Quick mind-teaser to get you in the mood: if you had to lose a row of teeth, would you choose the bottom row or the top? Stipulation: if you choose to lose the bottom row, you’re forced to eat a pound of peanut brittle a day. Now? Still choose the bottom row? OK. Stipulation #2: you also have to have braces on your remaining top row of teeth for two years. Now you’ve chosen to just lose the top row. In that case…Stipulation #1 for the top row: you have to tie two four-inch pieces of floss around your two upper front teeth and attach heavy washers to the floss and let it dangle on your chin all day long, every day. Back to the bottom row, eh? OK enough of that for now.
Next up: Team camp in rainy Agoura Hills.
Team camp did not go well for me. I ended up getting sick right after the Madera stage race a few weeks ago. I’ve been preaching about my increased immune system to anyone that will listen, lately. And it seems that all my bragging caught up with me. No amount of fruit could save me, and I’ve been sick for about 10 days, with yesterday being the first that I didn’t feel any symptoms.
My small cold was small beans though, considering that my new teammate, Cody, has the Plague. Yeah, the PLAGUE. I’m not sure if it’s the black one or not, but still, it sounds pretty serious. The son of the host family we stayed with had Staff infection, and Lang had the flu. So a lot of us came into the team training camp last week extremely contagious. I was unable to pass any significant amount of my sickness to anyone, but I did spread around cheer and good humor. Not really. I was pretty gloomy and slept between 11 and 14 hours a day. On the bright side, there were three jars of Nutella and peanut butter.
Everyone packed up Thursday afternoon and Spencer and I crammed into his small yellow hatchback with my altitude tent, three bikes, 20 wheels, all of our other belongings, and 5 bags of moldy groceries, and drove on down to San Dimas for the three-day stage race that I’d been dreaming of for four months. Four months of intervals, thinking about stage 1 of San Dimas: the 3.8 mile uphill time trial on Glendora Mountain (the lower slopes of the queen stage of the Tour of California this year).
Stage 1: I sucked. I really sucked. I rode extremely mediocre. I averaged 403 watts for a time of 14:56, which put me in at 97th place out of 160. I’d been dreaming of a top 15, hoping for top 20, and expected a top 40. So 97th was quite a let down. I went faster than last year, but that’s not saying much. If I had ridden at my top end and still placed 97th I wouldn’t have been so upset with my time, but that wattage is something I’ve seen at the very last interval of a 3×15′ set. I didn’t let it get to me too much, and shrugged off my crappy performance due to being sick. Whatever, there was tomorrow to think about anyways.
Stage 2 (84-mile circuit race from hell!): I made sure to attack right away and waste a fair amount of energy off the front by myself during the first couple miles. Then I was promptly swept up. I attacked again a while later on the KOM climb on that first lap, but it was a half-hearted attack and I didn’t get a good gap, so I sat up, expecting someone else to counter but no one did. Turns out I should have gone full bore here since the couple riders that had been dangling off the front turned into the day-long breakaway that I desperately wanted to be a part of.
This circuit race is pretty awesome. Pot holes, road furniture, a short, steep climb, a bit of cross wind, lots of contact and crashing, and 12 laps with well over 100 turns make for a lot of time spent in zones 5 and 6. It’s basically a Kermess. Positioning is important in a race like this, and something Spencer told me before the start got me thinking in the right mindset for the first time in my life: the extra energy you spend positioning yourself is worth it. I spent more time in the wind than usual, and took more risks than I have in the past to get to the front. As a result, I was up near the front whenever it mattered. I followed attacks and made the front group every time up the KOM climb, usually in the top 20. It was the first NRC-level race other than Univest last September where I felt like I was actually a living part of the race, not just dead pack filler.
I avoided all the crashes, including one that occurred on my own wheel after someone behind me cross-wheeled my rear as I came out of a sharp corner. The sound of the pile-up directly behind me, though horrifying, was in some respects, music to my ears because it behind meant less people in the pack I had to deal with. Yeah, it’s a brutal sport. You have to be a bit sadistic to succeed.
I was feeling good on the final lap. My Hostes apple and cherry pies and full flask of maple syrup had kept me fueled properly, and I had plenty of energy at the end to spend a little extra time in the wind trying to position Chris Parish for the final sprint up the KOM climb. From the top of the climb there’s a short, twisty decent that leads into a 1500 meter flat, tail wind drag to the finish, so positioning before and during the climb is crucial for keeping contact with the front group. I crushed my legs on the flat, technical section coming into the climb and quickly died part way up it, deciding to momentarily sit behind a couple guys that had blown up when I should have immediately gone around. One moment of mental weakness is all it takes, and before I knew it there was a big gap to close up ahead. I came around the soft-pedalers and gave it one final huge effort and closed the gap, but there was another gap to the front group up ahead at that point. My group, which became the third group, went as hard as we could and came within one second from making contact with the larger 2nd group, which contained most of the GC guys. I came in 31st, 15 seconds down from the winner and just a few bike lengths off the group that Chris finished in. He finished 21st, moving up to 11th GC and top amateur by quite a bit. Ian came in next, followed shortly by Spencer, and then later, Dan. Cody and Lang didn’t finish, unfortunately, and Phil went down hard in a crash and didn’t finish either, despite racing strongly all day long. Spencer and I went home and ate a few dozen bowls of cereal.
Stage3: A 90-minute crit. I needed revenge. Last year I think I was the only one to get time cut in this crit, just missing out on the 45-minute half-way point. I lined up close to the front and followed a move by a Jamis rider up the hill on the first lap, came around him and took a monster pull for 3/4 of a lap, he came around again for another 20 seconds, then we got swarmed by the pack and I didn’t see the front end of the race for another 30 minutes. Attack after attack got brought back and I kept waiting for the right moment to move up and give it another shot. The time never seemed to come, so I just moved up anyways and followed an attack 0f a Jelly Belly rider. He was quickly reeled in by Kenda, who had been protecting Ben Day’s 1st GC position for the past two days. I found myself in the Kenda train coming out of a corner and knew Day was on my wheel. I always get a bit nervous when the GC leader is on my wheel, which happened a few times the day before. One wrong nervous movement and BAM!!! You just knocked the big shot to the ground and you’ll likely never find yourself on a pro team. Maybe that’s not completely accurate, but that’s always what I worry about. Anyways, the Jelly Belly rider in front of me swerved a bit and I reacted, swerving and nearly chopping Day’s front wheel. He swore and yelled at us and I decided it was a good time to go ahead and attack before he got a good look at my face, so I went again and got off the front by myself. Or maybe with one other guy who didn’t pull, I can’t remember. Anyways it didn’t stick.
With 6 to go I was sitting near the front, but still too far back so I moved up. A few laps later a big crash went down in corner one with me right in the middle. I jammed on my breaks and went skidding and smashing into some guys in front of me. I bulldozed my way through and knocked at least one guy down but kept myself upright. I sprinted past the carniage and kept working on moving up during the final few laps. I lost a bit of my motivation with about 1.2 laps to go and should have done a big chop on the downhill corner when the RealCyclist train went. I had a prefect opportunity to do it, but hesitated just one second and my shot was gone. There was no good opportunity to move up in the last lap and I came in 35th on the day, which moved me to 42nd on final GC. All of my teammates got stuck behind the crash, including Chris, but fortunately they got the same time as my group, which got slightly gapped in the sprint again. We’re eagerly awaiting the prize money split, which for Chris’ 11 GC, is a whole $112 split eight ways. Sweet. I can’t imagine a job where you suffer more for less money. Except slavery and maybe taste testing at a pickle factory. Assuming you hate pickles.
After the race we had a nice dinner with one of the host families. Topics of discussion included the use of the phrase “I’m gonna stuff my Trojan in your Beaver,” which pertained to College football rivalries. I don’t know how we got on that subject, but it was nice not having to put too much of a sensor on my mouth for one night.
All in all, it was a good week of racing for me considering I was just getting over a cold. I was hoping for quite a bit better, but that’s what tomorrow is for.
Lining up before the road race:
Coming through the start/finish
Starting to suffer on the KOM climb:
Not really suffering too much right here. Just wait.
That’s Phil on the ground suffering there. He’s OK, but you should see the dent in the pavement! JK.
Chris, not suffering at all apparently:
Spencer starting to suffer on the KOM climb.
Dan is just about to start suffering at the base of the KOM climb:
Ian taking a deep breath getting ready to suffer. As you can see, this race had some good suffering going on in it. We need more races like this. Enough with the BS flat crits and stupid easy road races. Kermess style is where it’s at.
Me really suffering at the finish:
Taking an unsuccessful flyer during the crit:
Possibly more pictures to come from the race and team camp by expert pro photographer Chris Wingfield. If he ever gets around to it.
That’s all for now. I’m currently in a new host house in Redlands with a bed and a room to myself for the first time in 6 weeks!!! And a full walk-in pantry of food to raid!