If there was one road race I was looking forward to, it was this past weekend’s UCLA Road Race.
Part of it is being the one race I’ve done the most and the fact that it’s the closest.
That’s not the most compelling reasoning, but it’s a course that favors skills over tactics and is a good barometer to see where you’re at.
Originally, I was aiming to ride the 35+ 4/5s again, but with last week’s snow flurry and lingering coldness, I wanted to avoid the 7am start.
Instead, I was looking to complete me first Cat 4 race which scheduled for almost three hours later looked to at least have temperatures above freezing at the start.
For me, I wanted to put my best foot forward for this race and starting in October, I significantly upped my training and eating habits enough that I was in the best cycling shape of my life.
Then an incident in November altered my dietary resolve followed by a crash in December where ignoring rest was wrecking my body that I shut my riding down for over a week in January.
The discovery of massage balls got me into place where I could push it again, but trying to cram all that fitness back in before the race got another slap in the face after crashing out of the Nichols Ride a week before the race.
…just another Nichols crash…
I feel like I came out ahead with minor repairs needed on my bike and no blood whatsoever, but I did come out bruised and still feeling uneasy on that side as of press time.
Showing up to the race, I arrived super early so much that I drove around the course in the opposite direction taking note if there were any indication of black ice.
The roads looked like they were in good shape and the riders who were into their second lap weren’t as bundled up for the cold as I thought they’d be.
With still a lot of time before the race, I walked over to registration to run into John and Sarah who run the great chapter of the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition.
I was definitely enjoying talking to them instead of preparing for the race, but Sarah was kind enough to hand water bottles off to me taking a big load off my shoulders.
The San Gabriel Mountains provided a majestic and flaked background
On the way back from picking up my number, I ran into young Nick and his dad Axel who came out to Phil’s Clean Up a month ago.
For Nick, this was also his first race of the year, but as a seventeen year old, he also was signed up in the Cat 4 race instead of going up against juniors.
I gave him my rundown of the course saying there isn’t much strategy on the first three miles, which is about surviving the climbs.
The following five mile descent is a place where a group should make up time, but at this level I expect the coordination to be pretty disorganized to take advantage.
The remaining four miles is a light climb followed by a steeper pitch in the last mile that’s a tough place to play catch up.
Our race was four laps, so I thought midway through the third would be the best spot to make a run at it.
Unfortunately, after all this yammering, I now had only 20 minutes to get ready which involved me shedding my vest and cap while replacing my arm warmers and knickers with lighter layers.
The riders in the race before looked cold, but not as much as I thought…
Still, I had a long sleeve base layer underneath that I would later regret.
With no real warm up, I made it to the line just as John’s 45+ race took off and five minutes our group of 20 already racing.
I expected the first lap to be an easy one and Nick was right at the front leading us at tempo.
Then not even ten minutes into the race, a team of three riders launched ahead.
As I closed the gap, one of them went ahead which seemed early to make a move and the rest of the bunch didn’t feel the urgency to chase either.
The gap continued to grow as we hit the second part of the climb, but as we went over the top, about two thirds of the riders were still in contact.
If there was a spot to close the gap, the long downhill should be an easy place to do it as it should take very little effort for a big group to chase down one rider.
The biggest problem at this level is not knowing how to work together to take advantage of drafting down the hill.
If you’re well versed enough, you’ll be as frustrated as me watching this video with other riders not taking the initiative to whip around the lead rider.
Ugghh….Maybe I’ll do a column just off that video.
You can see it off my shadow at the end, but my head keeps turning as I was signaling to other riders to come around me so the paceline would pick up speed, but that was not the case.
Even the teammates didn’t take much of an opportunity to go to the front to slow us down.
Poor Nick had trouble hanging onto to the group, not because of skill, but as a junior was using restricted gears where spinning does no good at these speeds.
At the bottom of the descent, we had closed part of the gap, but not enough to make contact.
The eastward portion of the lap had a couple of riders do the majority of the pulls and the lead rider still seemed to be in reach.
As we made the turn north, the pace got grindy on the climb finishing the first lap and the next two on the second.
I was teetering with holding onto the group with another rider from La Grange which had whittled down from 13 to 9.
On the downhill before the last climb, the time it took to roll up my overheating base layer was enough to create a gap that ended up stretching to 25 seconds by the time I reached the top.
Drifting off while cooling off
As I was going over, I came up to the La Granger signaling to work together to catch the lead group which was totally possible seeing how things played out on the first lap.
We did a great job taking turns and about halfway down the hill, I knew that we would catch them.
The biggest problem was getting around the cars on the road….
Getting back to the front
Making contact, the group kept a decent, but not backbreaking pace after making the turn.
At this point, we were starting to pass a few riders from the 45+ race who were also doing four laps as well.
The race changed as we went into the last turn of the lap as the pace picked up for the climb.
I have tons of excuses from being dressed too warm to dressed to worn and even wearing shoes that should be retired, but the most problematic part was not being in shape and weighing nine pounds more than I was.
Getting dropped like a pile of bricks is a fun thing to say, but not experience in person.
At this point the race felt over and after completing the second lap, I was asking myself, what was the point?
I never answered that question and just kept peddling for no good reason than I was already out here.
Upon finishing the third climb (and not recognizing Michael Wagner), I passed a rider from the earlier race who stayed on my wheel before dropping him at the end of the lap.
He came in front of me only once, but maybe it was the near catastrophe that kept him behind.
Who let the dogs out?
While that dog looked old and slow, dealing with that type of unpredictability can be scary at 40 mph.
As I neared the bell lap, I began passing a rider here and there from the earlier race.
Up ahead, I say a rider in a La Grange kit thinking maybe I can at least improve my position after riding solo for an hour.
That gave me a little hop to my step, so I picked up my pace to pass…
Pass someone, but not changing position
…only to realize it was a different rider.
At the top of the climb, I looked back down to see if anyone from my race was anywhere in sight, but I could see no one all the way back meaning I had at least a five minute lead.
From this point, I took the race easy as part of my biggest worries the night before I crashing at full speed down that descent.
As I was crossing the line, the La Granger I passed on this lap decided to sprint past me as if it was going to have an effect on our standings.
Sprint finish because???
I hung out alongside Sarah waiting a few minutes for John very grateful she helped handing out bottles cause right then I cramped a part of my leg I never knew existed before.
The race didn’t go as planned, but I had more questions when I got home looking at my stats where my fastest lap and splits wasn’t anything near the times I’ve put up in this race previously.
With this UCLA Road Race, maybe my race schedule is over for 2019, but I’m definitely taking a step back to enjoy some epic rides.
….which may fuel me to race again someday!