Race Report – Chris Flower
Due to some existing obligations, my racing option was limited to the afternoon 35+ Cat 3 field. Initially, I was a bit reluctant to sign up since the race wouldn’t start until noon and the weather forecast was calling for a rainy day. A late, cold, rainy, winter road race wasn’t all that appealing, but I signed up anyway…because, why not? The drive down to Knight’s Ferry from Folsom via Highway 49 did little motivate or lift spirits as we drove through very heavy downpours that were only separated by slightly less heavy downpours.
Luckily, just as we arrived at the race course, the weather started to clear, the temperature started to warm, and the day was looking good for racing, The only hope was that the weather would remain clear and that the growing wind would fade through the day.
In the interest of staying warm and dry (still a few showers before race time), I elected to register and pin up as late as possible and roll over to the start line just before noon. At the line I took a quick survey of the competition for the day. While the field wasn’t necessarily large (maybe 30 in total), there were some teams with numbers. BP/Sierra Nevada and BRECycling each had five in the field, Team Mike’s Bikes pb Equator and Spokesman Bicycles each had a pair, and the rest of us were solo. It was good to see a couple of familiar faces as well with Ron Fallon from Victory Velo and Andrew Heinemann from Audi in the field.
Based on the field, my plan didn’t change too much: be active, if a break forms, be in it, if a break doesn’t form try to get one started. The course is simple enough. From the start, we travel approximately 7 miles north to a 180 degree turn and then head back south approximately 17 miles (passing the starting line) to another 180 turn. Repeat 3 times. Just before the northern 180 degree turn is a minute and a half +/- 15 second hill that we climb, descend the backside of, and re-ascend before continuing on to the south. This hill also serves as the finish point for the race. To the south of this hill are some pretty mild rollers, a rail crossing, a single lane bridge, and the usual potholed roads of the Central Valley.
With that … the whistle blows and we’re off. Two guys (one BP and one Spokesman) got away within the first mile and quickly had 30 seconds on the field. I snuck through and chased for a bit and connected just before the base of the climb. We stayed together over the climb, down the other side and back into the base of the climb again. BRE chased us down, but all was good though as we were only 10 miles into the race and would have time to mix it up again.
After we reached the top of the hill we were one big group again, with the exception a few riders that fell off the back over the hill. Once we descended the southern leg of the hill, it was pretty apparent that the wind was not going to fade away today and would be in our faces for the next 17 miles. Great. Taking advantage of the group’s diminished enthusiasm, two new guys roll off the front (one BP and one BRE), with numbers on their side, BP and BRE took to the front of the field and allowed their guys to roll away. I made a few attempts to jump around them and chase down our two escapees, but the solo effort into the headwind wasn’t in my bag that day and the BRE/BP troops were quick to pounce on the wheel of any one trying to bridge across.
A few of us in the field were able to make enough halfhearted attacks into the headwind section that we were able to pull the duo back just around the southern 180 turn. The southern 180 was so nice, we’d make the turn and get to ride a strong tailwind across some 10 miles of rollers with a net downhill. The first time through the southern 180, four of us were able to get enough separation from the field due to the quick jump out of the turn. I was hopeful that this break would stick for a while since we were well represented with a BP rider, a BRE rider, and another strong solo rider. We were able to get five to 10 seconds on the field, but were ultimately pulled back by a couple other riders attempting to bridge that brought the field with them. Definitely a bummer, but still plenty of race left.
So, we pressed on with the tailwind back to the northern climb and 180. The climb hurt quite a bit more this go around. Some stronger efforts were put in on the climb and I started to fade off the back. Luckily, I joined up with a small chase group of four about 10 seconds off the main field. We worked together quite well and were back on with the group just at the base of the climb post northern 180 turn. At the base of the climb, a couple more riders rolled off the front. I was still in recovery mode and couldn’t tell who had escaped from the group, but with BRE manning the front and not chasing, it was safe to assume they had one of the two guys up the road.
I was able to recover on the descent and made a few more attempts off the front, but was quickly covered. Attack, get covered, recover, attack, get covered, recover, and so on. However, like the first go around, while the attempted bridging/attacks weren’t getting away, we were making some ground on the break. Unfortunately, we were also running out of road and the field was getting antsy leading to increased bumping and fighting for position out of the wind, which led to some guys getting pushed off the road. I think all were able to recover or at least weren’t hurt in the process.
Somewhere around 20 miles to go, one of the Spokesman riders expressed his frustration with a lack of effort from BP (they didn’t have a guy in the break this time) and put in a hell of an attack. Full commitment. I wish I was better positioned to go with him. I wasn’t and didn’t and he was gone. Before the U-turn he had connected with the break (now BRE, Spokesman, and a solo rider) and they had 30+ seconds on us with a downhill and tailwind to the base of the finishing climb. Not good. Just before the U-turn a group of 4 (BP, BRE, Mikes, and a solo rider) attacked hard and due to the U-turn associated braking were able to get a sizable gap.
A few of us took the front and started the chase, but the four were pulling away. I was feeling gassed from the earlier efforts and contributed as I could, but we weren’t making up ground. Bummer. Outside of a miracle or full field effort, we were now really racing for eighth. With four miles to the finish, the other Mikes rider put in hard attack and two other riders were able to cover, but the rest of the field started to splinter. A couple of smaller chase groups were forming with five seconds or so between each of them. As we approached the base of the finishing climb, I could put in what I had left and started to come across to the Mike’s Bikes attack group, but didn’t have enough to connect. Gassed and getting passed, limped in for 14th. 2.5 hours at .95 IF and I was toast.
Good learning experience and fun to mix it up in my first master’s race. In hindsight, it would have been wise on my part to tweak the strategy mid race and move to a conserve and respond approach instead of a waste energy unnecessarily approach. Many more races on the calendar to try different strategies.