Saturday, August 27, 2011

Winters RR (Troy)

August 27, 2011 - Winters, CA
48M (2 x 24M loop)

Finally.  We've wanted to do this race and this year we get to.  It's two 24-mile loops with 1 significant climb in the middle.  My sister, Tracy, is baby sitting the kids so both Robin and I can race.  We've been very busy lately and behind on sleep and training so really hoping not to get dropped from the pack.

I haven't planned things well lately and in the same fashion I begin the race with no gloves, no gel packs, and no pre-ride of the course.  The nice thing about 2 loops is being able to scout out the course the first time around.

Fellow Victory Velo teammates, Walt and Randy are in the group of 50 riders.  I'm glad to have friends in the blue-and-white.  Also, my friend Vince Hoffart is next to me and gives me insight on the race and some of the other riders.

We head out of town and I'm near the back.  After the neutral section, the official pulls off and we on our merry way.  It is a merry pace.  Calm. Slow.  I think everyone wants to remain fresh for the hill.  Right after I think, "maybe I shouldn't be this far back because of crashes.."  someone clips a wheel 3 bikes ahead and goes down, taking another guy with them.  Thankfully I was able to just get around them and the riders weren't hurt either.

Finally I get farther to the front and make some conversation with some other riders.  I go to the front a couple times but very short, just feeling it out. I'm also trying to conserve and not get frustrated with the slow pace.  My plan is to ride up the hill well and then use my descending skill to bridge up to join any break-away.

We start climbing a little and weaving in and out of the small canyons.  It's a good course.  After the feed zone, the climbing gets steeper.  Then it gets real steep at a switchback.  I'm thinking this may continue for another mile but I'm glad to see that was it!  We're over the top and only 1 guy is ahead of me.  I pass him as he slows and I dive into the first turn.  The next turn is a left hair-pin, like descending Shirland Tract Rd back in Auburn.

I'm happy with my quick line through the hair-pin and now that I've seen it, feel I can go even faster the next time.  The rest is gradual and I soon turn onto a main road that is flat again.  I got ahead about 10 secs on the main pack which is a great confidence builder.  The hill didn't seem as hard as I expected.

I re-group with the pack and it feels like we're all together, but I don't see Vince.  I'm hoping he's ok.  The road is smooth and the pace mellow.  Another group is passing us so the official puts up a red sign to put us in neutral so that the other group can get past and well away before we get back to racing.

I'd used the bathroom before we started, but immediately I had to go again.  I'd been wondering what to do and now I had my chance.  I'd seen the pros do it in the Tour de France… go to the back, turn sideways… you can figure out the rest.  It works!  But I see the red sign change to green and just catch back up in time before the group gets away.  I don't even know if that's legal but for some reason I feel more like a real cyclist now.

We go through town again and start the 2nd loop.  The pace is picking up a little.  A few attacks go off the front.  We push a couple little rollers and I'm able to climb with the others while staying seated.  Things are going well.  But I'm thirsty.  Near the climb, 2 guys are getting a gap ahead.  This usually makes you nervous but I'm glad.  If they get make it over first, I can catch them and work with them after the descent.  I'm excited about the plan.  I don't know what I'm doing for the rest of the race but descending those first sharp turns faster than anyone else has been my whole focus…

I look down and see my front tire getting soft.  That is the one scariest thing I could imagine going into a technical descent.  A flat back tire only causes a skid-out and road rash on the hip.  A flat front tire causes a wash-out and a head-first crash.  I broke a tooth one time when a soft front tire washed out on a downhill turn.  A complete flat would cause me to stop and fix it.  But it's a slow leak so gotta try to keep going.

I really feel the Lord is with me in every race and the most important reason for even starting.  I did say that my "whole focus" was on the downhill bomb… my main focus should be on the Lord.  So when I saw my soft front tire and new the dangers ahead, it didn't surprise me but instead just seemed fitting.  I just really felt it was God's plan, and I always learn better and more deeply from His plans over my plans.  So I will do my best and see what happens.

Almost to the steep switch-back, it's hot and I'm gasping.  I'm in the lead but then 8 guys stand up and pass me and I can't respond.  I'm maxed out.  This hill seemed so perfect the first time but I'm humbled this time by the strength of the other riders.  I can still catch them going down… maybe my tire is still good enough… maybe it's just an illusion that it's soft.

Going into the left hairpin I slow a bit more on the approach.  I'll just go 80% and see how the tire feels.  In the middle of the turn I feel the dreaded sensation of the tire rolling off the rim.  This is always a split second before the rim hits the ground and the bike instantly disappears beneath you.  I immediately accept the fact that I'm going down.  But in a sudden reaction, I correct just a bit, going a little wider and remarkably the tire snaps back and I come out unscathed.  Thank you, Lord!  You kept me up.

The rest of the corners I take more cautiously, making sure not to get to the lean angle where the tire had started to roll.  Because of this I go wider, almost crossing the centerline which is disqualification.  By the time I get to the flat road, safe and sound, the 8 or 10 guys now ahead are in a breakaway and the chase pack is right behind me.  Should I change my tire?  At least inflate it with a cartridge?  No time.. I jump onto the chase pack.. which is hard to do in the saddle.  I can't stand and rock because the weight flattens the front tire.

Teammate, Randy, is in the chase pack.  He takes the lead and bridges the gap, bringing us back to the breakaway.  I thank him and tell him I'll try to help him since I can't sprint at the end.  As we continue on, 10 miles to go, I keep watching my tire.  I pray that the Lord will keep it where it's at, or even miraculously make it inflate back to full.. nothing is impossible for God.

With a mile to go, I'm still amazed the tire doesn't seem that low.  I also see the pace is slow and threatening a large sprint group.  So I lead for a bit to pick it up.  As I move back I see Randy getting into a good lead position.  At the same time I'm getting blocked in.  I have to keep my line straight.  The last thing I want to do is take out other riders if I fall.  I want to get to front to help Randy but I can't.

I see the 300m to go sign and start pushing just as the peloton does.  I go as hard as I can while staying in the saddle and am surprised that I'm able to stay with the main group.  Randy has a terrific sprint and ends up winning and I was able to get 9th!  Wow, that was so cool!  The low tire kept my mind off of all the dreaded anticipation of the "end game" and allowed me to simply ride hard to the finish.  I thank the Lord that He allows me to have fun, exciting, rewarding races even when they may look like they didn't go well.

After the race I measured my front tire at 45psi, compared to 120psi at the start.  And then while cheering Robin to her fantastic 7th place finish, I noticed that my front tire was actually Robin's front tire which I mixed up when I unloaded the bikes.  I'm so glad I had the tire leak rather than Robin.  The descents are already scary enough for her.  We both had a great day at Winter's.  And we were excited that many Victory Velo teammates placed high!