Breakfast: Cereal Medley with yogurt and berries, orange juice, coffee, more coffee
Race: 17th out of 34 in M35+ 3/4
Post-race: chocolate milk, banana, cherries (thanks Sean)
Lunch: Lanesplitters Tune-up and a pint of Racer 5
Course: The same 4.3 mile loop in Fort Ord as they’ve used for a few years now, but with a new twist as you shall see. The course is on closed roads with decent pavement and features a set of stair stepping climbs on the backside then a sweeping downhill into a short straightaway, 120 degree right and slight rise to the start and previously finish line. Between the start and the turn into the backside climbs it’s mostly rolling, but there is a section of false false flat that ends up being pretty decisive. I say it’s false false flat because it’s really just a shallow climb ( red section on profile ) that people try to deny the existence of because they know it just leads into the real climbs.
Traditionally the race has finished with an uphill sprint to where the red arrow is, after the downhill and the right hand turn.
Due to timing constraints Sean and I had to race the 9:50am M35+ 3/4 race rather than more age appropriate 45+ 3/4 later in the day. That meant a 6:15 pick-up at Sean’s for the 2+ hourish drive down to Seaside/Ft. Ord. On the way down we discussed the adaption of our general purpose teamwork plan (“Ken chases breaks, Sean blocks; If Ken’s not in a break at the finish, he helps Sean by riding as fast as he can at the end, hopefully with Sean on his wheel” ) to the CCCX finish.
We got there in good time, got our numbers and started to warm up, Sean on the course and me on my rollers to start with. A Kovarus racer I’d been previously introduced to named Lynden came by and we chatted for a bit. He’s a recently upgraded to Cat 3 45+ and always a strong finisher so I was happy to have him to try to key off of. In the course of chatting he mentioned that the finish had been moved to the top of the backside climbs (blue arrow in the profile above). That sounded like good news to me, but i wasn’t sure how much Sean would like it and what it would do to our infallible plan for race domination.
With this new wrinkle I figured it was best to head out for a lap on the course to alert Sean and see how a finish at the top might play out. Lyndon said that that the E4’s field had come apart on the first of the backside climbs, which seemed to make sense as it’s the toughest.
Our field looked pretty big at the start, with good representation from teams like Pen Velo, Kovarus, Don Chapin, and an outfit unknown to me: One Way. Sean spied some iRT guys and said to watch out for them. I tried to point out my friend Lynden to Sean.
Sean was nearby for the first lap which was frisky but not crazy, but as per usual my nervousness (mostly about breakaways, not crashes with this field/course) I started to keep myself up in the top 10-15 riders and Sean stowed himself away in the more protected part of the pack.
For the next few laps things were pretty consistently frisky with breaks going off on the front side climb (false false flat) and sometimes over the top of the stair steps. I spent too much energy chasing breaks & surges on the first few laps, but several times it looked like the composition of a break was good and had the potential of staying away if the riders were committed and the rest of their teams played it smart. Unfortunately neither of them seemed to happen. One Way did appear to have a road captain who called a few shots, but more often you saw riders chasing down breaks that had their own team members in them, or the break just sitting up after going hard for just a little bit. On thing I did learn in the early laps was that even though folks were going pretty hard on the front side of the course, I could generally handle the pace of the backside climbs and several times had relatively easily moved up to be in 4th or 5th wheel over the top just to have a nice clean descent down the hill and not have to chase any surges down at the bottom.
After a particularly hard to close gap really wasted me with 3 to go, and it felt like cramps might be coming on, I decided that there was both no sense in chasing, and not much chase left in me anyways. Newly resolved to lay low, I tried my best to rest on the penultimate lap, but then on the final lap found myself out of position on the front side climb and ended up coming unstuck from the back of the 25 person or so main pack.
This was the make or break moment. I’d been mulling over defeat and abandonment at a few times earlier in the race, and if ever there was a time to throw in the towel, this seemed like it. Luckily there appeared a Pen Velo guy with a bit of fight in him and we traded pulls and took a bit off the gap before he popped. That left me close enough to another rider ( was he from a different field, I’ll never tell…) that I could slingshot off his draft and hit the start of the little downhill into the turn at the bottom of the backside stairsteps with a good head of steam. That momentum, plus delaying breaking for the turn until the last possible moment, brought me back into contact with the main group as we started the final backside climb.
Now there was hope, albeit tempered by the fact that I’d just chased for 1.5km and had been running at 187 BPM for two minutes already. Luckily my experience of the last few climbs played out in this final one and though it required staying completely maxed out, I was able to get up to near the front and park myself on Lynden’s wheel going into the second to last rise before the finish. Unfortunately this is where the race exploded. The final climb is too short and too shallow to make for a real sprint, so everyone had decided to start the sprint on the rise before it. I think that’s why things eased off a bit (as you can see in the HR line) just before that second to last climb started:
Needless to say I lost Lynden’s wheel, and pretty much everyone else’s, up that 2nd to last rise, so decided I’d have to just stay at my best sustainable pace and hope to reel in some folks who’d gone to hard too soon. There were definitely riders completely spent and sitting up midway up the little finishing climb, and I did manage to pass a few, but as it turns out, I needed to pass just two more. When USAC posted the results ( https://www.usacycling.org/results/?year=2014&id=473&info_id=77911 ) my finishing position was 17th out of 34 overall, but I was 3rd out of the 11 or so Cat 4’s in the race, and the other two Cat 4’s that finished ahead were right in front of me in 15th and 16th. That was a little victory, though one that would have been sweeter had I managed to nip past them. Another observation on the results was that the ages of the top 3 finishers were 35, 35, and 36. As a 52 year old Cat 4 I’m not feeling so bad about this result against a such a young and Cat 3 heavy field. Interestingly, according to USAC’s weird rating system that takes into account the rankings of the other racers, this was ranked as my second best result of the year beating podiums and top 10’s in less competitive fields.
This has always been a favorite course for me, and now with the new finish suits me even better. Unfortunately I’m not around for the next one on Aug 2nd to give it a go again, though that would definitely be in an E4 or 45+ 3/4 field. Sean may race it though, and I’m sure he’d love company….
After a brief cool-down Sean and I popped our recovery beverages out of the cooler and hopped in the car for the long drive home. I scarfed a banana and then Sean busted out a bag of delicious cherries which carried me most of the way to Sean’s place without audible tummy rumbling. From Sean’s it was just a quick hop over to the Lanesplitters on San Pablo where I had a Tune Up (slice and salad), a Racer 5, and another slice, before heading home. Guess I was hungry because instead of a glorious shot of my about to be consumed meal, I just have this sort of sad aftermath pic:
- Ken Cluff