The last three races: Redlands Stg. 4, King’s Valley, Olympic View

I overshot the blogging last week during the first three stages of Redlands by posting before results were up. So for the final stage I’ve decided to wait a week afterwards to even things out. Here’s Stage 4 (or 3 if the TT counts as a prologue, which I don’t think it should):

I started at the front, rode for less than an hour, saw that I was no longer at the front, assessed the probability that I’d ever reach the front again, and pulled out. I felt pretty terrible. My sore throat and congestion were back in full force, and after missing the front group I decided to quit and start resting up for later races. I could have suffered through it and finished 90th, but it didn’t seem worth it at the time. Of course, at the time I was in a lot of pain.

It seemed smart to stop before the cold came back and took me out for two or three weeks, which is usually what happens to me, but immediately after I quit, as I gave my bottles to Joe in the feed zone for the other guys to drink, I thought otherwise. I wanted to finish it damn it. I went home to our host house and read Podium Live Redlands twitter updates, refreshing the page ever minute waiting for race news. I could have just stepped outside since our house was located directly on the course, but being out there in person, watching all those guys race would have pissed me off even more. So I sat in my bed with the curtains drawn and ate cereal while I hit the refresh button over and over again, cursing my bad health and cursing my bad legs.

It was a long drive back to Oregon that night and the next day while my teammate Chris Parish and I took turns at the team van’s wheel. Highlights were the continental breakfast at our hotel, Chipotle (2X), and learning how to use Twitter on Chris’ ipad. The progression from summer to winter, though, was not a highlight. I quickly remembered how uncomfortable 45 and raining is.

I rested up for a few days and was feeling recovered and healthy enough to race last Saturday at the King’s Valley road race just north of Corvallis, west of Salem. In past King’s Valley years I’ve attacked too much in the beginning and missed out on the late break (2010), or attacked too much too early and was too fatigued and poorly positioned for the final uphill field sprint (2009). Usually the lazier guys end up winning races, so I decided to be one of those guys today. Plus I didn’t want to wreck myself for the race the next day up in Washington, Olympic View RR.

After throwing in one or two mediocre attacks on the first lap with no beneficial outcome I decided the only time I’d go to the front the rest of the day was on the 1K finish climb, which we did 4 times, in order to soften up the field for the finale. The finish climb is pretty short and not at all steep. It only takes a minute to get up the actual hill part of it, but the peleton can break up a bit if you hit it hard enough and I figured I had the strength to go all out at the base the last time up and stay away for the win at the top.

I went fairly hard the first time up it to test out my legs and looked back at the top to see two guys on my wheel with a small gap to the fully intact field. I was a bit confused since the effort I had done felt like it should have been enough to break things up a bit. I sat up and waited for the next lap.

The second time up the climb came soon enough and I got to the front and was about to drill it when someone else decided to do the work instead. I sat on pretty easily and took a pull at the top and looked back again to see the field strung out with a few gaps, but for the most part right there behind us. Everyone came together on the descent. I realized that it was a dead on headwind climb, not a cross wind like I had thought it was. It was too easy to sit and get a draft. I can never judge the wind direction unless I see a flag, so the realization that it was a headwind was a bit of a shocker and a let down. So much for destroying the field on that tiny little bump.

I can’t remember what happened on the third lap, other than eventually seeing that six guys got up the road. I was near the back at the time when it happened, like I was for a lot of the race. They ended up getting a large gap over the final lap and stuck it. Now we were contesting sixth place (one rider came off the break in the last couple miles so there were only five up the road). I held a good position near the front coming into the final climb and followed wheels, hoping someone would destroy themselves in the wind for me. But no one did, and I wasn’t going to do it and ruin my race so someone else could take the win–I mean sixth place–so we all just soft pedaled up the thing and sprinted at the top. The damn headwind up the climb was so strong by now that practically the entire field came together at the top for the final flat 200 meter pack sprint, in which I took a pretty weak 5th. 10th overall in the race. Not quite enough prize winnings to earn back my entry fee. So much for being smart and tactful today. The break deserved to win though.

The next day was a much harder race, at least at the front. Out in a dark green forest somewhere near Olympia, the course consisted of 90 miles of slightly rolling terrain, located in either a river, lake or ocean I believe. Somewhere very wet at least. The sky poured and pissed for a little under four hours while we drank wheel spin off through mud-covered teeth. The rain never let up. It was a pretty fun race actually.

The day before, up at KV, I was too lazy so today I decided to get things off on the right foot like I usually do and attack from the gun. Lang and I were sitting right on the lead car when the race turned the first corner out of the staging area, where it supposedly became un-neutralized. We weren’t sure if the race was on or not after the corner, since the car never sped off, but neither of us looked back as the car slowly (very slowly) accelerated. We sat on its bumper until it finally pulled away from us. I looked back and was surprised to see that there was already a large gap to the field, so Lang and I hit it. I thought this could be the race, as we had 8 teammates back in the field that would hopefully shut down any moves up to us. We stayed off by ourselves for a good 6 or 7 minutes before a few guys started bridging up to us. It was good that we were caught, since the way we escaped the pack felt a bit shady. We were riding with about five other guys when the front of the field started eating us up. I followed a few moves as guys launched themselves over small risers in attempts to get away. I attacked again as well and our team kept the pace high with Colin, Logan, and others firing off bullets a dozen times in the next couple miles. I went a few too many times, possibly, when I should have been sitting on and covering moves instead. I unknowingly took off right before a small riser and drilled it to the base, went half way up and was countered by the guys sitting on my wheel. I pulled to the right to let the rest of the peleton come past, but didn’t realize I had made a small gap when I had accelerated earlier. No one from the field fully covered the move and at the top of the small hill, the eight guys slowly grew the tiny gap they had and the field soon sat up. Luckily, Phil had been in the move and in other circumstances, our team would have been happy to have the break go with one of our teammates. But since our team comprised roughly a quarter of the field, 1 in 8 wasn’t good odds for us.

We were going to attempt some bridging moves, but a crash in the field that occurred a few minutes after the move got away took away some of the pack’s potency. Before we knew it, the gap had grown to 45 seconds. Joe got us organized and we began an organized chase, but it was too little too late. The eight (7 if you don’t count Phil who was wisely sitting on) must have been drilling it with a tight-nit rotation, because the guys we put in the chase slowly lost ground every time we heard a gap check.

I was designated as one of the chasers, probably mainly because I was already at the front pulling, and I had no problem with it. I wanted to ride hard and whether that was on the front of the peleton or the front of the breakaway, I didn’t really care. My legs were tweaking out from the previous day’s wimpy riding, chomping in rage at the bit to feel some self-inflicted pain. I should have let the team know I had good legs and opted to sit on, resting for the final lap when we made contact with the break. I was feeling pretty good, though it wouldn’t have mattered anyways since we never caught the break.

As the miles ticked away, our feet turned from damp to drenched to soaking to saturated. It was so wet out I just decided to take a piss without even pulling out of my bibs. Just right in all my clothes. The warmth felt good on my cold legs as it flowed down into my shoes. I was hoping the plastic bags I had encased my feet in would keep the rain out, but they had not. And now as I pissed my pants I feared the bags would hold in everything that I had just dispensed from my bladder. I’m not sure if this happened. I haven’t smelled my shoes yet.

My gloves were so drenched I knew taking them off to reach my impossible pockets full of food would pull them inside out and I’d never be able to get them on again. This was probably my biggest problem during the race, as it made eating very difficult.

Anyways, by the final lap it was mainly just down to me taking pulls, with the breakaway still 3 minutes up the road and way out of our reach. Chris Wingfield was still up there with me, slogging himself for a few more miles before his legs failed, when the field began attacking itself. I was got pretty mad at that point, that all these guys that had been sitting on for the past 3 hours now had the nerve to attack (that’s racing though, duh). My legs were shot, and I knew it. And when you’re about to crack the only thing sane left to do is sit on and conserve—I mean attack. I threw down a few attacks in anger and promptly dropped myself. I caught back on tried a few more times, though by then it was a head wind and I decided to be a bit smarter.

The breakaway ended up only having 4 guys survive to the line, with Phil taking 4th. Chris Wingfield, who had been taking big pulls with me all day, got away about maybe 10 K from the finish line as we all attacked each other, sat up, attacked, and sat up again. He dangled just off the front and was finally bridged up to shortly before the finish by Jacob Rathe (my carpool mate for the day). Jacob didn’t contest the sprint and Chris took a decent 5th place for all his hard work. The tiny bit of peleton left on the road came roaring up behind seconds after those two crossed, fighting for a measly 7th place (the money stopped at 5th by the way). I came across the finish line third in the field sprint (if you can call 15 people a field) and immediately plowed right into Jacob, who had been pushed from someone on the left. I went down at 35mph or so and landed hard on my side on the pavement and Jacob was launched into the ditch on the side of the road. I slid a few feet on my back, with my wind vest and five other layers of clothing soaking up all the road rash I would have gotten if I had only been wearing a regular short sleeve jersey. Neither of us were seriously hurt, but my helmet, wind vest, deraileur hanger, and left shift lever are destroyed.

So 10th place both days. First day I sat in too much. Second day I spent all day in the wind. Maybe if I take the middle route I’ll finish 5th. Or 20th. One of the two.

We limped to the car and shed our soaked, freezing (and now bloody) clothes directly in the mud and grass parking area beside the car as we continued to get rained on. It was a long time to spend out in the rain slogging and suffering around the course for another 10th place, but I enjoyed it like always. The four of us (my dad and Jacob’s girlfriend Kathryn included) ducked into the car at last as the rain started coming down even heavier, and began the long drive home. First stop: the gas station for a bottle of ibuprofen. My neck and hip were sorer than a hooker’s on New Year’s.

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