Willamette Stage 4: Wolf Creek RR

This last day proved to by the hardest race by far. 84 miles of rainy, cold weather. And some big hills too. After today I finished 20th overall and 9th for the stage. If I hadn’t gotten penaltied today and dropped in the crit, I would have been in the top 10 GC. But, of course, what I COULD have gotten doesn’t mean a thing.

Mike, Tony, and I rode over to King Estates this morning, cramped in the front bench seat of Tony’s truck with our wheels in the back seat–we weren’t going to have a repeat of Friday.

I started near the front today, afraid of making the same mistake as yesterday and getting caught in the back. I held my position in the top 20 or so, nervously making bar and hip contact with the other riders as we sped down the road at 30 mph, tightly packed together. Breaks kept going off but everything was covered by CMG, Hagens Berman, or other anxious riders.

There are three hills on wolf creek. The first is very small and short, but it is important to finish up in the first 15 or 20 because immediately after summating it, there is a quick decent with a 170 degree turn that leads straight up to the second climb, which hurts real good. I found myself near the front after the first easy climb, but I was passed by at least 15 riders on the decent. Fortunately, I was able to regain my position during the climb and get back into the top 15 or 20.

The next part of the race is the hardest: the main wolf creek climb, which lasts for 10 or 15 minutes. Or maybe it’s more like an hour. I’m not sure, because each time my mind melted into a soup of pain. The burning in my legs was almost overpowered by the burning in my lungs and stomach. But not quite.

In a considerable amount of agony, I made it over the hill with the main group. I think we dropped about 2/3 of the field. The rest of the lap up until that first little climb I was just talking about was uneventful and a blur. I just ate and rested while CMG (I think) pulled at the front like dogs to catch a one man break that had gotten 2.5 minutes on us. He was eventually caught.

So, back to that little hill before the two big climbs on Wolf Creek. I was in the top 5 of our group of 30 (or however many people were still left) and I was feeling good. Then my chain derailed. This was the second or third time it had happened today, and this was not a good spot for it to happen. I managed to get it back on, right as the last guy in the pack passed me. I quickly jumped back on to the pack and began passing people, fearing that the field would split on the next climb and I would be left with the stragglers. In my pursuit to get back up there, I passed a struggling rider on the left. He moved slightly to the left while I passed–forcing me to cross the double yellow line and go into the left lane. The follow car honked its horn at me and I was penaltied 30 seconds, not that it mattered because after yesterday I was awarded something like 3 or 4 minutes for getting lapped in the crit.

I got back into the pack and sprinted up the beginning part of the next hill after taking the 170 degree turn very hard. In almost no time, I was back in the top 10. But starting to suffer. All of a sudden, a CMG rider got a flat and the entire CMG squad stopped. A red truck racing guy also had a mechanical and if I remember correctly, Hagen’s Berman also stopped because of a mechanical. Im not sure though. But all of this meant that the dominating teams were behind us and would have to catch up. We crested the hill and began the decent, unsure of what was going on. A few of us took some pulls down hill and on the flat section, but nothing too serious. There were 2 guys off the front about 15 seconds or so. I decided to attack on a slight riser, and got away. I went on my own for a few minutes, but kept an I behind me to see what was going on. The dropped teams had caught back on and the pack was gaining on me. So I gave up my bridge attempt and let them catch me. I didn’t want to waste too much energy before the main and final climb. The other two guys were quickly caught as well.

A few minutes more and we reached the base of the big climb. I felt slightly better on this climb, but it still hurt more than any ride or race that I have done so far this year. A break of 2 guys went on the hill. And another break of 5 guys went off after them. When we got to the top, there were only 15 or fewer of us left. The decent was fast, but by the time we reached the false flat section after the decent, the 5 man break already had a minute on us. There were only 2 CMG guys left at this point, one being Seth Hosmer, still in contention for overall GC. He and his teammate pulled in desperation, trying to pull the break back. But there were only two of them, and 5 of the other guys in that break, so their efforts were futile. None of us were going to help out.

But after watching those two suffer at the front for a good 15 minutes, I felt guilty and decided to give them a hand. I had been sitting 4th wheel for a while, and pulled off to the right to get up to the front and take a pull. But as I started to speed up, my benevolence deserted me and I decided to attack instead. I got away by myself and killed my body in the wind for the next 15 miles to the finish. My legs were so tired at the end, I was worried that the cat 1/2/3 women that I had recently passed were going to catch me going up the final 1KM climb. I grinded as hard as I could, afraid to shift down to my 39 ring with the unthinkable thought of it derailing again. I did anyways, very carefully. As I slowly made my way to the top, legs searing in agony, one cat 1/2 guy passed me. Then another. I don’t know where they came from, but I guess the “peloton” of 14 guys had caught up to me. The two guys who passed did so at an incredibly slow speed. I hung onto the second guy, willing my legs to continue their death march for another 1 minute. They succeeded, and I passed him right before the finish. I didn’t catch the other guy though, who finished about 20 feet in front of me. Judging by the slow speed at which they passed, I am positive that I would have beat them up the hill if I had been with the pack like them instead of destroying myself in my solo attempt. But I was glad to take the chance anyways. I have never been more tired after a race.

I met Tony and Mike in the parking lot and we went home. But made a great decision to hit Muchas Gracias for some burritos first. Later that day Tony and I took an hour recovery ride. It was a great weekend. The things I learned and need to work on (other than just getting faster): be more aggressive. Get used to making contact and being an ass hole and not letting people take my spot. Don’t go too hard in the beginning of a TT. Line up first for crits. Know the course and how far it is to the finish.

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