Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 USA Cycling Masters Road Nationls

I won the last race of the Washington State Road Season by attacking solo off the front only a mile into the race. Not sure why I did it and really not sure why no one came with me or tried to chase me down but I held them off to finish with a 1:04 minute gap over the main field. My teammates ended up going 2nd, 3rd and 4th so that was insanely awesome! 
Denise and I then took two weeks off work and headed down to Bend for the Masters National Road Racing Championships.
About a month before heading down to Bend one of my old Starbucks teammates told me he had borrowed a tandem from a teammate and wanted to know if I would race it with him in both the 40k TT and the 84k Road Race at Masters Road Nationals. I think I'd only been on a tandem once or twice when I was drunk in college. It would cause me to have to race four days in a row down there but I ended up telling him I'd do it.  This will be interesting to say the least!

To prepare (if you want to call it that) for nationals, we decided we actually needed to ride this thing together a couple of times.  Jefff showed up at my house so we could set up the bike.  He asked how we should determine who should be Captain and Stoker.....What??? Oh, the stoker is the one on the back. Since he already had his saddle and pedals on in the Captain's spot we decided to start off that way and switch it up later. We hooked up with two other local teams that were both going down to Nats as well. Both were couples that were going to race in the mixed categories. They all ride these crazy bikes together all the time and even do crits with them....Yes, Crits!! They were seasoned and we got a lot of valuable tips from them. Jeff and I are both strong riders but we pretty much got our asses handed to us on this training ride. There was a lot more to this than I had thought. We decided since we were probably only going to get 3 or 4 rides in together before we raced that we should just keep things the way there were....I am now a Stoker dammit! We got in two more rides and on the third we actually felt like we knew what we were doing and were stealing Strava KOM's left an right. We were ready to roll.

Tues Sept 3rd
We arrived in Bend and decided to head out to Prineville and recon the TT course the day before the race. We originally thought we'd ride our regular racing bikes but decided that was stupid and left them behind. I had logged a 55 miler up to Bachelor the day before but Jeff hadn't ridden in a few days and wanted to open it up a little. We only went hard for a few short burst to open up the legs and ended up with a time of 55 minutes. Not bad when the previous year’s winners rode a 53:30!  That gave us a glimmer of hope!

Wed Sept 4th
We drove out to the TT course early and saw teammates who were finishing up their solo TT efforts. As we watched we noticed the other tandem crews rolling in with these crazy custom, carbon machines with full on TT wheel setups. We figured some of these bikes were in the 15 to 20 grand price range....Out glimmer of hope dropped a few notches. We warmed up solo on trainers and proceeded to the line 7 minutes ahead of our start time. I guess we were pretty focused because a couple gals from one of our local teams were waiting for their start times joked that we looked like we were marching to our deaths... You could say that we had our game faces on.  Jeff was so focused that I had to tell him twice to clip in when the race crew held our bike before the start.
 So we crashed on the turn around!!!.....but that's the middle of the story

We got the countdown and off we went.  We took off super hard.... maybe a bit too hard on the way out but we were flying and it felt good. I basically had my head down and really had no idea where we were on the course. It was like doing the most painful indoor training session ever. It was a 40K (about 24 miles for you Americans) and before long Jeff let me know that we had reached the turn around. We had made it in under 25 minutes. We slowed and prepared for the 180 degree turn that we have both done tons of times, INDIVIDUALLY and a few times in training but never at 25mph.  We were 80% through the turnaround and started to accelerate, but the increased speed forced us to go wider and the front wheel left the road. We hit gravel and washed out. We both yelled "crap!" (Polite version) and hit the deck. We immediately hopped right up and started running w/out checking out the bike or our bodies for damage.  I told Jeff that we were still doing great and to remain calm. We both kind of ran with the tandem and somehow did a nice syncronized CX remount. I can't believe nothing went wrong with that. We probably lost about 15 secs. We tried not to overcompensate and blow up. the way back was harder with a bit of a head wind, and tired legs. I stayed tucked in tight. Every time Jeff scooted back on the seat to get more aero he hit me on in the head. Good thing I had a helmet on. We poured on as much power as we could muster, limping up the three little hills on the way back. Finally Jeff saw the 5k sign, there was another tandem ahead that we were chasing down. 3k sign, and Jeff realized that I wasn't seeing these signs so he yelled "3k to go". I didn't want to ride 3 more f'ing Kilometers but I know Jeff wasn't going to let up so neither did I. At one point I actually shut my eyes for about 30 seconds and just concentrated on my pedal stroke. We tried to go harder. We passed the tandem ahead of us. Then pushed even harder at the 1k sign. We finished with the time 53:00.80. We hurt so bad we couldn't even pedal for a bit after crossing the line. It was kind of funny as we were trying to figure out if we should stop and try to dismount or to try to keep pedaling. We limped back to the car. Early non official reports were that we won!! We heard it a couple of times over the loud speaker. We went over to wait for results to be posted. We hurt so bad we couldn't even sit on a bike seat or stretch. Neither of us have ever hurt so bad after a race. We chatted with other folks and rumors were that a tandem in our category did a 49:15. Dang. When results were posted, it turned out that a tandem in our field did post a 49:15 and set a new course record. Another tandem had a time of 53:01.78. We took 2nd by .98 seconds. Wow was that close.
The turnaround crash almost cost us second. It was a bit of a letdown since we thought we might have won, but it was still awesome feeling when Jeff's wife Kirsten reminded us that we were still number 2nd in the nation!
Thurs Sept 5th
This was my day for the solo assault in the road race. I'd been riding strong and felt I had a chance to make some noise in this one. My teammate Nikos who was also in riding well was racing with me.  My legs were feeling good and I was ready for battle. We wanted to get up to Bachelor early to watch other teammates that were going to be finishing up. We signed in and as we walked back to the RV an epic storm blew over the top of the mountain. The temp dropped from about 65 to 45 degrees w/nn minutes and the wind started to blow like crazy. Then came the thunder, lightning and marble to golf ball sized hale. 

We were getting kitted up and were putting on pretty much everything we brought with us. "Are we really going to race in this shit?" Fortunately, NO.!! All afternoon races were postponed until the following morning. Unfortunately it was the same day as the Tandem road race and since Jeff wasn't doing the individual road race I decided to drop out and just race the tandem. I was bummed but not matter what I would get to race and Jeff would miss out if I raced individually. Meanwhile we almost forgot that we had teammates still out racing in this. Before long we saw Kyle and Ed come in and we quickly got them into the van.  Kyle was freezing and it looked like he had been peppered point blank by rounds out of a paint ball gun.
Friday Sept 6th

So my saddle came loose and almost fell off...

We didn't go off till 3pm, so we sat around nervously waiting for the time we should leave to head to the race. It was hard trying to keep still and I think we were driving the wives crazy. It might be that any mistakes or weakness hurts both racers, and I didn't want to let the team down or the thought of 30 tandems heading downhill at high speeds in a pack. Whatever it was, I just wanted to get to racing. 

Because they had to reschedule all the afternoon races until today the officials decided to combine all the tandem categories.  We would all be scored separately but it was going to change the racing dynamics.  The race started and a tandem from our group immediately jumped off the front probably before we were even clipped in. I don't think most of the racers, including us knew that someone was off the front.  I only knew when a moto came back and said a team was off the front.  "Who was it and where were they?" The moto just rode away.  This is when we first noticed how things would change.  No one attacked to try to bridge because no one knew what field the group off the front was in.  The moto came back again and told us they had a 20 second gap. "Who had a 20 second gap?"  He took off and quickly came back with the bib number...Shit, they were in our field.

It wasn't really an option to attack since we were already hitting 60mph on the descent!  It was insanely frightening to be sitting on the back of a bike with absolutely no control while watching these huge bikes weaving all over the road, trying to grab the fastest wheel.  Having absolutely no control made me more petrified than you can imagine. I was sure there was going to be an epic crash. About half way down everyone started to settle down a bit and it wasn't quite as terrifying.
We took the corner at the bottom of the hill and my heart rate finally settled down.  Jeff and I decided to attack just after a corner and got away solo. Not ideal but we hoped others from our field would bridge up and help us close the gap.  It was right about then that I noticed that my saddle was a little loose.  I let Jeff know but didn't worry about it too much.  No one did so we decided to give it a shot and closed the gap from about one minutes to about 35 seconds and also got about a 40 second gap over the rest of the field.  We held both gaps for a few minutes but couldn't close on the guys up front.  If they were going as hard as we were there was no way they could hold this......could they?  We found out later that if we would have gotten a second closer they would have sat up.  They were at the end of their rope.  We decided it wouldn't last, and we went back to the field. We were wrong, there were nine different races inside our race, and the other folks didn't care a bit about the tandem up the road. We couldn't get a chase together. We learned how to attack on a tandem, not a quick maneuver, and we attacked several times, each time ending up going back to the pack after no one from our field would help to organize a solid chase.  We finally decided to give up killing ourselves and tried to force other teams to go.  They did but when we got on their wheel they would sit up instead of rotating through. It seemed they were already content to be racing for 2nd place . We tried to stay out of the wind when we weren't attacking so we would be fresh for the final climb. It was about this point where I really got worried that my saddle was going to actually fall off the bike.  Jeff even asked others if they had an allen wrench.  I had to sit just right to keep it from moving around.
The course is kind of weird in that it is just one big 84K loop and all of the climbing is basically in the last 12 miles with the hardest climb in the last six miles.  We went over the first part of the climb and while when we reached the flat section through the big meadow and I told Jeff that as soon as we hit that next curve all hell would break loose.  The climb started right on cue, two of our competitors hit it hard, so we slotted in behind them. We rode their wheel going about 14mph up a 6% grade.  Teams were getting dropped left and right and we just held steady at the front behind these two teams. Finally a team from another field got impatient, attacked and blew by us. I could tell Jeff wanted to go but I told him to just sit in behind the two teams from our field.  Soon enough one of them cracked and pull far left over the center line.  I thought that they would slot in behind us but they couldn't.  I then yelled that we should go now and bridge up to the one team off the front and we blew by the other team in our field. I looked back and saw that they were not able to hold our wheel.  I gave Jeff the intel and we pushed even harder.  We towed a few other teams up with us but none from our field....I think.  We both dug deep and closed the gap.  We moved to the front and set the pace.  After a minute or so I asked for help but we the other teams told us they couldn't pull through.  I just shook my head and we kept driving.  We looked back and now only two teams were left with us.  One was a 70+ men's team and the other a 110+ men's team.  That is the combined age riders have to be to race in a field.  Jeff and I were in the 90+ category.  We new the road was going to flatten out a little just ahead and we wanted to make sure that if teams recovered they couldn't organize and catch us.  I was actually feeling good so I kept going as hard a I could.  I didn't know how Jeff was feeling but we were flying.  I looked over Jeff's shoulder and told him the that up ahead was the near 180 degree turn that was about 1.5K from the finish.  There was plenty of road and we easily stayed up right. We were still getting no help from the other two teams but we didn't care.  We just drove on and with about 400 meters to go I told Jeff to sit up.  I don't know if he knew that neither of these teams were racing against us because he didn't sit up right away and probably thought I was crazy. 
I told him who they were and that we should let them by to enjoy the moment.  It kind of sucked knowing we just worked our asses off,  hauling two teams up to the finish that were both going to get Gold medals while we were getting Silver.  We coasted in for a second, watching the other two team celebrate.  We made up over 4 minutes on the leaders during the climb and wished we could have had a chance to go head to head with them but.......They made a move like I did in my last road race and I should have known better.  Anyway, being second in the nation twice ain't so bad!

After a while we went over and checked out the bike and we were a fraction away from completely loosing the saddle.  Lucky Us.

Well, now it's time to head back and get ready to get my arse handed to me in Cyclocross!


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