(photo by: Travis Remp)
The UCLA Road Race is like that dreaded yearly meet up with family members.
You know it’s going to suck up hours of your life, it’s painful, yet every year you learn how to deal with things just a little better.
I was back for my 4th go around Saturday, this time in the 35+ 4/5 Category which features three laps around the Juniper Hills circuit.
While I’m still basking from my afterglow of my recent 2nd place finish, optimism wasn’t high going in.
Of course, a cold the week before would hold back my training, but the larger issue was my bike.
Remember, I crashed out of the Cat 4 race and I hadn’t ridden the bike until the day before.
Fortunately, I have a temporary front wheel I could use, but the bike didn’t feel all the way there.
To make matters worse, police activity caused a more crowded than usual subway ride Friday with a couple of people bashing parts of my bike.
Pretty setting for a bike race.
Since it was raining by the time I got home, it was hard to gauge how weird things felt.
I woke up super early to give it a test ride concluding I would give it a go rather than reconfiguring my oversized gravel bike for the race.
Once again, Bernd and I drove together getting there a little over an hour before the race.
Rain was still coming down and the parking area was muddy, so the commitment to getting ready was not strong.
We threw everything together just minutes before the start (also thanks to my trips to the port-o-potty) which was a little harder while staying out of the mud.
The best part of the morning was having my teammate, Einhard pull up and listen to him and Bernd speak in German.
Why doesn’t it ever sound like we have this much fun speaking English?
The rain subsided just in time, the mountains were the most snow filled of any race I’ve experienced here and the temps in the low 40s seemed manageable.
We were soon off in a group that I guessed numbered under 30 riders, so beating my best finish of 10th here at UCLA had promise.
The 12.4 mile loop is tough, deceptive and requires a lot of attention.
After a lazy first downhill mile, you face a 1.3 mile climb averaging 6% which winds through the hillside with very few hints of where you’re heading.
At the top, you turn west with a short fifteen second downhill reprieve followed by a .7 mile climb at 7% that’s hard to gauge with the perspective around. Really, just consider these two climbs as one.
The small break between two the climbs.
You get a few rollers at the top leading to a fast, five mile descent.
The next 2.5 miles has a slight pitch to it, but the wind can be the greater enemy. You end the lap with a one mile climb that gets steeper until you hit the finish line.
The start to our race was pretty pedestrian as we hit the beginning climbs. It shedded a few riders, but as we hit the downhill, someone took off ahead of the group.
There was a KOM prize after the first lap after all. The group didn’t panic and as we hit the uphill straightaway, it was evident that our loose cannon was going to be caught.
As we were nearing him, I grabbed one of my two bottles for a sip dropping it in the middle of the pack.
Fortunately, the bottle didn’t take out anyone, but it left me with quite a dilemma.
On my previous Cat 5 races here, I definitely went through both bottles.
Now that I’m doing an extra lap, I only had one.
It’s a fact that I need at least 50% more water than most people, especially with the stress of race situations, so I was definitely panicking how I would get through the rest of the race.
After settling myself down, my new plan was to ride steady, hope that others would help chase down breakaways and leave some in the tank for the last half lap.
We turned for the final climb on the first lap and by my count, the lead group was now at twenty riders, but I knew that some would struggle on this part.
Grinding my way past the first lap. (photo by: Travis Remp)
With the KOM in sight, there wasn’t a lot of movement to take it until the last 150 meters when two riders contested for it.
As we went over, a rider whose wheel I followed on the Santa Barbara race because of his surges took off before the main hill portion.
I didn’t react hoping this was too early and save some energy, so I was willing to see how this would play out with two laps left.
The pace was much faster on the hills this go around and riders began dropping off the back.
As we hit the peak, the group thinned out to eight and in most cases, this should be enough to bring the first rider back.
This included Jason, who I met in Santa Barbara which was his first race, but unfortunately flatted out early.
The long downhill was an ideal place to pick up speed, but it wasn’t like the group wasn’t willing, just uncoordinated.
Everyone knew we were trying to form a paceline, but executing it was a different story.
A couple of the riders were able to keep it going, but others were rotating correctly and I spent too much time touching my brakes.
Bottom line, we didn’t come close to gaining on the rider and when we hit the straightaway section, the poor group workmanship continued.
As we neared the last climb of the lap, I exchanged some pleasantries with Colin from my previous race who would have won the award for most pulls of the day.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last long as he took off with the KOM winner as the climb started.
Seeing how I was down to my last bit of water, I just tried to find a solid tempo and stick to it.
Their lead would continue to grow, but I was gaining distance on the other riders behind as we started the big climb on the final lap.
One thing that was becoming apparent was one of those clicking noises that leads to a snap, so I was praying the bike would stay together grinding on the steeper parts.
Alone reaching the top on my third time around.
As I hit the peak, I considered waiting up for the three riders behind me to form a posse to catch the two in front, but remembering the lack of teamwork before, I figured I would take my chances and hit the downhill full throttle.
That strategy did work, as Strava told me I gained a couple of seconds on the threesome, but while I could see the pair had fractured in front of me, catching either of them was going to be tough.
As I hit the straightaway, I could definitely feel my energy fade, so I kept it just a notch below my top speed hoping my body wouldn’t shut down.
About halfway through this stretch, a La Grange rider passed me and I did my best to grab his wheel.
He was one of the most cooperative on our previous failed paceline, so when he asked to work together, I was willing to cede 4th place if he would help keep the last pair away.
Not only did this work as planned, but he ended up taking the majority of pulls before the last climb.
This was also the spot where my camera died out since I didn’t charge it so good or write about it in proper english either.
Steaming to the finish…(photo by Travis Remp)
As the pitch picked up, my partner pulled away which I was tempted to hold onto, but I was pretty parched and didn’t want to flame out as the pair behind had gained a little more ground on me.
The distance seemed to hold, but I made sure that I had a little left in the tank in case a sprint was coming.
As we neared the finish line, it was almost like watching planes in the air lined up for landing at LAX as positions 2 – 7 seemed to be an equal distance from each other.
If someone told me before the race that I’d be finishing 5th, I would have been ecsastic, but the racers in us always look to improve.