After an eighteen months hiatus, Mr. CiclaValley finally returned to racing in semi emphatic style. Not that I wanted to take this much time off, but a knee injury followed by another knee injury followed by bad rehab followed by more bad rehab made 2015 a lost year.
I should have written this column two weeks ago after the UCSB Road Race, but I got a DNS(Did Not Start) from waking up sick the morning of. Earlier last week, I felt like a similar fate would happen again as I felt another sickness coming on from all the mucus laden children spreading germs at a Super Bowl party.
With something lingering in my throat, I took a couple of days off and thought to skip the race, not being in good shape, but then I thought, this would be my way back.
Not wanted to go it alone, I coaxed my friend, Daniel, to come along. He’s a better cyclist than me, but he’s been over-worked and under-riding since the start of the year. Under normal circumstances, he would be a contender to win this race, but being able to fit in one ride a week makes it tough to perform at that level.
If you’re unfamiliar with USA Cycling, this was a Category 5 race, meaning this is where you start. To move up to Cat 4, you have to have ten races under your belt. That’s not to say there aren’t experienced riders at this level, just one that haven’t raced a lot. Another thing: spotting the newbies wasn’t hard.
Parked right next to us was a young man dressed in a Team Sky kit, socks, sunglasses and HELMET. He even had a Pinarello. I said to Daniel, “This has got to be his first race.”
When we got to the starting line, Chris Froome Jr. started asking all sorts of questions. What’s the center line rule? What happens if I get a flat? Do I get a yellow jersey if I win? I might have made one of those questions up, but that was all the reason to start near the front of the pack. I don’t know if that guy has even ridden in a group before. How many of those were here today?
Things got off to a casual start as you could tell from Daniel’s smile..
The profile of the course below is a bit deceptive. After a mile of relative flatness, you get a steadily rising 1.3 mile climb that averages 6% before you get a thirty second downhill breather. Then there’s a second .9 mile climb with three “rolling” sections averaging 7%.
The peak gradually transitions into a 5 mile descent which turns you into a 2.8 stretch slightly inclining at 2%. You then finish the lap sprinting .6 miles at 6% with it kicking near 9% at the finish line. As for us Cat 5 racers, we would do two laps.
The race was off and it was pretty much a neutral start for the first couple of minutes. As we transitioned in the first hill there were a few changes of positions, a couple people going out front, but by the time we reached the first peak, a good group of us were still altogether.
Things didn’t seem to change up the second hill, as I thought only a few more dropped off. One thing I’m good at is recovery, so when I reached the peak, I gunned it hoping a few would join me to create some separation. Nope.
Things were slowly thinning out on the second climb.
For the first couple of miles, it seemed like my lead was growing. Instead of looking to form a group, I started thinking about scoring the Prime for being in front after the first lap. At that point, I saw my friend, Nora, who was in the women’s race that started five minutes earlier. I tried saying hello as I passed, but all of it got lost in the wind.
Whatever I did, I slowed down enough that someone passed me pretty quickly. He looked back to see if I could grab his wheel, but I didn’t have enough speed. Looking back, that was my biggest mistake of the day. I heard he didn’t get passed until after the first hill on the second lap. I’m not saying I would have won if we worked together, but I probably would of had a better finish(he got fourth).
Someone finally tries to bridge me on the straightaway.
I could see behind me the pack coming up on me. I wasn’t going full bore to hold them off, but for some reason, they had trouble catching me. Right as the point on the flat portion that I thought I would be caught, someone came in front of me, but just him. I thought the whole group would come, but it was just the two of us.
I asked him how many was in his group(“about 15”) and we worked together a bit before the next hill before he dropped me as the pitch kicked up. As I completed my first lap, my friends Austen & Aaron from OTR Racing were cheering me on and I had to pose for the camera, of course. At least most people got the joke:
At least I got a few laughs! (Photo: Austen Czapla)
At the start of the lap, the race official whirled up on his motorcycle to tell me I was 1:05 back from the leader. I’ve never been close enough at a race to get a time check, so I’ll consider that a victory.
On the start of hill #1 again, a couple riders passed me heading straight up to the leaders and then another five riders mulled around me. I looked back for Daniel, but I couldn’t see him anywhere at this point. I started the second hill with another three riders that slowly pulled away, but I didn’t panic as I figured I could use my transitional and descending skills to catch them on the downhill.
As Hannibal would say to the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Sure enough, I caught the trio and as I passed, I yelled and signaled that we should work together on the descent. That went nowhere, as I stayed in the front the whole way down, even touching the brakes a couple of times so I wouldn’t get too far ahead.
Right as things flattened out, Daniel came up on my side! I was pretty ecstatic that he came out of nowhere to catch on and I was eager to see him finish strong up the last hill, who’s profile really suits him.
During this straight away, things got casual in our small pack and conversation was exchanged. At one point, Daniel unzipped his jersey followed by a couple of guys that though this was a signal for a move(it wasn’t). With about a mile and a half left in the race, another two riders caught our group which didn’t sit well with me.
The look from my last group before things kicked in.
I decided to kick things up a notch. Would I beat this whole crew to the finish line? I had no illusions about that, but I wasn’t going to let anymore catch our group. I held the lead of this pack until the steep part of the final hill kicked in. Five guys passed me(not the burgers) and it was at that point I expected Daniel to zoom right on by, but that
I held my position until the finish line and Daniel placed right behind me. In all, I came in 10th place out of 67 riders, which is my best finish to date. I should be happy about that, but there were definitely missed opportunities.
If there’s one thing to learn about these races, its that there isn’t great organization to chase down moves since everyone pretty much races for themselves. There were points that if I kept the gas pedal down, I never would have been caught by that last group which eventually dropped me. Also, jumping on the scale the next day to see that I weighed 193.5 pounds was another sign there’s room for improvement.
This is a fun race and a good little course to put yourself to the test. I’ll probably be racing again in the next month, but until then, I’ll be playing Monday Morning Quarterback until I pin a number on my jersey again.