Saturday, April 15, 2017

Copperopolis Road Race (Troy)

April 15th, 2017 – Milton, CA
6th, Masters 45+, 4
I feel the least prepared for this race than any before.  Unexpected events all week and then up late doing taxes.  But it is something Robin & I have done together for a number of years and the Lord has blessed each race.
First we stop at the Bradley’s to drop off the girls.  Trixie prays for our race and specifically asks that God does something amazing in my race that is beyond expectation.  My first reaction is wishing she didn’t say that because I’m thinking there’s no way anything big can happen when I’m this exhausted and weak.  But I quickly realize nothing is beyond God and I should be grateful for the prayer.
Last week I was rested for the HITS Napa Aquabike and it turned out to be miserable.  Although I was so thankful to be able to finish it.  A mistake for that race was not spending time reading the Bible and listening to God beforehand.  This morning I make sure to get in the Word.  This is something Robin started years ago and has been such a good way to go into a race.
To our surprise, the GPS says we’re going to arrive when the race starts!  We planned wrong.  Nothing we can do but hope for the best.  I’m so tired, I sleep on the way as Robin drives the winding hwy 49 towards Angels Camp.
Robin makes good time and we arrive 20min before the start.  Rush to get ready, registered, and line up watching the earlier riders race by.  Robin and I pray with fellow Victory Velo Teammate, Chris DeMatei.  I appreciate his work ethic becoming a good rider (now in the 1-2-3’s) and I appreciate him as a brother-in-Christ who prays for our races.
I make sure to have 2 full bottles and food.  Despite it being cool in Auburn, it always gets warm on the climb here and I usually run out of water.  There wasn’t time to warm up so I hope the race starts slowly.  I stretch the best I can.  Go!
We’re off.. but slowly.. which is good for me.  There’s only about 20 riders in this Cat 4 group.  And 1 Cat 5 rider.  He was the only one to show so they put him in our group and if he finishes, he wins.  I congratulate his win ahead of time, telling him I’ve been racing since 1995 and have never won a race!
In years past I felt I pushed too early and was gassed by the last pitch before the descent.  So today I plan to hang back and not reveal any strengths (which should be easy since I feel so weak).  The group is going very slow.  It’s a perfect warm-up, casually climbing the big hill.  The road is the worst I’ve seen it.  Known for it’s pot holes and patches, this year it has fresh patches which fling oily gravel all over us.  Pebbles bounce off our legs and even hit our face.
At the top, the pace doesn’t pick up much.  And the group has dwindled down to about 10.  It’s just a mellow ride, which is a blessing and alows my body to prepare for some hard efforts to come surely.  I’m able to coast even, get more comfortable, and catch back up.  At the 1/2-way, we turn West and another group catches us and moves through.  Suddenly one of their riders goes down hard and the pack swerves.  Thankfully I avoid it.  I see the rider get up off the ground, ask him if he’s ok, and then hustle to catch back on my gruop.
I’m already thanking the Lord for allowing me to hang on easily.  And I tell God that I will hang back until the 2nd big climb and then push ahead and see what happens.  However, before the last pitch, before the descent of lap 1, I start leading, anxious to pick up the pace.  I realize this is not the plan I agreed to, and pull back, letting them go ahead down the hill.
Chip and seal is flying everwhere.  And my chain is falling off the big ring to the small ring.  All the comotion makes for a hair-raising descent down this already treacherous road.  But we all roll through the end of Lap 1 safe and I start eating and drinking preparing for a big effort soon.
The Cat 5 guy goes off ahead (really showing how slow we’re going).  I eat more Cliff Blocks.  I bide my time.  Waiting for the “Feed Station” sign at the start of the big climb.  Go!  I push the pedals in steady thoughtful circles.  Faster but still efficient.  Over the first bump I see I have a 5 sec gap!  That’s cool!  I keep pushing, pass the Cat 5 guy, and feel very motivated, comfortable and excited – opposite of what I felt this morning.  This is already far from what I imagined.  And even if they catch me and drop me, there are only 6 of them now so I would be 7th which is great.
1/2 way up the big climb, breathing harder now, I glance back and see them!  Oh, no, here they come.  3/4 up, a motorcyle official goes by and I ask him how far back they are.  “30 secs” he says.  That’s good!  I’m really happy with my push all the way to the top, but now is the hard part.. 10 miles of flat holding off a pack of 6 working together.
I ask the official again what the gap is and he says he’ll take a time split for me but will also give that information to the pack.  I agree, as it’s only fair, but kind of hoped they would just forget about me.  As he takes his position ahead, I give an extra push in order to build a larger gap.  If they’re going to get a split, I want it to look like I’m pulling ahead.  After I reach him, I ease up some.  Let’s see what happens when they get the news.
Mile 30.  15 mi to go.  The official says the gap is 1:30!  I’ve never been in this situation before.  I envision all the Tour de France races I’ve seen where someone goes off the front.  And I ask the official the question every break-away wants to know, “Is it enough?”  We both laugh because it’s impossible to know.  [Later, viewing Strava, I could see the race play out behind me and, sure enough, after they received the time-gap news, they picked it up a little]
Riding along by myself, staying low and remembering thoughtful pedal cycles, passing some other lone riders… I’m truly amazed that God could make this so exciting when I was so unmotivated starting.  It’s the most exciting race ever.
Mile 33. Cresting the 1/2 way point, with only 6 miles more to the beginning of the descent, I look back and don’t see the pack.  If I can just get to the descent, I can rest and bomb down the hill to a possible win!  I’ve been drinking and pacing well [Strava would later show I have a 1:40 lead]  I can keep up the push.  Thank you, Lord!
From out of nowhere, I see a small rock in the road, and, since I looked at it, I hit it!  Bam.  “Lord, please let my tire be ok.”  Pssst.  I’ve pinch-flatted!  Although a significant problem for this break-away, I instantly feel very content.  I had no expectations and definitely didn’t deserve to have my best race. This has been all God’s doing so there is no reason to complain.  But I will do my best tire change ever and keep up the hope!
I jump off, rip the tire off with a huge effort, grab a new tube, partially inflate it with my mouth and install it.  Strangely, it feels softer than a “one-breath-inflate” should feel.  I get it on and apply the cartridge inflator just as the pack whizzes by!  I inflate it instantly, and instantly it un-inflates!  The new tube had a hole for some reason.  There’s goes my hope to at least catch the group.
I get a patch and start sanding the hole.  My teammate, Chris DeMateii goes by and checks in on me.  He’s alone, just like me, I guess we’ll both be not finishing with a pack.  I finally pump up my tire and start pushing, determined to give God my best effort even on my own.
Mile 36.  I see a radio man with a pump alongside the road and ask to use it to top off my tire so that it’s safer for the descent.  But using it only causes all my air to stream out and it won’t inflate.  The pump is broken.  I pump up my tire again using my hand-held and head off again.  With a soft rear wheel I descend more cautiously.  It’s still a crazy ride and I get to the bottom thanking the Lord for safety.  There’s another loan rider near me but I have a race to win.. even if in my own mind.  I charge the final pitch to the finish line and give it everything I’ve got!  200m.. 100m..  I’m done!
Thank you Lord for the most memorable bike race of my life.  I’ll never know if I could have held them off, but what I do know is that it wasn’t my doing anyway, it was a gift from God, showing me something I never expected even when I thought a miracle wasn’t possible today.  And my patched tire suddenly deflating while waiting at the finish for Robin.  Wow, it held up just enough to get me down that crazy hill.