There are a lot of factors that come into play when racing bikes, but there is one common foe that throws a wrench at all competitors: wind.
I’ve heard that conditions for the Lake Elizabeth Road Race could be brutal, but even racing in windy conditions before, I still wasn’t prepared for something this tough before.
My confidence for a high placement was up with some good training early in the week and going up against the smallest field I’ve raced against.
That all changed the moment I got out of the car.
Apparently, the wind picks it up in the afternoon and already at noon it was in full force.
I could see riders struggling to finish their race and a couple of friends from OTR Racing were tending to a teammate who broke his collarbone in a wind related crash.
On paper, the course itself looks very similar to the UCLA Road Race: a big climb to start, a little rollers, a long downhill, some flatness followed by a short climb to the finish.
Each lap has about 25% less climbing at about 1k ft, but is a little longer at 13.6 miles.
Once again, I raced the 35+ Cat 4/5 race which featured three laps.
I traveled again with my friend Bernd and after downing two bottles of water forty minutes before the race, we were good to go.
Together, we led the group out up the first climb at an extremely pedestrian keeping the entire group together.
Anyone could have passed us, but with that strong headwind, anyone following would have had the advantage of drafting.
A climb right off the bat
After we hit the peak, I relinquished my spot at the front as Johnny, the most well-dressed rider in the group, took the majority of the pulls on this gliding downhill stretch.
I didn’t realize that I had ridden part of this portion before during the Santa Clarita Gran Fondo, as all the green from the recent rains have transformed the area’s look.
At mile five, we hit turned onto Munz Ranch Road which had bump of a climb before we started a deceptively fast four mile downhill.
I don’t know how I got these skills, but my descending has greatly improved over the years and I was able to move to the front not for any aspirations to breakaway, but just to avoid any crashes at these high speeds.
It was pretty shocking to look down at my Garmin to see me hit 50 mph which wasn’t just a product of the 4% descent, but from the deceptive heavy tailwinds.
The group caught up near the bottom and we all took a cautious turn right after the superbloom onto Fairmont Neenach Road heading eastward and directly downwind.
This was a short reprieve because before we knew it we turned south directly into the crosswind.
This was like flipping on the switch in a wind tunnel and felt pretty demoralizing.
We had a another short segment that turned us eastward again which made me laugh from the contrast of conditions before we turned south back into it for the final 2.2 mile approach to complete the first lap.
I did my first piece of racing there as I took off from the group hoping a handful would form a pack, but only one came across before everyone else came on.
This stretch slowly transitioned from a slight downhill into a slight uphill, but even when we hit the flat section, I put my chain into the small ring to deal with the winds.
As we started the climb on lap 2, I assumed my position at the front, but I pretty much held the same pace as lap 1.
I looked back and we had shed a few riders, but a majority of the racers were still involved.
Near the top, Johnny accelerated making it the first non-me race move of the day.
Lap 2 picks up
I made the group a few slots back, but I knew my positioning was tenuous enough that if one of the people in front dropped off, I might have trouble moving ahead and latching back on.
As we went over the peak, our pack thinned out to eight moving at a pretty decent clip to keep the remaining riders behind.
The next move came at the kicker before the long decent when a different rider decided to take off from the group.
He had a pretty big gap, but I decided to give it a go in closing it up, but ended up doing it alone.
I slowly made progress primarily staying in the tuck position while the other rider took shifts back and forth pedaling.
With about a half mile left on the descent, I passed him, but I didn’t have any big aspirations that the two of us could hold off the pack.
Gaining on the breakaway move.
I was just hoping a couple more would have joined and we could divide and conquer.
Once we hit the crosswind section, it was grouppo compacto and the group even expanded to nine.
With about a mile left in the lap, Johnny who was doing most of the work dropped his chain and in a questionable move, two riders took off.
Fortunately, they were caught and brought down to speed enough that Johnny was able to catch up, but that was not a sporting move.
This time, I was for sure not leading this climb as Johnny and my previous breakaway partner led the climb.
They both weaved across the road trying to expose the followers to the wind, but most of the group held on.
We were moving at a faster pace than when I led, but I was exerting about the same or less amount of energy having the opportunity to draft.
As things cooled down a bit, Roel, who I met at Phil Gaimon’s cleanup, called my name as I didn’t recognize him in his gear.
I think our casual chatter irritated the front of the group because just as it was getting cordial, the leaders took off.
The pace picked up a little more near the top and as we went over our group whittled down to seven.
I took it easy on the rollers, but made sure to position myself before hitting the kicker for the last time.
Sure enough, things got spicy and a couple took off to make a break that I knew I had to join.
A chase after the kicker.
The hope was that the three of us would have the initiative to hold off the other four before we hit the windy section since that would be a hard spot for them to bridge the gap.
Once again, I was in the front most of the time and even after Roel took some pulls, but looking at my Strava, this descent was a second slower than my previous lap when I did it solo.
As a result, the pack of four caught us as we hit the poppies and with the looming crosswinds ahead, everyone seemed resigned to take it easy until a bunch sprint.
Just eyeballing this group, I kinda knew I wasn’t the leading sprinter of the bunch.
I wanted to position myself to the left to be protected from the crosswinds, but I found myself front and center, half resigned to just let things happened.
As we approached the 200m sign, speeds slowly began to ramp up until finally we committed to a sprint.
It was at that point that I got out of the saddle and my race was over.
As soon as my leg straightened, a major cramp shot out on my inner thigh which is exponentially painful because you can’t stop spinning at that point.
I had taken three water bottles with me for the race and downed one per lap, but the next step for me is to start adding in some hydration mixes.
Not that I would have won the race, but I’m at least curious to see what I could have done after all that work.
On the bright side, I was with the lead group the entire way and even did a little racing mixed in there.
While I love hills, the wind was a soul-sucking nuisance most of the way.
The best thing I can say is everyday is a great day to ride a bike.