Thursday, August 12, 2010

A satisfying glimpse

A week ago Saturday, I raced in the Tour DAY Park City*. The next day I packed up and went on vacation and didn’t give a second thought to this blog until I got home. But since Aaron was curious enough to ask me about the race the other day, I figured I’d do a race report.

*I hate that they use “de” in the name of the race. But I ranted about that last year**, and the promoters ignored me. They did not ignore my rant about feed zones, however, so I’m inclined to just be grateful for the improvements this year over last and ignore their preposterous and pompous use of a French word in the name of an American race since they’re clearly not interested in coming to their senses about it.

**Not just on this blog. I actually provided feedback to the race organizers, I think via an online survey, which I thought was a nice touch and an indication that they were serious about improving*** the quality of the event.

***Aside from the name, one other thing they failed to improve is their ability to measure distances using the metric system. The 200m to the summit sign was a good 500m from the summit. And the finishing straight, which according to USAC rules must be at least 200m without any turns, was no more than 50m from the last corner. This was a huge problem last year, with a confusing labyrinth of a finish. This year’s finish was less confusing, but no more straight. But this 200m finishing straight problem is not unique to this race, as Terry McGinnis and State Championship Criterium are similarly afflicted and have finishes more dangerous than they need be as a result. I’m really not sure why USAC officials allow the promoters to set up courses that don’t satisfy the rules.

I’ll get the results out of the way up front: I placed 14th. Nominally one of my worst results of the season, yet I’m perfectly happy with the race and my performance.

We raced in a combined Pro/1/2/3 field, which is the primary reason I’m happy with the result. We were scored separately, so I was the 14th out of 20ish Cat. 3s across the line. But racing with the big boys changed the dynamics of the race enough that I still think of it as a good result. Here’s how it went down.

The ride up Chalk Creek Road was just that—a ride. A far cry from the brutal pace up that road the weekend before. Once we got to the dirt, we drilled it pretty hard. Then when we were on pavement again, a few guys went off the front, including teammate Pete. Elliott and Curt, two of our Cat. 2 teammates, suggested we get one more in the break, but they knew it would get chased down if it were one of them. Steve volunteered to bridge while the rest of us chased down anyone else that tried to get across.

As we started the climb, the break had four and a half minutes on the field. I thought with that kind of lead, and the shortened course being downhill or flat the last 80k, they would stay away for sure. I got on the front and rode tempo to try and keep the pace just high enough to discourage other attacks, but not so high that we’d gain time on the break. I knew it was only a matter of time until things blew up.

And blow up they did. When the Pro/1/2* guys decided it was time to go, I went from first to being spit out the back in seconds. I didn’t even try to keep up and just upped my tempo to what I knew I could hold to the summit and hoped they didn’t catch Steve and Pete.

*There was only one “pro” in the race, but he won.

At the front end of the race, the four and a half minute gap was down to one minute within ten minutes of that move being made. Less than 1k from the summit, they were caught. Heartbreaking.

Back in the autobus, I teamed up with Jeremy, a Cat. 2 from Ski Utah and winner of this race two years ago, and Brooks, a Cat. 3 from Wright and someone who dropped me like a stone when we climbed this pass in the other direction at High Uintas. Yet somehow, I was feeling good enough that the pace was higher when I was on the front, and the other two quit taking pulls and just followed me, promising to make up for it on the other side.

Just short of the summit, we caught Manny, another Cat. 2 from Bike Shoppe, and the four of us worked together on the descent. It was hopeless to try and bring back the lead group, but we thought there was an outside chance of catching the first chase group and still getting a respectable finish.

With about 20k to go, we spotted a rider ahead, evidently one of Brooks's teammates. It was Alex, who had dropped off of the chase group when he caught a finger in his spokes. He joined us but stifled some of our hope when he indicated the chase was pretty far up the road.

Shortly thereafter, though, we could see traffic getting backed up, indicating the vehicles were probably stuck behind the race. Which meant we could catch them if we drilled it. So we did. Or rather continued to drill it. Because we’d been going pretty much all out since the point we got dropped on the climb. In hindsight, passing backed-up traffic on the left wasn’t such a great idea on a two lane road, especially when a Camry decided to make a surprise left into a gas station, nearly taking Manny and me out. But we survived the Camry and caught the chase group.

What we should have done at this point was keep going right on past them. We were 10k from the finish, and this group was the breakaway plus those that got popped from the leaders, about 15 strong. They were in no mood to chase and would have let us ride away from them. Instead, we sat in, glad to not have to do the work anymore.

My legs however, thought the race was over. When I tried to pedal again after a few minutes rest, they let me know there would be none of that by cramping from hips to knees. No sprinting for me.

Out of our group, Pete took the bunch sprint, with Steve right behind. Up the road, Will missed the Cat. 3 win by the narrowest of margins, while Curt and Justin went third and fourth in the Pro/1/2 field.

Good day for the team, and other than the cramps, I felt strong all day*. Not hang-with-the-Pro/1/2-and-stupid-fast-climber-3-guys-over-the-pass strong, but as strong as I’ve felt on a climb like that and stronger still on the other side. Would have loved for the break not to be caught, and were we not racing with the big boys, it probably wouldn’t have. But then again, it may have never gotten away in the first place.

*I felt like a decroted piece of crap after. For a couple days after the race, I thought I had torn a calf muscle, it hurt so bad. I struggled to hike up small inclines, and stairs were torture. Training for racing involves bringing yourself right up to the edge of collapse, and then backing down, each time extending the limit of where the collapse is reached. I was pretty sure after this race ended that I had reached the point of collapse. Of course, I also planned to go on vacation for the week after the race with that expectation.

In our all-too-soft modern society where very few jobs involve real risk or the testing of physical limits, bike racing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, open-water swimming, bull fighting, marathon running, and countless other pastimes occasionally allow us a brief glimpse of what we’re really made of and what our bodies evolved to be able to accomplish. The days when we’re afforded that glimpse and don’t come away disappointed are the most satisfying.


  1. I am trying to figure out how on earth you would get your finger caught in your spokes. That must have been a long and awkward reach for the water bottle.

  2. Not him- me. You can go read my post, but it was because a) I was tired and distracted* and b) I am a total Utard**.

    *I don't know if SBJ left it out or didn't encounter it like we did, but the lower-Mirror Lake highway traffic was horrendous- repeated slam-on-brakes slowdowns, RVs passing with <1 foot*** clearance.

    ** Don't listen to what anyone else says; I am the guy who invented that term.

    ***Oops, I mean 0.31 meters.