we saw a massive car fire and just past Portland we saw two kids skateboarding on the shoulder of I-5. I'm not sure what they were thinking. By the time we got to Corvallis the rain had finally stopped and I was actually starting to believe the weather folks might actually get it right for once. We headed to a local microbrewery for some much needed carbo loading.
We woke up Sunday morning to about as nice of a day you could ask for in February. The sun was out and the temp had already reached a balmy 43 degrees. To say I was a little pumped would be an understatement. It was the first road race for my new team Garage Racing Team
I had raced most of cross season with them but this was the first on the road. I was racing my new bad ass S-Works SL4 for the first time, Denise had decided to make the road trip with me and well, it's bike racing!
Since I had no teammates down here to race with my plan was to use it to test the legs and attack like a crazy man. I was either going to get in a winning break or die trying.
Two 26 mile laps with one kicker about 2K out followed by the final 1K climb to the finish. Other than that is mainly flat with a few short rollers. The back side of the course winds through farm land and is not protected by trees. Even if it doesn't appear too windy.....It will be.
After the longest neutral roll out in bike racing we took a sharp left turn onto the course and the start of my 2012 season was underway. After a couple of miles at a conversation pace someone finally kicked up the effort and instantly we went from being four wide to a one long single pace line. I slotted in 2nd wheel and just waited to see if anyone felt the need for speed.. This went on for few miles before I decided to see how everyone felt. I jumped hard and got a gap. No one came with me at first but finally three guys to sever their ties with the pack and quickly bridged the gap. We made one full rotation of pulls but when I landed up front again and flicked my elbow but no one pulled through. I shook my head and immediately sat up. Right away someone else jumped and I went again. Same exact thing. A few miles later I made another hard attack. Same f'ing thing. This went on for about 10 miles. It seemed no one really wanted to race but me. I was not going to just sit in today but I also wasn't gong to keep initiating attacks only to have guys sit up. I had been up front the whole time during the first part of the race and hadn't really noticed what teams were here and how many each team had in the race. I don't know these Oregon guys so I was just trying to guess if any of them actually had a race plan. I finally decided to move back to about 10th wheel and watch for a while. There were a few short accelerations but no one really tried to go. I really couldn't tell what any of them were trying to do.
I had hoped to be in a break by mile ten but that didn't happen. We now turned into the head wind and in a matter of seconds our paced slowed to about 16 mph. We were packed in like a can of sardines. Conversations started up again and it felt like a weekend team ride. I was still sitting about 10th wheel and decided I needed to move back to the front in case someone made a move. It took me a few minutes but I finally made it up to 4th wheel. I hadn't thought much about it but I started to realized that I was feeling super good. I decided to attack in the wind to see if anyone was getting sick of soft pedaling. Same thing as before. Three guys followed, none of them pulled through. I was getting frustrated but I knew I probably couldn't go solo in this wind but I was was going to keep attacking. Just as I sat up again someone went flying by me in a blur. Hmmmm. This didn't look like a poser attack. I waited a second to see who would follow. No one else jump so I dug hard. He looked back and saw me coming and slowed up a bit. As soon as I was on his wheel we started hammering. Now that's more like it! . Two others jumped my wheel and we soon had a nice little gap.....Finally!. It was a joke at first. Chris, the guy who started the break and I were the only ones working. We were still pulling away from the field so I didn't say anything. One of the guys dropped right away and after a few minutes I could tell the third wasn't going to be much help. I didn't want him to just sit on our wheel and do zero work but wanted to give him a chance. We let him skip pulls for several miles hoping he would recover and be able to help out. I told him to just pull through for a couple of seconds. He did this for a couple of minutes but soon started to skip pulls again. It would be brutal with just tow guys but I decided we would be better off without him. During my next pull I deep. Chris followed suit and soon enough the other guys was drifting backwards. It was now just the two of us. I finally took a quick glance at my Garmin. 18 miles in. 34 miles to go. Let the suffer fest begin! That's what I came here for, right?
Chris was the perfect guy to be attempting this with. We were working really well together, taking 20+ second pulls and matching each other's efforts. The pack slowly disappeared behind us. We know were would not be able to take a blow the rest of the way. We had to kill ourselves if we wanted this to work. We finally made to the climbs at the end of the first lap. We crested both climbs together and settled right back into formation as we hit the downhill section. Time for gut it out for lap two.
One of the nice things about this course is that a lot of it is through wide open farm land and you can constantly see how far back the field is. It looked like we still had a nice gap but hadn't got official word from our follow car. We finally got our first intel from our follow car. We had 58 second gap....Not bad. We kept hammering and I told Chris that if we could make to to the head wind with a minute lead we might be able to pull this off. We started catching a lot of riders from the Cat 3that were scattered all over the course. I was hoping they could give the field a false sense of comfort, thinking they were closing in on us but the bad thing about this course is that it runs through open farm land and field can constantly see where we were the whole time. The could easily spot our lead car from a couple mile away. They were not giving up. I looked down and saw we still had 10 LONG miles to go. We got word that a gap was down to 52 seconds. We were still doing OK. We finally hit the dreaded head wind and this time it seemed to be blowing twice as hard. It wasn't, but it felt like it. I was starting to suffer, It was mostly psychological at first. Our effort was still the same but our speed had dropped. I couldn't help thinking that 40+ motivated guys could now really start to close the gap. Eight miles to go. For some reason my mind had decided to share the suffering with my legs. We were still working hard, each taking our turn suffering in the wind. It was starting to get to gut check time. I could easily just sit up, wait for the pack and take my chances in the sprint.....NOT! I didn't want to work this hard all day just to get swept up right at the end. I was really surprised when our follow car came up with just over 5K to go and told us our lead was back to 58 seconds. Chris patted me on the back and it looked like it was a done deal. A couple miles later we realized someone had escaped off the front and was closing fast. I asked Chris if he wanted to wait for him. He shook his head no and we kept grinding away. We were finally joined by our new friend with just over 3K to go.
I dropped off and started trying to play our the finish. Who had the legs left to gut this out for the win? I was sitting 3rd wheel when all of a sudden I found myself a wheel length or so back.. WTF was going on? I didn't feel great but still felt good enough to finish this thing. It soon dawned on me that it wasn't me but something with my bike.....I bet you can guess what it was. My f'ing front tire was losing air. It was a a tubular so it wasn't totally flat. I got out of the saddle and tried to get back on with them. I quickly realized I was screwed. Chris looked back like he wanted to will me back up to them but there was nothing I could do.
the two of them started to ride away from me. I looked back before making right hand turn that took me to the first climb. I didn't see the pack.. I tried not to panic. I could still get a wheel and easily finish third. I pulled to the side of the road and quickly pulled of my front wheel. I turned around and to my dismay......No F'ing wheel car!! Where the hell did he go. He had been right with us since we rode away. Still no sign of the pack. Now I was swearing so loud that the whole county could hear me. Still no car. Now I was starting to panic! A few seconds later I looked back and there was the field. I probably had the most disgusted look on my face as they flew by me. Still, No car. Not only am I not going to win this race, I'm going to finish DFL and have to walk about 1K o the line. What the hell was going on.
I finally heard the rev of an engine and looked back. I soon realized it was coming from the other direction. I quickly noticed that is was our wheel car. He slammed on the brakes and came running over with a wheel. "Let's get this on so you can finish up. I didn't say anything. I finally asked him what was up. He had raced ahead of us with about 2K to go to get our of our way. He didn't think anyone would need a wheel this close in....WRONG!! He told me he was sorry. I know these guys are volunteers so I wasn't mad. I remounted and limp up the final climb with my tail between my legs. I was greeted at the finish lines with guys who seemed to really feel bad about what happened to me. They knew how hard I'd worked all day.
I decided that I was going to look at the positives and not cry about my misfortunes. I had followed my plan and did everything I set out to do. I raced hard and had showed myself where my fitness level was. Hell, it's only February right? I should be still sitting on the couch waiting for warmer weather. :) Next time.