“A small victory, a Large defeat”
Pine flat RR is a 100km point to point road race with about 1300m (4300ft) of climbing, mostly packed into a big climb in the last 30km and a punishing 110m finishing climb.
breakfast: Gluten Freda granola with bananas, yogurt & milk, half a pint of orange juice, double strength hotel room coffee maker coffee.
pre-race: Half a clif bar, SIS isotonic sports gel/drink, 2 sportlegs capsules
race: 3rd of 11 in M45+ 4/5 (they started some 35+’s and other fields with us as a group and I was 5th out of the 20+ in that larger group)
post-race: chocolate milk, banana
lunch: Giant veggie burrito, chips, and a Cerveza Modelo at Chipotle in Fresno
Pre-reg had been really light for the M45+ 4/5 field. We had 28 in the field in 2013, but this year pre reg was in the single digits by the time online closed. Can’t really figure out why. It’s a beautiful course, one of the few where you don’t have to do a bunch of laps, and the climbing is really no more than we do in an average 100km ride around here. All I can think of is folks were scared by the possibility of rain. At line-up we found that they had decided to combine our M45+ 4/5s with a couple really small 35+ fields so we had at least a decent size group to ride/race with.
As with last year I decided to ignore the morning chill and rolled out dressed pretty light. Once again it was a good decision because the day turned out to be absolutely beautiful and guys who wore vests and arm warmers were either shedding them quickly or sweating and suffering.
The first hour of out and back along the rim of the lake was moderate pace with a few surges here and there on the rollers, but nothing threatening to break things up or seriously tire people for that matter. We did have one interesting fellow, a big hulking guy, charge off right after the turnaround. It looked like a classic ‘sprinter trying to get some distance before the base of a climb’ move so we let it go and sure enough, shortly into the only real rise in this section we caught back up with him. Then at the top, off he went again! We weren’t to see him again for quite a while. Otherwise things seemed quite manageable in this section and I was happy to feel like my legs were in good shape and responding well to the rollers and small surges.
After the out and back along the lake, the course crosses the start point (time to jettison my extra bottle), takes a nice fast but not really technical drop, and then heads out into the agricultural flats for a while. In our field there was one guy, Alan Bernardo, that I knew from Early Bird RR (he was 2nd at the summit turnaround and passed me on the downhill before I flatted), and two guys from Computer Associates in my field who seemed strong. One of the CA guys did a fair bit of work up front so I was keeping my eyes on the other guy.
A couple guys from the other fields also worked up front and I kept myself around 5th wheel or so. The plan had been for me to take it really easy and stay super hidden for the first 70k, but I just find it hard to ride back in the pack. Alan played it pretty cagey and stuck further to the back of the group. I only saw him when I drifted back to take a pee. Unfortunately there was no moto ref to pace me back up to the group this time and there was a lot more wind, so It was an actual chase to get back to the pack after my rolling nature break. (Dana, have you yet penned a dissertation on the psychology of chasing ? - it seems a fascinating type of sustained mental & physical anguish)
We had caught the big sprinter guy again at around 50km and he spent some time lobbying folks to join him in another escapade. Said he was a retired stockbroker who rode 400 miles a week and could time trial like hell. He proposed 80/20 split on the work and even accepted someone’s counter of 85/15. In the end nobody went with him when he took off yet again. Some time later I realized I should have gone with him to get a ways ahead so I could have taken a leisurely nature break without all that chasing back on.
Things seemed pretty under control into the early stages of the main climb and while the little cheat sheet I’d made said it started around 70km:
and a number of folks literally said goodbye around there, the only guy we lost was a strong younger rider who unfortunately flatted right at the turn that begins the climbing section. Not long after that we caught the big sprinter guy again and I gave him pat on the back for yet another gutsy, though doomed, move.
As things started to get steeper the group came unglued and Alan, who’d come up from the back as we hit the 70km point, started to make his move, as did the CA guy I’d been marking. Another guy, John Ensign from the Folsom Bike/VW/Raley's team, also came to the fore and along with a couple of the younger guys, we had a posse. I managed a few back and forth’s with John the Raley’s guy but then he, Alan, and and two guys from other fields got some distance on me. That puts me in 3rd in my category, ok, not bad, maybe I can live with it, maybe I can do better. Then the CA guy passes me, now I’m in 4th and that’s not OK, that’s bad, and so the battle is on. I’ve never really tried attacking a rider on a climb, but this was a case where it probably wasn't going to be so much what I had in the tank, but how I used it. I put in a dig and got past him, he countered but might have gone too deep, because I dug again and got enough of a gap that I could hold it to the top.
Up to that point I’d felt OK. Breathing hard but not absolutely heaving, HR near max (186), though not quite there (189), but crossing the top of the main climb both my quads went zing and all but seized. What a bizarre time for them to cramp! Now I’ve got 4 guys ahead of me (all strung out), and a few guys behind me possibly in striking distance, and my legs won’t work. Luckily it’s a fast, then more gradual downhill from the top of the climb so there’s a bit of break and a chance to spin the legs out, but it’s still looking like a shitty run through Lucas’s “Valley of despair” and I’m not sure what to do: A) Chase like hell to try to catch Raley’s guy who I can see up ahead, but risk full cramp up? B) Sit up and wait for whomever I can just see behind me (and can't tell how many there are of)? C) punt and just ride as hard as I can without seizing and see what happens?
Yup, C, punt. It seemed I could just manage to keep John from Raley’s in sight, sometimes closer, sometimes farther, the guy[s] behind me far enough away, and my legs close but not over the edge; at least I could for a while. Maybe 5km from the finish, 3km from the finishing climb, it was clear I wasn’t going to catch John on my own and that the guy or guys behind were going to catch me. It was amazing how quickly after that realization it was that they guys were on my wheel. It was the CA guy from my field and another strong guy from a different field. Now we had a bit of a chess game to work out. First item was to figure out if we were actually chasing John, or just riding our own race to the finish (there was nobody behind out group as far as I could see) .
A couple quick rotations and desultory accelerations made it clear that we were not catching the now somewhat agglomerated leaders (I think Alan soloed to the win) so now it was between the 3 of us. At 1km to go it really starts to kick up and it was pretty clear that CA guy was not going to be able to hang, but the other guy was a wildcard. I waited until about 200m to go and then gave it everything I had to successfully ride him off my wheel. Unfortunately while 200m is a long but potentially manageable distance to go from on a flat finish, it’s a loooong ways to go from on an uphill finish and I hadn’t made that adjustment. I kept it out of the saddle and at my max all the way to the line and wasn’t looking back in the last 25m or so but I guess the guy was closing because his buddies were shouting him on and I don’t think he was that far behind by the time I hit the line. The CA guy came in after him for 4th in our field, 6th overall.
There’s a half hour easy roll down from the finish and then back along the lake, and that’s one of the things I like best about this race. It’s a great chance to roll along and chat with the guys you were just duking it out with, and finally have a chance to take in what beautiful setting it is for a race.
While it was exciting to sort of get a podium spot, the real victory was simply making it through a race without a mishap. Starting with Wente last year things have not been going that well in races for me with flats, mechanicals, people crashing me out, etc., so just to ride well all the way to the end of the race was in and of itself a small victory. And since I did technically podium in my field, there was that share of the $25 prize pot waiting! Unfortunately we were one of the final fields and hanging around the reg table waiting for them to certify our results I watched the last of the Medium t-shirts go (the Smalls were already long gone) and so ended up Largely defeated in the wearable prize category (shown with one of my normal t-shirts superimposed):
It’s a pity too because the graphic (though not necc. the t-shirt color) is kinda alright. When will they figure out that the majority of cyclists are skinny folk and adjust their prize shirt orders so they don’t end up with these heaps of Larges after every event (they literally had an 18” stack of Larges left at the end of the day)
Post-race I was not in the mood to chance another mexican mishap like after Knight’s Ferry so dialed up directions to the nearest Fresno Chipotle and had a quite passable burrito the size of my head and a refreshing Modelo beer (no Bohemia there either).
- Ken Cluff