Saturday, September 7, 2013

Winters Road Race, Cat 5 35+ (Troy)

August 24, 2013 – Winters, CA
2 x 24loops

Cat 5 35+, 2nd

Robin & I drop the kids off with Charity and head to Winters (near Davis).  It’s a 2-loop, 48mi road race.  Mainly flat with some rolling hills and one significant climb each loop.  Last year I thought I would do well but got dropped on the hill on the 2nd loop.  A couple weeks ago I started riding more to prepare for this.  The key ride was Mosquito Ridge with Shayne Marshall.  Other rides were mainly commuting to work where I work on sprinting to make green lights.  However, work also picked up these last couple weeks so I feel very tired going into this race.

We see many of our Victory Velo team members.  Lance reminds me of the advice he gave me – sit in and don’t work the hill on the first loop.  Last year I pushed hard to summit first on the first loop just to practice for the 2nd loop where I would try to get away with a pack.  The “practice” turned out to be my demise.

Beforehand, Robin prays for us, for safety and to be a light for God.  This part really hits me.  “How will I help others think of God?  How can I show how thankful I am to the Lord for all He’s doing for me?”  I conclude that I will first just think about how grateful I am and the rest should overflow from that.  I think about how much I love Robin and hope she doesn’t get hurt before her big Ironman (bike racing is much more risky than triathlons).  I blow her a kiss.  I think about how comforted I am knowing the Lord is with me and that He always seems to protect me and calm me in these races.  I realize others might not feel that way, but be scared, so I talk to some of them and share what I know about the course.  A guy has his number on upside down and I’m glad for the opportunity to help.  As we start, I pray quietly, and then encourage everyone to have a great race.  Ever since Robin’s prayer I feel more grateful and more concerned with others.  Maybe that will help “be a light”.

We roll out neutral. The motor waves us to start but we continue at a slow pace. I talk to a guy (PJ) that is good friends with Lance Loveday (racing the 1-2-3’s today).  Another guy I’d talked to that is new to this course, starts setting a fast pace at the front.  I now move farther back to the middle.  After miles I feel like I should tell him to pull-off before he ruins his race, but maybe it’s his plan.  He finally comes back and I encourage him to rest. He says, “Just wanted to warm my legs up. They feel much better now”.

The goal is to move back.  You can end up in the front pulling if you don’t watch it.  I use things like drinking or checking my bike to move over and drift back.  It’s funny that in the beginning of the race you try to move back, but later you struggle to move up.

It’s goes perfect to the start of the canyons.  I’m in last and now need to slowly move up in case a lead group attacks on the climb.  Little by little.. At the feed zone I’m well aware that this is where I got dropped last year on my 2nd loop.  It makes me attentive to the group ahead.  I’m about 20 back in a tight group.  It gets a little steeper.  An abrupt move ahead causes the guy in front of me to go down.  This is first time I’ve ever been so close to crashing.  Fortunately we're going slow enough.  I hit the brakes, then hit his down bike, but instead of falling am able to put a foot down in the middle of the bodies.  Thanks, Lord.  While the downed rider continue to cuss out the other guy, I calmly get my bike to the outside and start up again while re-plays of Tour de France crashes go through my head where the riders’ new goal is just to get clear and going again.

I’m back on.  I don’t know how much commotion it caused behind me, just that I need to catch up quickly.  The group seems like it’s just ahead so I didn’t loose much time.  But now they’re pulling ahead and strung out.  I realize that I’m at risk of getting dropped on the first climb!  I move up rider-by-rider and finally get within the top 10 on the climb.  It’s hard.  I focus on breathing deeply, pushing steady, but also staying calm and not forcing it.  Pushing too hard and getting tense can take life out of the legs.. like last year.  Some move ahead and some come back.  I summit and calmly ride over the top, still trying not to exhaust myself.

I don’t know how many are ahead but I’ll try to catch some on the descent.  I remember this well.  It isn’t too hard.  I pass one, than another in the first sharp turn.  I’m focused on the turns and continue passing people.  I make the last hard right turn really well, onto the flat road.  Now I try to figure out where I am.  I push towards a guy ahead.. but find out he’s off the back of another group.  I’m surprised to realize I had passed everyone and am in the lead.  But I need to be back in the group.  Looking back, I see a pack and sit up to wait to join them.  They go flying by.. it must be the 1-2-3’s. I don’t recognize anyone in my group and they just ride much better than us.  I look back again and see another group.  This must be them… nope, another fast group that goes by.  Where’s my Cat 5’s?  Should I pedal harder?  Did they get neutralized or have trouble?  I’ll go a little harder but I know I don’t have the ability to go solo.  Finally a Strava guy catches me and tells me, “I’m in your group”.  Great, back together again.  We’re cruising along but much faster now.  Someone says, “come on, we’ve got a gap”.  Sure enough it’s just 130824_witners_troy6 of us.  We take turns pulling.  I work hard to get a rotating paceline going and encouraging each other.  It breaks down sometimes but basically it’s going well.  I feel good and am excited to be in a break with 6 guys that all want to work.  The motor comes up and tells us we have a good gap.  Alright!  Although we each have to work at the front, It’s nice to have a consistent pace without anyone attacking each other.  We come through the finish area and start the 2nd loop.  The pulls are tougher now into the wind.  The motor tells us we’re 1 minute ahead!  I encourage the group to do shorter pulls so the line keeps rotating and we stay protected from the wind.  I’m feeling fatigued now.  We hit the first rollers and I’m feeling it.  I suggest going easier on the hills and am sure we’ve got it made with such a large gap.

Then the motor tells us the split again.  “1:35?” I say.  “No,  :35!  They’re right behind you!”  Uh oh. Time to work again but I don’t know if we can do it.  I’m struggling and don’t pull through very fast anymore.  What if we get caught at the hill and I get dropped again?  Here I thought I had 6th place wrapped up.  The group is great and we stay together through the rollers and the Strava guy and the tall guy continue doing big pulls.  The motor tells us our lead is :55 at the start of the canyon.  Things are good again!

I’ve been making sure to drink a lot to help the legs from getting heavy.  I’m holding onto the back of my group.  The guys are pushing the climb pretty good.  At the feed zone where it gets steeper I work hard and can’t go any faster.  If it was the main pack here I would get dropped.  Fortunately our break is a little tired by now and they don’t pull away.  I realize the hard part of a break is the steady work but the good part is that on the climbs there’s less surges.

It’s gets steep and I go into my zone of breathing deep, spinning and not panicking.  2 guys fall off the back.  I’m grateful for their help in getting us away.  But this hill will do that.  I approach the top (thankfully) and the 3 guys ahead push quickly over to the descent.  I take my time to save energy and know that I can catch them on the descent.  Having finished the climb I’m really excited because this was the pivotal point and all we have to do is continue working together to the finish.  It looks like 4th place at the least!  Wow!  Of course anything can happen.

I pass the guys on the descent and we re-group on the flat.  Pacelining again.  We’re of the same mind.  Although sometimes a guy will attack our paceline a little, that’s ok because it gives reason to sit in and not pull through.  I finish my Heed and eat some Cliff Blocks.  Ok, I’ll be getting more energy soon, keep pushing.  As we make a big right turn someone says, “only 4 miles”.  Ah, music to my ears.  It was feeling like forever.  With a couple miles to go we stop pacelining.  I minimize time at the front.  I’m impressed with the other 3 guys.. they do a lot of pulling.  The tall guy stands a lot.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be last but happy with 4th.  At 1 km to go I’m in 3rd position, keeping an eye on each of us.  I move to 2nd and now wait for someone to attack.  At 200m the tall guy goes 130824_witners_troy_finish2and I react quickly, stay with him and them come around in front to keep the Strava guy off me.  I’m sprinting and keeping my lead.  I can’t believe it.  I was sure they would blow by.  I dig deep, rocking my bike back and forth.  I see my water bottle shake loose and fly out.  I see the wheels staying behind me.  And then I hear fast wheels of the guy in back catching me and just beating me at the line.  But it 130824_witners_troy_finishdidn’t matter, I was 2nd and held my own in the sprint for the first time ever.

I thought about my friend, Shayne, today because we had talked about how you have to keep trying and someday it may all work out perfectly.  Today was that day for me.  The crash may have helped spread the group out.  6 guys getting away after the first climb.  Working together so well.  Being able to catch up on the descent.  And then having good position going into the sprint.

Thanks, Lord, for a thrilling race, and the opportunity to know what it’s like to sprint for first.