Longbranch is the road race version of the Ballard Crit for me. I have had more mechanicals and bad luck in this race than all other races (except Ballard) that it almost seems like a waste of my time to show up. Last year I flated with less than 2K to go and almost pulled a "David Millar" on the side of the road. Let's just say that my attitude leading up to this race isn't on the positive side.
Longbranch has been the Masters State Championship RR for the last few years but this year it was the Senior (catagory) State Championship race. For that reason and the fact that the Masters 1/2 race was only 44 miles I decided to race in the 1/2 field that was doing 77 miles and see if I could do some domestique duties. My attitute did move up the scale a bit known that the weather was going to be a comple 180 from last year's terential rain and 50 degree temps. This year...Sunny and temps pushing 80.
There were seven of us lined up at the start to what looked to be a super competitive field. I'll spare most of the minute by minute details and just say that after the first lap I was pretty sure I'd never finish the race. My legs felt like shit and it was all I could do to hang on with the pack on every climb. I would be happy to just make it 44 miles (length of the Masters race) and call it a day.
Usually I'm pretty aware of what's going on during a race but I can't tell you exactly when/where a group of six got off the front. (maybe near the end of lap 2???) All I know is that it was early and that Kyle was in it. Unfortunately so were three guys form HSP and current pro Morgan Schmidt.
As we went through the line to start lap three I was feeling a lot better than I did at the start. The break had a nice gap and I just watched guys that didn't have teammates in the break. One guy jumped.....no one responded. After he had a small gap another guy accelerated, then another, and another. It was kind of weird. I was just waiting for a big group acceleration but it didn't happen. I looked back and I finally decided I didn't want 16 guys up the road so I jumped. No one cam with me. I had my work cut out for me. By the time we were half way to corner 1 the rest of the guys had hooked up and I had to put myself in the hurt locker to bridge up. I felt I needed to get there before the turn or I'd have no chance once the group started heading downhill. I took one more look back and after I saw no one else trying to bridge I went all in. It was tough but I did manage to hook on just before the turn. Jason was also there and since we had Kyle in the 1st break we just sat on the back and enjoyed the ride. It gave me a chance to recover.
Going up the big climb for the third time seemed like a piece of cake. I was able to hang with the crew with little effort. The guys working at the front really killed it between the two climbs and we could see the lead group just up the road. We reached the next climb and that is when I had my "Longbranch" moment. For some reason I couldn't shift into my small ring....WTF!! I fumbled with it while on the climb and finally got it to drop. When I looked up I saw that I had dropped off and had to work my ass off on the climb. Unfortunately I didn't quite get hooked back on by the time they made they started downhill. I felt I could still get there by the start but I'd have dig deep for a minute or so. When we started back up hill I took a look back and noticed that one of my teammates was trying to bridge up. It was Lang. I decided I would ease up a bit (maybe not by choice) and wait for him. When he caught up he said if we dug for five minutes we'd get on. I didn't know if I could do it but after he pulled for a bit I jumped to the front and gave everything I had. We were not far off when I just blew up. I told Lang to go on without me and that I was done. I kept pushing in case he didn't make it up and I found something in my legs. When I saw that he had hooked on I basically sat up and was going to just to pull off the road. I looked back and didn't see the main pack so I decided to keep pedaling until they caught me. I'd then just pull off at the feed zone and pass out bottles the rest of the day. I was pretty bummed.
As I approached the big climb I finally saw the main pack coming up behind me. I actually picked it up a notch hoping to get over the climb before they caught me....NOT!! They caught me just at the base of the climb and figured everyone would blow by me on the climb. Jeff(Starbucks) yelled at me to keep going. Once the last guy went buy I decided to put in one more effort and actually passed some guys going up the hill. Thanks Jeff!! I just sat in and ate and drank as much as I could. I stretched a bit and by the time we reached the next climb I was feeling OK. I grabbed a fresh bottle in the feed zone and kept going........ I was near the top and felt pretty good.......Until I saw "3 laps to go" on the board at the start/finish. Shit, I had lost track and thought we only had two to go. This was going to hurt.
At some point we caught the 2nd break and things slowed down for a few minutes. My lower back was starting to hurt and I really had to block out the pain to keep going. This is only the 2nd time this has happened. The first was a month ago in Wenatchee when the temps were also in the 80's. I was able to grab more bottles in the feed zone and got drank more than I usually do.
Two laps to go. I was feeling as good as I had all race and was now sure (baring mechanicals) that I'd actually finish this thing. At some during this lap Lang fired off the front solo and disappeared down the road. Cool, now we have two up the road with less than two to go. This was probably the only really slow point of the race. For a few minutes the speed of the main pack dropped significantly and I was able to stretch and spin my legs. That ended soon once we got word that the break had a sizable gap and there was probably no way we'd catch them. Individuals started to attack and Mike, Jason and I just latched on and let them pull us up the road. We reached the big climb for the last time and before starting up I took a look back. There were not a lot of guys left in the main pack. A few guys, including Jason had managed to get off the front and I decided to just sit in and only go if we brought them back. We reached the last climb and once again I was right at front at the top and felt pretty good. As we made our way down the hill I was still at the front when Mike came up and asked if I wanted a lead out. I didn't see the point and told him not to worry about it. I didn't think we'd have a sprint at the end but you know how bike racer's egos are. I had no interest but did keep pace just so I didn't get dropped. I finished with the main pack on a day when I wanted to pull off and quit twice. It was a super tough day in the saddle and the cold beer in the sun after the race was pure goodness.