Aug 30, 2014 Challenge Road Race Race, Challenge, CA
Breakfast: Cereal Medley with yogurt, raisins and banana, orange juice, NO coffee
Race: 1st out of 11? in M45+/4 , 1st in larger combined M35+/M45+ 4/5 field
Post-race: ½ banana, OJ
Lunch: Veggie skillet with pancakes and toast, coffee and more coffee. “La Biere de Beloeil” Belgian beer when I got home
The Challenge RR course is a 52km ( 31mi ) loop starting and ending in Challenge, CA which is a little town some 45 minutes into the hills from Marysville. The course has about 1050m (3500 ft) of climbing per lap, divvied up into 3 major sections. All fields start with a neutral roll down the horribly bumpy, patched and pitted Oregon Hill Rd. ( holds it’s own with the worst of Copperopolis and Leesville ) so when the race starts you’re already at a significantly lower altitude than the finish line. Once racing starts, you climb about 250m up a set of stairsteps, then roller coaster a bit before the long plunge all the way to a bit after the turn onto New York House Rd., about 38km in. It then does a steep climb, short drop, then a set of climbs topping out at about 47km before plunging to the turn onto the finishing straight at 49km. The final 3km are roughly 1km climb, 1km flat, 1km climb to finish with the climb sections being 5% to 8%.
The lower cats only do one lap so we don’t have to race the crappy downhill, which is a strong disincentive for catting up ;-)
This year I drove up Firday and stayed at a kinda dumpy but super friendly hotel in Brownsville ( https://plus.google.com/101644360389685738632/about?gl=us&hl=en ) which gave me the opportunity to pre ride the last 20k of the course and formulate my plan. Previously I’d put in a hard effort on the steep climb at 38km but it just succeeded in dragging the stronger part of the field with me then leaving me blown for the bigger climbing starting at 43km in. This year the plan was just to mark on that first climb and put in a hard effort of the next one to drop some folks. During my pre ride I also noted that a hard effort in the last little pitch at 46km could potentially stay away by bombing the downhill, hitting first km of finish straight hard, recovering on 2nd km, then powering the final km. The fly in the ointment of all this planning was that the guy who won it last year was in attendance with about 4 team mates, and the guy who came in 4th was also here with a few of his own.
They combined our field of 11 or so 45+ 4’s with the 35+ 4’s and 35+ / 45+ 5’s to make a total field of around 20 which rolled out shortly before 9:00. The kidney rattling neutral roll down Oregon Hill generally leads to a quick group pee at the bottom before he starter gives the go and this year was no exception. A couple of the young guns seemed frisky and things got uncharacteristically hot on the first set of climbs, to the point where we were 7 or so in a lead group over the top of the last crest. I liked the fact that we had 2 of 5 Body Concepts guys (including last year’s winner) and 1 of 3 Sho-Air guys in our group, so encouraged the friskyness by keeping the pace up whenever things started to lag. On the first part of the downhill we came to one of only 3 technical turns on the whole course, and the SJBC rider in 2nd position overcooked the turn right in front of me and went off into the dirt walled shoulder. I thought his bike was going to pop out and take me down, but made it past OK. That left 6 of us by the time we got onto the big fast downhill of Marysville Rd.
We worked well together on Marysville Rd. and the remainder of the pack grew ever more distant, though the remounted SJBC rider said afterwards that he was only about 2 min behind. On the first steep climb after the turn onto Frenchtown I stuck with the plan and just kept pace with the group and deployed an array of annoying psychological devices like talking a lot, sitting up and smoothing the wrinkles out of my jersey, and generally making it look like I wasn’t finding it that hard. It did and didn’t work because after the race the guy in second remarked that I didn’t seem to be working hard enough so it spurred him on to push the pace.
The next steep bit kicked up to over 13% at times and that’s when I figured a few already tired folks could be dropped, and indeed a solid effort here reduced our group to 4, one frisky guy from another field and the two body concepts guys. I knew pretty much all 3 of them could take me on a shallow grade like the finshishing few km, so there was only one last bit of the plan that could give me the win.
Right around 46km there is a 500m steep kick up that leads to a false flat then a fast plunge to the turn onto the finishing straight. I’d already had the other guys struggling a bit and so I hit this section with everything I had and opened a good gap by the top. Now the challenge was to hold it until I could get to the downhill. That was probably the hardest km of the race because I could see them trying to get organized behind me and starting to close.
Luckily I knew the downhill really well and was able to take it at full speed in my tightest tuck an hold off braking until the last moment before the turn onto La Porte Rd with about 3km to go. From there it was supposed to be autopilot because I’d already worked out the times to go, recover, downshift, sprint etc, but now there was a new wrinkle.
As I closed in on 1km to go, I started coming up onto the back of two follow cars following behind the top level women’s field who were just finishing their first lap. No way was I going to let my gap evaporate because I was boxed in by their entourage. I passed the back car on the right, swung left and passed the next car and then the field puffing and blowing like a locomotive. They were a bit confused not realizing that there were fields doing only one lap, but I was able to get far enough ahead of them (and even my first pursuer got ahead of them) to be able to coast in across the line with a whoop and a holler and a proper hands in the air celebration.
The win meant a lot to me because this Challenge RR was the first one I did with my brand new USAC license back in 2011, and because ever since then I’ve been chasing a win. Now, in the closing moments of the season, I finally got it, and in a very satisfying way. It’s also probably the last win (or even podium) I’ll get in a long time because if I race next year I really should cat up to the 3’s where I’ll get my ass kicked routinely.
Right beside the hotel is a little country diner restaurant and I was bound and determined to do my bit for the race by patronizing the local joints as much as possible. In the case of Annie Ruth’s, it was a good move. I’m all for a menu that carries breakfast options well into the afternoon, and they had this in spades. I ordered a veggie skillet which was flawless in its description save the faustian bargain of pancakes or toast. In the spirit of ZATAOMM, I split the horns of the dilemma and said I wanted the veggie skillet with pancakes and toast, to which request the server graciously acquiesced after I explained my post bike race caloric deficit situation. Here was the result:
No bacon*, I admit, though it did hit the spot.
* For those convinced of the necessity of animal products for top cycling performance, I will confess that in my semi-reformed vegetarian state I did have something called an ‘Italian Wrap’ for my pre-race dinner which contained gargantuan quantities of smoked ham and salami, though I did pare them down to a level that my evolving gut flora could handle.
- Ken Cluff