June 8, 2009

Mt Hood Cycling Classic - Race Recap

I spent most of Sunday afternoon in the horizontal position. I was completely zapped of energy. Mt. Hood Cycling Classis really took it out of me. I was racing with the Cat 3 women; for the first time. This so called Cat 3/4 race was a Cat 3 field with a couple of Cat 4s tagging along. My heart rate monitor read upwards of 180 for the majority of the weekend and the only reprieve I ever felt was after I crossed the line; not even the downhills offered a chance to relax.

While the results may not reflect it, I raced hard. I raced harder than I have all year. I gave what I had at the time, but looking back, I wonder whether I could have done more, trained harder. I missed a break in the Wy-East Road stage. I kicked myself for not practicing more surges and then road with the chase group until 5k to go and took off, passing 2 of the girls in the group in the last 3k. Could I have made that break if I had just pushed a little harder? I lost a lot of time on that stage, but I raced hard. Once I got shut out of the break, I realized how important it was to hang onto the wheel. I am learning, next time I will do better.

Starting out with an 18.5 mile time trial, my weekend unfolded like this……….

Stage 1: Time Trial from The Dalles Discovery Center to Hood River – 2000 ft of climbing, crazy headwind.
Clip on aero bars and a super chic aero helmet; I was ready. They sent us off in 30 second intervals. I climbed well, passing 3 girls in the first 10 miles; then got passed by 2 others on the descent. The head wind was so strong it took loads of effort not to get blown across the center line and there were times when rounding a corner, my speed would drop from 24 to 12 in a split second as I hit the wall of wind. A TT bike would have been helpful.

I crossed the finish line and rolled down the hill to the parking lot. My glutes were on fire, I spun out my legs; ouch. I reclaimed my breath, swallowed some recovery drink and did a cool-down with Susanna. Beautiful and brutal were the only words to describe what we had just ridden.

When the results were posted later that evening, I was disappointed. I placed 11th in the field of 39, 4 minutes behind the leader. This was going to be a tough race.

Stage 2: Wy-East Road Stage – 71 miles, 8500ft of climbing.
Rolling out of the Billy Bob Sno-Park at the start of Stage 2 seemed like an accomplishment in and of itself. The shuttle bus that planned to take the Cat 3/4 Women to the start of the race was running very late, got stuck behind the Cat 5 men, missed a turn and almost ran over a very small SmartCar in the process of turning around. We arrived at the start about 11:38; the race was to start at 11:40. They postponed the start until we could unload the bikes and get to the line. No time to warm up; it was time to ride.

The start of the race was down chipseal that convinced me there was something seriously wrong with my bike. I couldn't tell if it was the headset or my new wheels, but something was not right. The peleton was packed in close and I tried in vain to control the loquaciousness of my bike. I looked ahead just as a rider from Mountain View Cycles almost took out the entire pack but slamming on her brakes. Note to self: get away from her. The road was narrow and the girls were jumpy. A long stage lay before us and nerves were wound tight. The road flattened out and the pavement became smoother. My wheel seemed to be okay; I put any fears of a loose skewer out of my mind and just road on, hoping for the best.

I stayed toward to the front of the pack, 7th or 8th wheel for the first 10-12 miles. There were a couple of surges, but nothing too bad. The group was starting to break up and the pace was quicker than I expected, but I held on.

Up the first real hill, near Tygh Valley the girls from Hammer Velo started to launch, they were really working and riders started falling off the back. I couldn't tell how many, but I could sense there were fewer of us; maybe just 15 riders at this point. I was working hard to stay up in the front and knew the pace had to slow down at some point. On a short descent, I let a gap form between me and the wheel in front of me. I wasn't too worried, I would get regain it up the hill, but there was a surge from the front and I wasn’t able to get back on. I was about 20 bike lengths back at this point and then came a screaming descent I had not expected. I tried to tuck in and hold on. My computer read upwards of 47 mph, but it wasn't enough. I was alone and there were 10 out in front. At the base of the hill, I caught two girls that had fallen back and a couple of other riders caught the 3 of us. Up the next climb, I could see the front pack was breaking up. The Hammer Velo Girls were dropping back; we would catch them.

When we reached the pinstriped trio, they were spent, having pulled at the start of the race and done a lot of work in the lead group. With a large group now, we started double pace-lining and two of girls couldn't hang. We were trying to work together. It wasn't our intention to leave anyone, but we had to keep the pace up. My goal was to catch the lead group, but I soon realized that goal was not shared. For the majority of riders in my group, the goal was to avoid getting caught but the group behind us.

A strange thing about road racing is that you have to work with folks. You can't just say, well, I think I will go out on my own and catch them. If I had done that I would have time trialed for a couple of miles, exhausting myself, and probably would have been swallowed and then dropped; so I just sat in, taking my turn at the front, conserving energy and waiting.
At mile 39 I needed water. I started off the race with two bottles of Perpetuem. One was empty; right on schedule. But I needed water. I asked around, no one had any and everyone needed some. The feed zone was just a few miles away, I could wait that long. At the feed zone, I stuffed my full bottle of Pertetuem in my jersey pocket and took on board two fresh bottles. I drank down half of one and promptly dropped it while trying to put it in the cage. No worries, I had enough to make it another 21 miles, to the next feed.

43 miles into a 71 mile race, my legs started to fatigue. I had to keep eating, I needed the fuel, but I didn't want to. I made myself; every 5 minutes take a drink or a little Hammer Gel. About mile 50 I realized I felt better. The pace was too slow, I wanted to go faster, but with the headwind and the climbs that lay before us, I sat tight, working within the group, wondering how far ahead the lead pack was. At mile 62 we rolled through another feed zone, a bunch of the riders had their team support giving them fresh bottles of Heed and electrolyte drinks. I took on two bottles of cold water. More Hammer Gel, more water, keep eating.

In the feed zone we caught up with a River City rider who had been dropped from the lead pack. She said they were way ahead and that she had been riding alone for ten miles. She sat at the back of our group for a while and then started pushing the pace. I sat on her wheel, she dropped back. I pulled for a while then took second wheel. The big climb was yet to come. When I realized I wasn't going to catch the lead pack my goal became to pull away from my group on the final climb up to Mt. Hood Meadows.

With about 6 miles to go, Sam, from Hammer Velo launched off the front. Though she gained a sizeable lead on us, no one appeared concerned. I didn't like that fact that she was out there, but I also wasn't about to pull our whole group up to catch her. I sat at the front of the group, setting an easy pace, feeling good.
Then the climb began. We were almost to highway 35 and Sam was still out ahead of us. I came to the front of our group and got into a comfortable rhythm. I could see I was reeling her in, passing a couple of struggling guys, solid.

I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see a whole string of girls. No one was there. I shifted down, stood up. I was going to catch Sam. At 3k to the finish I passed her and spotted a couple of other women up ahead. I started setting little goals for myself; and it worked. I was accelerating as I climbed and I passed the two other women.

I came into the parking lot and looked for the finish. I could only see yellow cones, no finish line. I followed the cones around and at that back of the lot was the finishing banner. No one was there to cheer me on, it was the Cat 3/4 race after all, and I wasn't even in the lead group. I sprinted across the line with everything I had. With no idea how I had placed. All I knew was that those hill repeats paid off.

It wasn't until later that night that I saw my results. I had placed 7th. Not great.
I was disappointed in myself for letting that lead group get away.
I called Ben. And, like always, he knew just what to say.
We ate pizza, got ice cream.
With the road stage over, it was time to think about the crit.

Stage 3: Hood River Criterium 30 minutes, 6 corners. Aka, the Big Hurt!
Sunday morning. I woke up at 6am, 4 hours until race time. The crit went down pretty well; I had a great warm-up, pre-rode the course, got line advice from Doug and actually felt like I was “in it”.

The course was technical, 6 corners, one of which was a 180 degree turn on an off-camber downhill. It was here that all the accidents happened – 6 to be specific. Girls kart-wheeling over each other, running into hay bails, the sound of carbon fiber on asphalt.

The race started out fast and furious. I was in the second or third row at the start and when the bell went off, the Hammer Velo Girl in front of me didn’t move. She was having trouble with her pedal and while I should have asked if I could help, I instead maneuvered around her and struggled to get contact with the front group.

The first couple laps are the hardest. Your heart rate is high, your legs are burning and when you pass the clock for the 4th or 5th time and realize you’ve only been riding for 7 minutes, you don’t know if you will be able to hold on. But you work through it, and pretty soon you have just 10 laps to go.

I stayed with the front group the whole time, sometimes 5th wheel, sometimes 12th, but never much further back than that. I led one lap, which proved to be the easiest of the whole race; setting the pace and not worrying about the wheels in front of me.

A couple of girls went down in the last lap, but there was still a large field at the front. I sprinted up the outside on the straightaway and took the next uphill corner on the outside. I tucked in, out of the wind and took the inside line on the last corner, then uphill to the finish. I was in my drops, standing. I passed three girls in the last couple of meters and got passed by one on the far right side. I finished in 7th place. Not good enough for the podium, but somehow, oddly, I was pleased.

The General Classification
I finished 7th overall. Not spectacular, but respectable. I finished 7th and now more than ever want to train harder, get fastest, ride stronger. I raced harder than ever before and now know I can push myself even farther. 
Bike racing in not something that you become good at over night. Years of experience, hours in the saddle and a lot of dedication are key ingredients.
Keep working, you will get there, I tell myself.
My legs are tired. I need to rest. I am taking the day off and looking forward to next year’s Mt Hood Cycling Classic with motivated ambition.