Sunday, April 8, 2012

Copperopolis Road Race (Troy)

April 7, 2012 – Milton, CA
2 laps, 42 Miles

6th, Cat. 5 Masters 35+

Victory Velo Teammates:

Women 4: Robin (2nd); 35+ 5: Rich Hufford; Master 55: Bill Vaughan (31st), John Chappell (29th), Ron LeBard(18th); CAT 4 Master 45: Gary Carpenter (25th), McKay Florence (35th), Randy Floyd (11th), Randy Millard (15th); CAT 1/2/3 Master 45: Jim Blakenship (7th); CAT 3: Jay Newton; CAT 4: Lance McPeak; CAT 4 Master 35: Barton Andrew (4th); CAT 5: Aron Yevuta (2nd), Clinton Hamilton (14th), Dan Garcia (3rd)

The first bike race of the season.  Robin & I did it last year and, despite the terribly bumpy roads, we liked it.  The course is challenging, technical in places, and scenic.  Fortunately, as beginners, we only do 2 laps (22 miles each), while the pros have to do 5 laps!

Last year I pinch-flatted in the first mile and spent the rest of the race trying to catch up, which actually went well, as I moved up to 10th.  This year I pump our tires up to almost 115 and 120 psi to keep from pinch-flatting.  I have an old rear tire.. I hope it holds on the screaming, bumpy descent.

After a 12mi warm-up, I line up with my Cat 5 35+ group of about 25 guys.  I meet new teammate, Rich.  He has wider 25c tires which are good for this road so I tell him he’s dialed in.  Robin’s comes up and we pray for our races.  We’re both most concerned with safety considering Boston Marathon is next week.

Go!  We roll out and I find myself in the front heading into the first climb.  The group is very mellow, unlike the early quick pace of last year.  I move back to the middle and start trying to pick out the strong ones that I should stay close to.  I feel like the climbing will be my advantage from my Auburn riding as well as just being a guy that’s ok with suffering.  Just when I think I know who the climbers are, different guys keep coming up to push the pace.  But I do make it to the summit with the first 3 guys and we quickly get into a rotating paceline along the high valley.

It’s short-lived as the rest of the pack catch up.  How easy this will be riding comfortably in the pack rather than being on my own last year.  I speak too soon as a ShowAir guy lays down a painful pace at the front.  I’m struggling to keep the speed.  This isn’t easy at all.  I’m reminded that in bike racing there’s someone ready to take advantage of every section of the course.  The small guys on the climbs, the big guys on the flats and the past mountain bikers on the descents.

Rounding the lake at the top, yet always seeming to be in a head wind, we head back towards the last climb before the bumpy descent.  There’s only 7 left in our group!  2 guys are chatting comfortably at the front while I’m breathing terribly hard and hoping I’ve got something left for lap #2.  There’s a guy in a Trek jersey with a rear-view mirror and a retro bike.   This may be his first race.  He’s probably a strong rider on training rides and decided to try racing.  He’s not pulling but finally gets forced to the front and doesn’t seem to realize he should pull-off to take a rest.  Riding behind him while he’s pulling us into the headwind, I feel sorry for him instead of accepting his sacrificial help.  He’s a beginner and I don’t want to see him “used and abused” and shelled off the back so I tell him good job and to pull off.. leaving me to pull some.

2 guys pull off the front going into the last climb.  I try to climb steady.  It’s hard.  The guys behind me are still chatting.  Is it that easy for them?  But then I’m pulling away from them and gaining on the 2.  If I can catch them on the descent, 3 of us could get away.  Over the top I’m anxious to start flying down.. this is where I can make up ground.  I catch and join the 2, but the rest of the group also catches us.  We’re all chattering down this crazy pot-holed hill.  Sometimes it’s hard to see because of the vibrating eyeballs.  I’m surprised that everyone is descending just as fast.  At the bottom we’re still all together and roll through the finish area and into lap #2.

This time I make sure to stay near the back going into the climb.  I’ve got to conserve everything I’ve got.. and then pull away on the hill with anyone that will go with me.  I need water.  It’s warm out today and my legs already feel like they’re dehydrated.  Beginning the first climb I head to the neutral feed zone but 2 guys ahead of me take the 2 bottles being handed out.  The volunteer says, “Sorry, only got 2 hands” as he turns around to get more and I cruise by.  Bummer but I come to grips with the reality that I’ll have to survive on no more water.  At the last moment, another volunteer appears with a bottle!  Thanks, God.

Starting the main climb, I’m humbled to find that the guy being dropped off the back… is me!  I can’t keep up.  These guys played their cards well and saved a good effort when it was needed.  6 of them, including the Trek rider go ahead.  I’m breathing hard and fighting the voice inside saying, “it’s ok, go at a comfortable pace and ride the rest of the loop by yourself”.  I remind myself that a lot of pain now to catch and joint part of the group would prevent an hour of pain riding by myself around the windy section at the top.

It’s hard, but I focus on the Lord.  He makes me feel better, I feel encouraged to keep pushing hard… “you never know what will happen”.  I use a new technique of standing up more, pedaling gently, to help control my breathing.  Surprisingly, nearing the top, I find the riders coming back.  I’m back in the pack!  I’m so glad to see the top. I’m exhausted.  Then the top rider, Dan, flats and is out of it.  6 of us are together.  But the ShowAir guy takes a massive pull again and I’m dropped!  Along with Justin, the mountain biker, behind me.  He comes around as I’m shaking my head and realizes that, because of me losing the draft, he also is dropped.

Justin pulls me for a while.  I take short, weak pulls.  Far ahead the pack split into 2 leaders, 2 in the chase and then us 2 falling farther back.  Once we realize we can’t catch them and can’t be caught, we start talking.  He’s experienced in MtnBike and Cross but new in Road racing.  Another nice gift from above, having someone to help me finish when I could have been left for dead back there.  We’re still working hard.  I keep trying to push the pace because I want to know that I gave it everything I had today.  But since he pulled so much, I’ve already decided to not challenge him at the end even if I found enough energy to do so.

We fly down the descent again.  I’m praying my wheels and bike hold up as I hit pot-hole after pot-hole.  I try to pull ahead just to see if I can but he matches every move I make.  1km from the finish he surges ahead.  I give it all I have but it’s nothing.  I still want it to be a good showing at the finish but it’s as it should be, Justin 5th, myself 6th.

Whew!  I’m wiped.  Exhausted.  The ShowAir guy took 1st.  The Trek guy, Eric Lin, I think is actually an experienced race who took 3rd!  My 6th place is one of my highest yet in a road race!  Thanks God.  And thanks most of all for answering our prayers for safety.  With Boston Marathon on the line next week, it’s SO great to be done with this race without injury.  20min later Robin comes racing into an exciting finish.  She had pulled away with another girl on the 2nd big climb and they both finished 1 – 2.  Way to go Robin!