In Northern California we have the pleasure of being graced with somewhat gentile transitions of the seasons; allowing those of us who choose to suffer on bikes in bright colored spandex with like minded individuals the chance of being able to race from the early pits of January till the colorful weeks of September. Well before this stretch of racing months are over, the riders who partake in this self-torture, like the seasons they ride through, endure undoubtedly their own personal seasons of change.
This is shown by the blossoming of form compounded upon by the winter miles, or a new energized outlook on racing lost at the end of a previous season, or very commonly, the dreaded drought of motivation and spunk that is brought on by prolonged exposure to the harsh burning schedule that is trying to balance training with real world deadlines. By mid July I had experienced the gauntlet of these emotions from my first race of the season in January as a firebreathing Cat 3 with no points but lifetimes full of ambition, to a slouching, tired, unmotivated Cat 2 looking for a sweet escape. But as unpredictable as my moods were, the one thing that had been a constant throughout my year was taking place the third weekend of July in Bend Oregon, the Casade Cycling Classic.
Cascade has always had a special place in my heart and has been able to energize any mid-season slump since the first time I did it as a Cat 4 two years ago, to my painful experience last year in the 3 field marred by road rash and a new chin of stitches. Despite some of these negative experiences, Cascade, since the winter base miles has taken the spot of the highlight of my season, nothing could match how excited I felt leading up to this race and it had a way of smoothing over any of the cracks that I might have been going through. This year was going to be a new ball game as Eric, Curt, Casey, and the newly upgraded “pro” Tyler would be joining me in competing in the Cat 2 field. This consisted of four days of intense racing comprised of a 16 mile TT, a daunting 97 mile road race, a ripping historic crit through the streets of Bend, before finally finishing with an unforgiving 67 mile circuit race.
To get a jump start on the week, Curt, Eric and I decided to make the trip up Tuesday, two days before the opening TT and a day earlier than the rest of the team. The stress relieved by showing up a few days early rather than a day before may seem insignificant, but there is something to be said about the calming nature of being able to freely lounge in an ice cold river post reconing the weekends’ final stage, with the only worry on your mind being how quickly you choose to immerse yourself in the chilling current. After two relaxing days enjoying Bends’ many eateries and landscape, we readied ourselves for the Crooked River Time Trial, a 16 mile out and back course, meandering a quiet river in the town of Prineville.
I knew this TT was going to be a factor in this race and it’s something I’ve been mentally preparing for since the start of the spring. While funds for a “TT bike” weren’t in the budget I, with the help of many generous donors refitted my old road frame into a “TTable” rig. I did get a few funny looks at the start line, not to mention some comments from a teammate or two, but looks aren’t everything it seemed, as I was able to put down a respectable time of 35:08, leaving me in 25th to start the road stage, with the next few spots all being within seconds of each other.
This also earned me the support of my team who graciously pledged themselves to moving me up in the GC, thereby sacrificing their chances for the weekend.
The next day the team more than made good on their promise of helping to protect my GC position. From the gun of the road race the team assumed a position at the front and did a pro job of shepherding me through the pack. When the lead moto took a wrong turn causing chaos in the field, and subsequently me to go from 5th to about 105th place in a second, I was perfectly at ease knowing full well that my teammates would keep me safe. Their constant support in the form of grabbing me bottles, going in or reeling back breaks, handing me food or other seemingly trivial favors, added up to me being able to be fully relaxed saving energy in the pack till we hit the final 10 miles of climbing.
The final 10 miles into Mt. Bachelor consisted of a steady climb of nearly 2000 feet. At the start of the climb Tyler made a showing of his days as a pro by singlehandedly moving me up some 50 places, getting me out of a sticky situation into perfect position on the front, but at the same time blew himself and his race. The pace picked up steadily over the climb but the headwind ensured that it could never get too fast to truly splinter the group, letting some 30 guys huddle in behind the leaders. I was able to keep within the top 5 for the whole climb, staying out of the chaos of the group. About 2 k to go a solo hero attacked off the front and with the help of a moment of hesitation from the pack, was able to hold his gap to a well deserving victory. Coming into the parking lot of Mt. Bachelor going under the 1k to go sign, I had put myself in good position for the sprint, but when the pack accelerated on my right, and I went nowhere, I focused on staying safe and upright in the finish. I ended up 19th on the stage, same time as the pack, but had moved up to 12th in GC, with mere seconds separating the next few spots.
The next day in the crit we agreed that the game plan would be to just stay safe and out of trouble, finish upright and not loose any time. After sharing some beets and feta cheese from a local restaurant cook named “George” (he just popped up in the back alley where I was sitting before the race and asked if I wanted food, I swear the locals in Bend are the coolest) Tyler and I were able to grab a good starting spot on the line which in a crit 113 deep, would prove to make a world of difference. It soon became apparent that due to the nature of the course and the large field, that if you weren’t in the top 10 going into those turns, you risked getting swarmed by the field where nerves where running high, and the possibility of crashing seemed ever present. Using the wind to my advantage, and my unexpectedly fresh legs, I was able to keep myself at the front and out of danger, often finding myself on the front contributing to the pace. With 2 laps to go the field ballooned out and having a mental slip, I found myself about 40 people back. On the bell lap going through the start finish line I found a gap on the left, and capitalized on it till I found myself on the front. I decided my best bet was to lead out the field in order to keep out of danger and stay safe. I drilled it through the bottom two corners and kept on the heat all the way to the final corners, where a single rider, followed by a group of about 6 containing Tyler sailed by me and made their bid for the win. I tried to match their acceleration on the finishing stretch and got passed by a few more guys for 10th on the stage, moving me up one spot in GC to 11th. Tyler rolled in 5th, the most impressive result for the team so far, showing his bike handling excellence navigating through such a huge field and still being there for the finish.
(The gang after the downtown crit sans Casey.-From Castelli cycling)
The finishing circuit race on the last day would prove to be some of the hardest racing of the weekend. The 67 mile course was unforgiving, with a steep wall pitch and tight descents with a pack still about the size of 100. Positioning was going to be crucial as my team well knew, that’s why they did a perfect job of getting me to the front leading into the wall sections every lap so I wouldn’t have to worry about blockages on the climb. Selfless sacrifice by my teammates was the theme of the day again as my team shepherded me throughout the race, keeping me safe and ensuring I had a chance at the finish. The field endured some harsh attacks that whittled down the numbers, compiled with the fatigue that many people were undoubtably feeling from the weekend, this left a finishing group of about 30 guys after the last steep pitch into the finishing straight. I had let myself slip back on the wall but luckily I was able to keep my momentum and weave my way back to the front for the small descent into the finish.
(The Elevation Profile for the Final Day)
Going into the finishing stretch I began to realize after seeing the 1k to go sign that I honestly did not know where the finish line was. With that distance I knew that it couldn’t be at the school where it had been in years past, and just now realizing that in all the prep I’d done that morning, I hadn’t read my race bible concerning the finish so I began to try and figure out where the finish would be. I found myself about 10th wheel back, butted against the centerline, and decided this was as good as a place any to try and manage a bunch sprint. People were bumping left and right and were getting quite anxious to finish the stage, on my left I felt a touch on my bars but kept my eyes forward and tried to just ride it out. I could feel the rider next to me trying to get in over the center line, then start to get unstable and wobble, then the next instant I felt the sharp jerk then the scraping of carbon and sounds to my left, then dissipate behind me as we sped on. I didn’t dare look back I just locked my eyes and wheels in the people in front of me, and was able to notice the final left hand turn to the finish ( a few people weren’t as fortunate). The road turned into a steep pitch for about the last 300 meters, a surprise but a welcomed one as this type of finish usually suits me well. Going into the final turn I had been about 5th wheel in perfect position for the finish, and was able to hit it hard from the bottom and hold my speed. The meters dragged on slowly as I ground out my gears on the steep pitch and dug deep realizing I could take the stage. About 100 meters to the finish I was in first when a rider sailed by me; I turned the pedals in vain and watched as he, and soon a second rider went by me. The podium was slipping through my fingers, and my legs seemed to be slipping as well. I was reminded of my teammates and how diligently they worked for me all weekend, how their consistent support had guarded me at their expense and their complete faith in my abilities. I knew I needed to give them a result worthy of their efforts. I put my head down and drained whatever power I had left.
(The Final Dig-Photo from Mathew Lasala)
Crossing the line my breath seemed to fail me and my muscles too, I weaved through the barriers trying to regain my balance but that appeared to be failing as well. I came to a stop grabbing, more like falling into a commissar’s car parked near the finish, trying to calm myself and my breathing. Two men were gracious enough to help me to a curb, as a cold bottle of water was offered from one them was welcomed by my burning throat. My broken body seemed to be scarred from my effort at the line but it was a badge that I would wear with honor. In all my struggling I was able to put 5 seconds on the rider behind me, securing the last podium spot for the stage.
My team rolled in minuets later, all spent from their undoubtedly long weekend of babysitting. I tried my best to convey my sense of gratitude but words couldn’t seem to express how strongly I felt for them and how grateful I was for their efforts. But somehow, I think they knew.
This race held grater importance to me this year because it served as the culmination of my season with the team, as the next day I flew out of the county, only to return in the fall going straight to school in Southern California. For the past two years these guys served as my mentors, and now I was leaving them to pursue other outlets of my life. They accepted me as a bumbling Cat 4, and showed me how to hone and refine my skills into a competitive Cat 2, who with the help of his team, scored 8th on GC, and 3rd in a stage of the Cat 2 Cascade Cycling Classic. But more than that, they’ve been dear friends to me beyond the bike. I’ll never forget how consistent their support for my personal life has been, whether it is their constant encouragement for me to do well in school, or more serious things such as lending me professional legal advice when I was hit by a car, or helping in getting me a well paying job. Above all that they’ve proven themselves as great friends and confides, something unfortunately hard to find amongst the many type A personalities of cyclists. When I look back on my time with them, I think what will come to mind will be my personal seasons of change as a cyclist and a developing adult, and how I’ve been blessed with the greatest friends and teammates to help guide me every step of the way.