I left off when I was in the airport on Wednesday. After the flight, one of my college friends, Will, picked me up at LAX. He lives in Palms, 10 miles away from the airport and right next to an In N’ Out. I got everything.
The next morning I lugged my bike bag and backpack a half-mile to the bus station and missed my bus by one minute. It was warm and sunny out, so the next 45 minutes went by quickly as I waited for the next one.
Everyone kept tripping over my bike bag on the bus since there was only standing room left. No one seemed to mind though. A short hour later and I was at a light rail station. The train was much more pleasant than the bus and went the same distance in less than half the time.
From the end-of-the-line train station in Pasadena, I drug all my stuff a few blocks to a huge Mexican restaurant for each chips and salsa while a short wait for Colin and Ross to pick me up on their way.
A brief summary of the rest of the day: they picked me up, we drove to the Double Lemon Tree Inn, picked lemons, drove to Glendora Mountain for a TT preview ride, went to Trader Joe’s, I rode back to the motel, and we slept. Colin rolled around in his sleep like a claustrophobic trapped in a sleeping bag.
Stage One was 4.7-mile uphill time trial. They lengthened it from recent years, which I was not happy to hear about. It only took me a minute longer than it did last year, but that last minute was the most painful minute. I’d gone into the time trial with a goal power output in mind, which I maintained for the first four minutes. Then my body revolted and decided to go 40 watts fewer. The 4K to go sign was not a welcome sight, for I’d started going to piece even before that. I was shooting for top 30 but finished 56th. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Stage Two was the circuit race, which in my opinion is the only reason this race is worth traveling to. I like it. I like it a lot, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s most people’s least favorite race day of the year. There’s no caravan so if you flat your day is over, which has happened to me before. Of little concern to most but certainly of concern to me was the fact that there’s no neutral water. I managed to craftily steal a bottle on lap two. Alan gave me a bottle on lap three. Someone else handed me a bottle a lap after that. Then a few laps later another racer offered me a bottle, probably feeling guilty after seeing my pleas from the feed zone start to finish. All in all I had five bottles since one of mine popped out on the first lap, which was just enough. Oh, and I forgot to mention that earlier in the day I’d done a thirty minute spin before breakfast on the course and found a (mostly) unopened pack of Cliff Blocks. Strawberry flavor. It was the first thing I ate in the race.
Water and difficulty of the stage aside, the main reason the circuit race is feared and loathed is because it’s super sketchy. The road is pot-holed, laden with road furniture, technical for a US road race, and parts of the course are only sort of closed to oncoming traffic, but not really. That last bit is the main problem. We’ll be spread out on the road with half the field on the left side going into a downhill turn at 45mph and somebody will scream “car” just in time for there not to be a massive list of casualties.
The biggest upset of the day was unfortunately a result of the race leader, Phil Gaimon, crashing out into some barriers and being airlifted away. We neutralized ourselves in the pack after he and others went down, going slow for almost a full lap since no one knew what was going on or whether he was trying to get back into the group. The hesitation gave the breakaway a winning chance for once. It’s usually not worth going for the break, but every once in a while it pays off big. Their gap went from one minute to three.
The day before during the time trial my legs had still been a bit cooked from the intervals I did earlier in the week and all the plane, train, bus, and car travel, but I felt good today. I was positioning fairly well going into the climb each time and was always in the main group and ahead of all but one of the crashes. With two laps to go the field was down to less than 100 from the original 170 starters and I could sense that most of the burning lungs and aching legs surrounding me wouldn’t be making over the climb the 12th and final time. Sometimes this race ends in a pack of 60. Not today.
I moved up alone in the wind as we approached the climb, deciding that it would be better to be a bit burnt for it than get stuck too far back. This proved true as I had no major difficulty getting over it in the lead group. I can usually stick on the wheel if the climb is short enough; the psychological blow of having to close down gaps to maintain contact with the lead group is much worse than using energy for positioning properly.
Roughly 25 of us made it over the top and descended upon the 2KM finish straight. I stuck close to Ben Jacques-Maynes’ wheel, knowing he’d be good for the finish. Possibly unwisely, I made my way around him when he wasn’t up as far as I wanted to be. I’ve been too far back too many times for the sprint and decided I’d rather be up front and risk blowing up in the wind getting there than be too far back and never get a chance to sprint.
A couple short-lived attacks were brought back since nothing was going to stick with the cross/tailwind and still enough guys to ensure a sprint. I moved up on the left by myself with just under a kilometer to go, ready to jump on someone’s wheel and get the hell out of the wind as soon as possible. With 300 or 400 meters to go Ben Jacques-Maynes came out of the line and jumped early just to the right of me. I tried to get on his wheel but was immediately gapped off. Couldn’t even get on the damn wheel for half a second. This is because they guy I’d thought was Ben was actually JJ Haedo. He gapped everyone off and took the pack sprint by a full second. Two of his teammates had survived off the front in the breakaway by 40 seconds, making it 1-2-3 for Jamis. After I blew up from too much time in the wind and then attempting to follow Haedo, I finished 10th in our sprint, 12th in the race. Pretty decent considering the depth of the field and the difficulty of the day. Only 86 guys managed the time cut.
I was happy with the result for most of that afternoon, but the feeling passed as I thought about how nice it would have been to at least be top 10. Or maybe a single digit placing. Or maybe top 5 and get on the podium. Or maybe if I’d been perfectly positioned on Haedo’s wheel I could have stuck on him and nipped him at the line for third. Screw that, what I should have done was just ride off the front a lap or two earlier and catch the breakaway for the win. Or ride off the front, catch the breakaway, drop them and win by two minutes to take the GC lead. The upsetting thing about cycling, or life in general I guess, is that it’s impossible to be completely content unless you win the Tour seven times. But even that won’t be enough and you’ll have to come out of retirement and try for an 8th.
Sunday was the crit. It was a bit of an anticlimactic day for me. First off, I was all alone since Colin and Ross left the night before. I rode to the race after checking out of the motel and settled down in the Starbucks along the course for a couple hours, drinking coffee and loosing a bunch of chess.com games in a row. I won a bunch after the time trail, but have been on a rapid decline ever since. I’ve lost 13 games in a row in the past two days, proving that practicing something makes you worse at it.
After losing at chess it was time to go warm up and lose at bike racing. Since not attacking at all the day before had paid off with a good result, I decided to at least stave off any inclinations of attacking in the first hour. Maybe if it looked like things were breaking up or disorganized in the last half hour I’d start attacking. If that didn’t look like a good option, I’d just conserve and wait for the sprint.
So I tail gunned the first 60 minutes, just sitting at the back and coasting through the corners. Back in 2010 I got dropped from this crit somehow. After I got pulled, my director, Joe Holmes, took me to one of the corners and showed me how certain guys at the back didn’t have to pedal for roughly 300 meters. They did this by allowing a gap to open up, coast through the corner with extra speed, bypass the bunching accordion effect, and be back on the wheels in time for the acceleration out of the corner—which they didn’t have to do and therefore would save massive amounts of energy all throughout the course. This is called tail gunning and is further proof that most crits are stupid. It was so easy back there I was breathing through my nose almost the entire time. And my nose was stuffed up!
With 30 minutes to go I began moving up. I hovered around 30th to 40th wheel with 15 minutes to go. I pretty much just stayed there in the laundry cycle of passing guys on one side and getting passed back on the other. I ended up doing too poor of a job positioning and just rolled in at 37th, which kept my 20th GC and earned me $72.
Will drove in from LA to pick me up and watch the race. Later that evening we drove down to Venice Beach and I went body surfing for twenty minutes as the sun set. I hadn’t been in the ocean for over two years and it was right up there in terms of the most enjoyable things I’ve done in a while. Now for a long day of travel, work, unpacking, and rebuilding my bike before a team motor pacing session tomorrow morning. Redlands is fast approaching.