Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012 Tour of Walla Walla Stage Race

Getting sick sucks. Getting really sick the week before a big stage race totally sucks to the tenth power.  During the week of April 8th I started noticing tons of people I work with going down for the count.  I woke up Thursday feeling a little off an made it through a half day at work.  I stayed home Friday and by Saturday I was really feeling like shit.  I woke up Sunday still feeling like hell but what did Mr. Dumbass decide to do???  Head up to Bellingham with my teammates to race the 1/2 field in the Northshore Road Race.  (You'll notice there is no blog write up for that one because there wasn't much to write)  That course is hard enough when you're in top form!  I'm not sure what I was thinking but off I went.  I was actually riding OK but I was in a complete haze and had trouble staying focused.  The pace was insane and by the time we took the third trip up the climb I was really feeling sick.  I was sitting somewhere mid pack when I put my hand up like I had a mechanical, moved to the left side of the road, turned around and headed back to the car.  Our follow car asked if I needed a wheel change and I just waved him off and headed down the hill.  It sucked to quit a race like that but it was stupid to even show up in the first place.....

I made it through another half day on Monday, stayed home Tuesday and  and finally went to the doctor on Wendesday.  When I told her that I had a three day, four stage race over the weekend I don't think she understood what that meant.  I don't try to explain to people what I do on the weekends anymore.  They all think I'm just meandering down the road in some STP type citizen ride and don't understand the amount of suffering I'm about to inflict on my body.  Or after explaining what I do they will nod and then ask "Are you going to try to race in the Tour de France next year?" Anyway..... she gave me some drugs (not sure if they were all legal for racing) and told me I should be OK by the weekend. 

I made it over to Walla Walla Thursday afternoon.  I got a spot in a local RV park and jumped on my road bike for the first time all week.   I took a stroll around the TT course and still didn't feel that great.  My legs felt OK but I was still coughing up some nasty shit.  I still had about 24 hour until the start of Stage 1 so I was really hoping for some kind of miracle.  I grabbed a quick bite in town and got to bed early. 

There were 11 of us racing and Alex had found us a  giant pimp palace just outside of town.  I had agreed to meet to get the keys at 8:00am Friday and as I drove out I noticed I was feeling a little better, not 100% but better.  Alex, Tom and Jason showed up shortly after and we jumped on the TT rigs and took a lap around the TT course.  I took it really slow at first and then ramped it up after the climb.  I was finally able to take deep breaths without hacking up lung butter. We grabbed a ton of food for lunch and dinner and headed back to the house to rest up.

Stage 1
Waitsburg Road Race:
Most of the course is pretty flat.  There is a nice grinder on the back side  but the main event is the 3K hell climb to the finish.  It's not a tough climb (if rolling up on a joy ride) but to finish a race on it is pure evil.  I've always started up the climb on the last lap in good position only to end up loosing about a minute by the time I cross the line.

As we drove into town we were greeted by Izzy the Waitsburg camel.  I think he likes watching us suffer.
The staging area is right near downtown Waitsburg but we don't officially start to race until we reach the top of the climb for the first time.  To say that we ride it neutral up that hill is slightly misleading.  We were all bunched in doing about 15 mph.  There was a lot of nervous energy by the time we reach the top and when we are let go the pace on the downhill quickly jumped to 40+ mph.  I wanted to attack but decided I was just going to sit in and do no work.  I wanted to really get a good gage on how my body would react at race pace before trying anything.  We reached the backside climb and I was easily able to make it to the top with the front 1/3 of the field.   I wanted stay near the front for the first time up the 3K monster and I found it was pretty easy to move up on the right side of the road.  To say I was nervous as we headed out of town for lap two would be an understatement.  I was about to find out whether I'd be racing all weekend or working the feed zone for my teammates.   As we started up I just concentrated on smooth pedal strokes and taking deep breaths.  The pace was steady but not too bad.  About half way up it kicked up a bit and the carnage began. Guys started falling off one by one.  I kept a really high cadence and reached the top near the front of the pack.  Legs and lungs felt good. 

The final lap was pretty fast but really heated up when we reached the backside climb.  A couple of Garneau Revolution guys got free and it was game on.  Jeff Dunn jumped hard to bring them back and I got on his wheel.  Now it was time to see if I could put in a real effort.  I felt good but when we within about 25 from the leaders I slowed up and let the rest of our chase group move by.  I looked back and saw that this effort was really sorting out the field. I slotted in about 7 wheels back and just worked hard enough to stay with the chase group.  Most of the trailing guys finally put in a big effort and caught back on.  It was now time to start thinking about the finish.  Everyone wants to at least start up front,  including guys that can't climb.  Moving through slower riders can really mess up your pace and cost valuable time.   As we made our way through town I all was good (except the van that almost backed up right into our path!) and I was sitting up near the front.  We hit climb and during the first section the pace was high but manageable.  About half way up the games started and the the lead group was shrinking.  It was hard but I was able to match all the accelerations and hang with the lead pack.  I was in unfamiliar territory.  I took a look around and all of my teammates were still with the group.  We hit the 1K mark and I found myself right on Todd Gallaher's (Guiness) wheel....Perfect!  When he jumped I was going to jumped.  The only problem was that when the the fury was unleashed Todd didn't respond.  I had to move left to get around him which cost me time.  I hit the 200m mark and gave it all I had.  I finished 16th and for the first time I was in the same group as the winner.  I thought I was only a few seconds back.  I'm not sure how the officials determined the time gaps but when the results were posted I ended up 13 seconds back.   Nikos finished 8th with Neil close behind in 10th.  No on on the team finished further than 40 seconds back.  It was a good day for the team.
Skinny guys mowing through food
Stage 2
Downtown Crit:
This year the promoters mixed things up by racing the crit in the morning and the TT in the afternoon.  Since the weather was really nice I had no problem with it.  I'd have some miles in the legs before the TT and would be a lot more warmed up in the afternoon.  Our start time was at 10:30.  I was a little bummed that it was only 30 minutes but with all the primes they were going to throw in and the level of top quality sprinters that were there it was sure to be a fast and furious race.   I still was not feeling 100% so my plan was to just sit in and enjoy the ride.  I was not going to go for any primes nor did I really care about winning.  I just wanted to stay near the front, stay safe and finish with the same time as the leaders.  That is pretty much how it went.  Alex was at the front during the whole race and he and Tom grabbed some primes.  In the end I crossed the line in 23rd and besides the time bonuses that were handed out I kept my place in GC.  Nikos had another great race, finishing 8th and Alex rounded out the top 10.  Best part of the day was watching Alenjandro Borrajo (Jamis/Sutter Home) start to celebrate his victory early only to get pinched at the line by  David Richter (HSP) .  Classic!! 

Great video of our whole crit by AKAngel17

Stage 3
Time Trial:
This is the one I was really worried about.  There were places to recover during the first two stages but for the "Race of Truth" it is an all out effort for around 20 minutes.  Throw in a nice climb and some wind and it can be a beast of a TT.   By the time I rolled to the staging area it was in the 70's and not too windy.   I was Tom's 30 second man so I was at least hoping to be a good rabbit for him.  My plan was to just ease into it at the start and slowly ramp up until I reached turn 1.  It may cost me some time waiting that long to gun it but I really needed to keep my breathing in check and not start hacking shit up.  I took the turn and was feeling pretty good so I increased my effort  up and attacked (as best I could) up the hill knowing full well that the rest of the course is mostly downhill.  There was not a lot of wind so I was almost spinning out with my 54X11. I was closing in on my 30 second guy right before we reached the little "kicker" before the turn to the finish.  There was a moto official right on my ass so I really needed to make sure I didn't give him any reason to think I was drafting.  I caught him right at the turn and had to swing a lot wider than I wanted to.  This definitely cost me some time.  I put my head down and dug to the finish.  I took over a minute off my time from last year and finished in 15th.  I still don't put much training into racing TT's and was 1:30 back from the leader but I was still pretty stoked.  It was a good day of racing.

Stage 4
Kellogg Hollow Road Race:
I've always done well in this stage.  I finished 4th last year and was looking forward to getting it on today.  I woke up Sunday morning feeling less then stellar.  I don't think too many people were feeling awesome after three hard stages but I was definitely off.  I think my body was finally fighting me for abusing the shit out of it the last two days.  It was supposed to be in the 80's by our start time and the wind was supposed to be light.  It was going to be a hard race. We got to Waitsburg early so we could take our time getting ready.  I didn't warm up much. I just tried to stay out of the sun and stay hydrated.   I was feeling a little faint so I sat under a tree by the start just before staging.  While the rest of the field rolled to the start I could tell that we had lost a handful of guys through attrition. 
This course is a ball breaker.  After a 7 mile crawl out of town the course turns right and immediately uphill to start the 27 mile loop.  There are really three good climbs on the course, all of which can spew victims off the back.  Immediately after we entered the course I could tell I wasn't feeling good.  My legs were tight,  I was light headed and had extreme cotton mouth.  Lucky for me my teammate Kevin got into an early break with four others.  Garneau Revolution had a guy in there too so all we had to do was keep the field at bay.  This really helped slow the pace, which was good for me.  I kept  downing  as much fluid as I could before we got to the feed zone.  I struggled through the first part of the course and was the first official "Tail Gunner" of the group.  I had no problem hanging on I just didn't have the energy to move up.  I kept downing fluid and gel and was really worried when we made it to the feed zone climb for the first climb.  To my surprise I was able to get in a good rhythm and made it to the top near the front.  I still felt like shit but hey.... I went to grab a bottle and the idiot, I mean volunteer basically tried to throw the bottle at me.  Epic Fail.  I left without getting one.  Luckily I had put a spare in my jersey pocket so I threw my empty to the side and was good to go.  The downhill was super fast.  I worked hard to get to the front by the time we hit the flats.  Many teammates and friends from other teams hadn't seen me and thought I got dumped.  I told them I was just doing my job at the back, keeping track of dropped riders. 

Last year the wind was a factor and when we reached the second climb no one wanted to be in front.  The pace briefly slowed to a crawl.   Not this year!  The pace up the climb was brutal.  I once again found my self sitting on the back.  I had to work my ass off to stay with the pack.  I watched as others fell off the pack and was determined to hang on.  The downhill section never felt so good.  I started to recover and once I was settled back in I noticed I had a nasty hot spot forming on the outside of my foot.  I was wearing brand new shows that I thought were good to go but the crappy insole that came with them was starting to show it's ugly self.   I readjusted the tension but it didn't go away.  It wasn't bad but it definitely took some of my attention away from racing.  We reached the feed zone hill for the last time and again, even though I felt like shit I was able to move towards the front as we approached the feed zone.  With about 100m to go my foot cramped so bad that I was almost in tears.  I moved through the crowd and was able to get a good exchange for a bottle this time.  As soon as I placed it in the cage I reached down to loosen the boa on my right shoe to release the pressure.  I was swimming a bit in it but the pain instantly went away.  I didn't realize it but when I looked back up I was just off the back.  No big, I should be able to hammer it on the downhill and catch back on.  I was working with Rich (Fischer Plumbing) and we were soon flying down the hill together.  We hooked up with Scott and Joel (Audi), John (Fanatic) and Scott (Evolution) and formed a nice pace line.  The pack was right there but we were not closing on them.  We kept pushing down the hill and I still thought we were going to catch on.  We came up to the sharp left hand turn that took us up our last climb. Tim (Sandals) who was leading the GC and Todd Gallaher (Guinness) who was in 4th must have had enough and the pack took off to finally try to haul in the break.  The six if us were actually moving up the hill at a good clip but we were no match for 18 guys on a mission and we soon realized we were NOT going to catch back on.  This took the wind out of our sails.  We kept pushing but not with the same enthusiasm.  We eased up some and took turns skipping pulls and when all was done we crossed the line 4:30 back.   I finished in 27th place and 27th in GC.   All and all I was happy with the weekend considering.  I had three good stages and one epic fail with about 12K to go in the last stage.  I was bummed for Kevin.  They were out there battling in the heat and got caught right near the end.  He worked is ass off.  Nikos had another solid day, finishing 5th in the stage. 

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