Yesterday was the"Official" start to the Washington road race season. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know there have already been a few races but to me they don't count....Sorry Pruitt. :(
To say I was amped would be an understatement. It was my first road race with my new team. We were sporting our new kits. (see photos) I had seven other teammates lined up beside me at the start, something I've never had in the past. The forecast called for a sunny, 55 degree day.....NOT! When we arrived at the venue at 11:45AM it was about 47 degrees, drizzling and the wind was blowing pretty hard...... Classic Mason Lake! People have a love/hate relationship with this race. Narrow, chipseal roads, anxious racers and bad weather are usually what you get. I know many guys that won't even show up anymore, opting to wait for the usual dryer climate over in Sequim.
To the layperson a bike race is just looks like a bunch of shaved legged people in bright colored clothing riding around in circles for hours. Those of us that race know how hard work, strategy, luck, weather, fate, nutrition, how much you're willing to suffer, etc. can factor into a single race. Even though we race on this course twice a year never plays out the same. That's what's great about road racing. I've flatted 10 miles in and failed to catch back on. I've stupidly attacked a fully connected field with just under 2K with no teammates on my wheel only to blow up spectacularly with about 40 meters to go and finish in 30th. I've been lucky by having someone make a sketchy move with 1K to go, taking out 15 to 20 guys right next to me I somehow escaped and easily ended up on the podium. I've gone off the front solo for 55 miles for a victory. That may have started out being stupid but came off as genius. :) All the same race, all different scenarios. Yesterday's race was no different (meaning it was very different)
Besides us, Farestart and Apex were also sporting their stylish new kits. With that and all the new bikes it felt more like a bike show than a race. After rolling neutral through turn we were set loose. I thought the attacks would start right away but guys waited until we got through turn two before the Kraken was unleashed. We, along with Farestart seem to be the guys dictated the tempo. I think I attacked first with Dave (Farestart) and got shut down fast. Steve jumped, followed by Nikos and Mark. Kevin, Neil, Aaron, David, Brian, and Mike were also up front keeping the pack strung out in single file. All our attacks were getting closed down pretty fast, mainly from the Farestart guys. Finally Steve jumped and got in the first real move of the day. There was a moment when I thought it could be one that mattered but after a few minutes Farestart put in another effort to close it down. With all these surges we soon noticed that we were already closing on the Cat 3 field. We were moving.
So much was going on that I'm not sure when or where it actually happened but I think is was half way up the back stretch just before turn 3. I think it was Greg that jumped first and I latched on. We got a little gap and started working together. I looked back and saw that there were a couple of guys trying to bridge. I couldn't tell who it was so we kept pushing. Soon we realized that there was a Garage and Farestart guy in the group so we slowed up a bit. Soon enough we were joined by Martin (Farestart) and Bob (Audi). I think Alfredo (Audi) may have been on for a short time but quickly dropped off. We all looked back and saw no one else was trying to bridge so we decided to get organized and go suffer for a while. We got in a nice rotation and soon we were pulling away from the pack. Now we just need to hold on for 50 more miles.............
Everyone looked strong at this point and we continued to increase our lead. I took a moment to size up our competition. Greg was looking super strong and I knew that Bob and Martin are always up for some self induced pain. I've always had to battle it out with Nikos in the past. I was super happy be racing WITH him now! Along that we and Farestart had in the pack I started to think we might have a chance to do something. We continued running a smooth pace line until about 4K from the finish. I pulled through a little too hard and Greg and I dropped the other three. We pushed it for a couple more minutes but realized that we still had 4 laps to go and we needed these guys if we wanted to make this stick. We slowed up and by the start of lap two we were all back together.
We had no idea how big our gap was. We just kept a steady pace and didn't let up. When we turned uphill and into the wind Bob started to skip some pulls. No big deal. He would rest a bit and then help out when he could. The rest of us continued to trade pulls.
Before long we found ourselves on the back end of the Cat 3 field. They neutralized and we got by fairly fast. For some reason three of their guys joined us and kind of messed up are rhythm for a bit. I'm not sure what they were thinking but after talking to them they dropped off. I think passing the 3's gave us a little jolt. After a few minutes we lost sight of them. The weird thing about this race was after we got a large gap we never had a trail car come up to follow us. If one of us flatted (me at Cherry Pie) what would happen? Also, our lead car kept drifting in and out of our range of site. I'm not sure what was up with that. We never got any word on what our gap was. Maybe that was a good thing?? Each lap as we came through the finish area I could hear a big group of people cheering for me. It was members of my old Starbucks team. Yeah, they were there because Sarah was racing (and Won!) in the Women's 1/2/3 field but it sure help get me around that course. Thanks guys!
Laps 3 & 4:
They were pretty much the same. We kept pushing hard but I think this is when Martin started missing a few pulls. Again, I didn't really care because Nikos, Greg and I were still working hard and Martin and Bob helped when they could The only problem was that our pace line rotation was not a thing of beauty. We were rotation off the front in different directions and sometimes the wrong way in the wind. I don't know if it was because we were getting tired or because we didn't have a constant, smooth line going with guys missing pulls. Either way, we still were moving and still had a nice gap....I think.
After having no one in site behind us for a while we noticed a car was coming up the road. We thought it was the Cat 3 field.. It turned out to be Jim(Olympia Ortho) going solo, passing the five of us in the wind like we were standing still. That dude has an engine! Soon after the rest of the Cat 3's came up and it turned into the biggest cluster F%^K I've ever been in. No car rolled up to tell us to go neutral. We knew we should so we all pulled to the right to let them pass. The only problem was even though we slowed to a crawl they didn't move by. We were now mixed in with them. Greg was up near front and I lost site of him This was not good. He ended up dropping back and we talked about what we should do. We decided to regroup and race past them. By the time we reached the start of the final lap we had a gap on them again. Did we loose time on our field? Who f'ing knows!!
I could tell we were all starting to feel the pain. Martin and Bob were still riding well but were skipping more pulls. Nikos, Greg and I were doing a lot of stretching. We still had no feedback on how were were doing we had to assume there were guys chasing us down. As we started climbing the hill in the wind the Cat 3 guys caught us again. Our car slowed up and waved his hand out the window with out saying anything. WTF?? We're not suppose to pass the lead car. I looked over at him and shrugged. He said nothing so we kept going. Soon we were in the same situation as before. The five of us let up but they were not actively trying to get by us. This was the last lap and with no feedback we could not afford to loose any time. No official or lead car came up and said anything. Finally after a few minutes of this the shit an official did come up and told slow up even more and drop back. Now we were rolling at 14mph and the 3's weren't doing anything. Our lead car was right on their follow car and no one was racing. Again, not good. It looked like nothing was going to happen. Do we start racing again? Do we just sit here? I finally sprinted up to our lead car and asked them WTF was going on. I reminded them that we were in break and our field was not going to stop racing. I asked him they could get the officials to light a fire under the 3's or at least give us some feedback on our lead. A short time later someone stuck there head out of the car and told us they were going to get the 3's going, wait a minute and get us racing again. Oh, and by the way, we had a three minute gap!! OK, we could sit in like this for a short while longer. I knew we would lose some time but we still should have enough of a lead to finish this thing.....Maybe..... Moments later we were racing again. The stretch of soft pedalling was not good for me. My muscles started to stiffen and it was hard to get rolling again. The "Shut up Legs" quote popped into my head. When we regrouped it felt like we were having our first bad stretch. It seemed we were struggling all the way up the hill. Our pace line was getting a little messy and our pulls were not consistent. All I wanted to see was the big yellow road sign with "Mason Lake Rd." printed on it. I knew once we made it there things would get a lot easier.
Turn 3 was a glorious site. We started downhill and I started to feel OK again. Not great, just OK. I asked Nikos how he was doing and he pretty much felt the same. We kept working hard all the way through the rollers and we soon realized for sure that we wouldn't get caught. I knew Bob and Martin would let Nikos, Greg and I battle it out for the win and I started to think about what we could do to isolate Greg. Martin would help Greg if he could so Nikos and I had to be careful. With about 3K to go Greg started to get things going. He didn't really attack but when it was his turn to pull he picked up the tempo. Nikos quickly responded and then decided to get in front and push the pace even harder. I backed off and let Greg move to 2nd wheel. Let the games begin!! I wanted to try to force Greg to do most of the work but he is smarter than that. Nikos went extra hard for about 30 more seconds and Greg stayed right on his wheel. It was going to come down to a sprint finish. Nikos dropped off and I found myself at the front when we hit the 1K mark. It wasn't where I wanted to be but..... All of a sudden Martin jumped. He yelled at us to jump on. I wasn't quite sure what to do. Did he realized I was on the front and that would give Greg the advantage?? Nikos and I had Greg pinned in so maybe not.
What ever his plan was we now flying down the home stretch at a high rate of speed. I was now sitting second wheel with Greg right on my ass. Martin was pulling like a mad man and there was no time to make any mistakes. We flew around the final curve and the 200m sign came into view. I knew Martin would not hold this effort all the way to the line and hoped Greg would wait until the 200m mark to make his move. I decided I would go early and try to surprise Greg. If I got a gap, maybe I could hold him off. If not, hopefully I was giving Nikos a good lead out and he could fly by. I geared up and with about 215m to go I took off hard. I could sense Greg on my wheel. With about 30 meters to go I came to the realization that no one was going to come around me. I sprinted across the line giving the best exhausted fist pump I could muster. I quickly looked back and who was right on my wheel? Nikos!! Holy shit!! Garage just took the top two spots!! What an awesome race! I couldn't have been in a break with a better group of guys. We turned around just in time to see Steve beat our the rest of the field for 6th! It was a great weekend of racing with my new team.