Monday, September 13, 2010

Lotoja 2010

This is my 500th post on this blog. Don't know what, if anything, that means, but thanks for reading--it's cheaper than therapy.

Cold

It was 34 degrees (1 degree C) when we pulled into the Lotoja starting chute Saturday morning. I was dressed lightly for the weather, with bare knees, half-finger gloves, and a vest and arm warmers. Then I saw Garrett from Barbacoa--no vest, no arm warmers, just skin glistening with embrocation. This is a hard man, I thought to myself.

Steve and me, in the dark, just before heading to the start.

In the couple of races I've done in a combined Pro/1/2/3 field, I've noticed that when someone attacks, it's game on. The rest of the time, it's pretty leisurely. You just never know when someone is going to attack. We rolled slowly through town in the dark, but it wasn't long before we were doing 50kph because someone had decided to have a dig. It was off again on again like this all the way to Preston.

I was glad for the “on” moments, because I was freezing my baguettes off, and the effort almost kept me warm. Plus my only realistic ambition for this race was turning in a personal best time, and we needed to keep the pace up for that to happen. By the time we reached Preston, I had been shivering most of the ride, and my hands and feet were numb. I had been nervous about my feet hurting because I was in new shoes. The numbness made the shoes a non-factor, especially since full sensation would not return to my feet until after the race ended.

Gapped

A couple of guys escaped in the feed zone (which would be a recurring theme, ahem), but they were more or less ignored because they were bigger guys who just wanted a little head start on the climb to Strawberry summit. This climb was where the winning break of three got away in last year's 1/2/3 race, so I think we were all a little wary of what might happen.

Sure enough, the good climbers set a pace the rest of us simply couldn't match. Many racers were shelled off the back, but I ended up settling into a nice group led by Josh from Wright Medical. The pace was higher than comfortable for me, but sustainable. The guys up the road must have been really moving, because my teammate Curt got dropped from that group, and Bob H., a legend in Boise for his domination of the Bogus Basin Hill Climb, was also with us, along with Drew from Logan Race Club. I knew any group with Drew in it had a good chance of catching anyone up the road. As we reached the summit, we were told the gap to the leaders was three minutes.

The let-gravity-do-the-work part of the descent didn't last long (enough), and we were soon in a rolling paceline through the foothills above Ovid and making good time. I was hesitant about chasing because teammates Justin and Scott were ahead, but Curt said we should chase, so that's what we did. I don't get the impression that the group was working particularly hard to stay away, as we caught them well in advance of the Montpelier feed zone.

The Parade

After the feed zone, things were pretty leisurely as people were sorting out their food and eating. Justin and I needed to pee, so we rode ahead to find a place to stop. As we did, we noticed someone up the road from us that looked an awful lot like Cameron from Biker's Edge, who's won this race the last three years. Justin and I decided to get a little closer to make sure that was him before peeing. It was, so when the rest of the group caught us, we let them know who was up the road.

Cameron didn't seem to be trying to get away, and we caught him easily. Things ramped a bit over Geneva Summit, but that climb isn’t long enough to be decisive. Once again it was back to parade pace until the rest of the group decided to stop for a natural break. As we paused, Mark S. upped his tempo a bit and rode away from the group alone (ahem). By himself, he apparently wasn't perceived as a threat, so no pursuit. Then Curt tired of the slow pace and went up the road. He too was ignored. Then Dave B. from the Colorado-based Twin Peaks team joined Curt. Dave and Curt together are a real threat, as both are incredibly strong. But we still had one more climb, and I guess the group didn't think they were good enough climbers or far enough up the road to worry about.

The Meatball Express

This last climb up Salt River had me very nervous. This was where I got dropped from the lead group last year, and I expected the pace to be even more demanding this year. I figured I could bridge to Curt and Dave, and if the three of us worked together, we could get just enough cushion to stay with the leaders as they came over the top, but I had no intention of trying to get away with nearly 200k still to go.

I'm the smallest of the three at 73 kilos, so letting three meatballs go right before a climb apparently didn't look like a dangerous move, although when Steve and Josh tried to go with us, the field didn’t let them away. Dave, Curt, and I worked together and had a nice gap as we started the KOM. As the road tipped up, Dave dropped off, but Curt and I rode together and made up time on Mark S. as we climbed. We could see the chase behind us as we summited, but just barely. Curt and I caught Mark S. on the descent, and the three of us cooperated to try and maintain the gap.

As we approached the Afton feed zone, I could see a chase coming from behind, but it was just a handful of guys, not the full field. Two Biker’s Edge guys were leading it, and I naturally assumed one of them was Cameron. The catch was inevitable, so we eased and let them scoop us up. Turned out the Biker’s Edge guys were Jake and Jonny—Cameron had sent them ahead on the climb to catch and sit in on the break while he chased it down. Garrett had gone with them as had Nathan from Rooster’s and a Cat. 1 from California named Art. They caught and passed Dave on the climb, but he got back on.

We were now a group of nine, but Jonny and Jake were limiting their efforts for tactical reasons [edit: see Jake's comment for clarification--I got this part wrong], while Art, Mark S., and Nathan were all looking pretty spent and did not seem too inclined to pull. Garrett, Curt, Dave, and I did much of the pacemaking. Art and Nathan sat on the back, not pulling at all, Art whining how he didn’t get a feed and we were going to beat him anyway and he was just barely hanging on and on and on. I gave him a gel and told him to pull through or get off. He took one pull.

If I could pick three guys to be in a break with, they would be Dave, Garrett, and Curt. We were generally moving quickly, 50-55kph, but when Dave took the front, he’d drive it up to 60kph and hold it there a good 30 seconds. I’m convinced that every second we gained on the chase was when Dave was on the front.

Meanwhile

The main group coming over the summit included my brother Steve, teammates Justin and Scott, Darren from Team Excelerator, Cameron, Cameron’s teammate Quin, Drew, Bob H., and Bob’s teammate Jared, among others. It was a strong group including plenty of guys with incentive to chase down the break. When they reached the Afton feed zone, however, Cameron blazed through and gapped all but Justin, Scott, and Darren.

Justin and Scott refused to chase since they had teammates up. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but something spoiled the cooperation between Darren and Cameron, so Cameron was left shouldering the burden.

Time Splits and Rumble Strips

We had a two minute gap when we got our first split after the Afton feed zone. Our next split was 90 seconds. We were nervous but kept driving. The next one was 2:05, which was encouraging but by no means were we home free.

Anyone who has ridden a bike across Star Valley is familiar with the rumble strips. Choosing a line is tricky, as to the left of the rumble strips, it’s chip seal, and to the right, it’s a narrow path of smooth asphalt, littered with gravel and rocks, and barely wide enough to rotate through on a paceline. Considering that this stretch comprises 200km to 250km of a 332km race, and that nutrition is as critical as driving the pace at that point, eating, pulling, and rotating became a delicate balancing act.

Curt took a pull then went to the back to try and eat. Nathan was not taking pulls and let Curt in front of him. A truck pulling a trailer passed, and at the front of the field we heard a loud noise. We thought it was the trailer on the rumble strips. But when a minute or two went by and Curt didn’t come up, we realized he had fallen off.

While he was reaching for his bottle with one hand on the bar, Curt hit a rock that sent his front wheel sideways. He went down hard, and Nathan crashed with him. A strong pacemaker and an ally at the end was now out of the group and we were down to seven.

Nails in the Coffin

With Curt gone, Dave, Garrett, and I were driving the break. Of course, maybe to the others we seemed just about to pop. We were all tired. Our last time check was 2:15, but we had no idea if we were gaining or losing from there. I said something to Garrett or Dave (can’t remember which) about attacking the group and the three of us trying to hold it off, but we didn’t. Not sure why, but I guess we thought the other guys were nearly expired and wouldn’t be factors at the end, never a safe assumption.

The lead break of seven approaching the Alpine feed zone.

After the Alpine feed zone, we got into Snake River Canyon, which is one roller after another. It beats you down if you haven’t already been beaten. Art and Mark S. were now shouldering some of the load on the front, but a Biker’s Edge support vehicle had come up and yelled to Jake and Jonny to sit in, which they did with more determination than before.

Cameron, Justin, and Scott coming through the Alpine feed zone.

We were dying for a time check. If we only had 90 seconds, it made sense to sit up and save something for the finish. But if we had more than that, we might just stay away. The official finally pulled up and held up the whiteboard. 4:55.

Shortly thereafter, I saw a car drive by with what I was pretty sure was Cameron’s bike on the roof. He had abandoned—the break of seven would succeed. I realized I just needed to beat two guys from the break to finish in the money and on the podium and that one of the seven of us would take it. I forced myself to keep focused on the task at hand, to keep pedaling, because we still had 50k to go. A lot can happen in 50k, and winning was a long shot that would get even longer if we were caught.

Snake River Canyon—we knew at this point the break would stick.

Let the Games Begin

As we passed through Hoback Junction and approached the town of Jackson, a few short hills loomed ahead. I was leery that the Biker’s Edge guys who more or less had a free ride in the break could attack and get away. They didn’t, so it was just a question of when the attacks would begin on the road to Teton Village and what I had left. I knew it wasn’t much, I just hoped everyone else had less.

Approaching Teton Village, I was on the front and nobody would pull through. I offered some encouragement, but Garrett told me to settle down because nobody would come around at that point. Then he went to the front and with 5k to go took a dig. Everyone was sitting on my wheel and did nothing in response. Dave had been boxed in at the back but came forward and tried to close it. Dave had him close when “you’re going to beat me anyway” Art suddenly found some legs and attacked. I countered with Jonny, Jake, and Mark S. behind me. We were close with 1k to go, and I just hoped to have something for the sprint.

Garrett kept driving and it was clear he would hold it. With 200 meters, I started sprinting but just couldn’t hold Jonny and Jake off, crossing the line fourth (which presented a small problem—we were planning to go home after the race and didn’t book a room but now needed to stay overnight for awards the next morning; huge thanks to Pat for hooking us up with the UVU team cabin).

Garrett rolls across the line, arms held high.

Then there were a couple of disqualifications for yellow line violations and illegal feeds. When the final results were posted, guess who was in first place?

image

Gotcha. For some reason, the milliseconds site temporarily and erroneously had me in first while they were finalizing results. But it’s fun to pretend.

A very tired SBJ tries to comprehend what just happened.

Gleaning the Field

After the break of seven came through, Curt, Scott, and Justin took the next three spots and deserve all the credit for the break staying away—can’t thank these guys enough. Steve was first across the line in chase 2, so out of 43 starters, Revolution Cafe Rio placed all five of our guys in the first dozen across the line. Pete M. took fifth in a very tough 3/4 field, while Scott P. took fifth in his Cat. 4 race. Dina H. and Nancy S. took first and fifth in the Women’s 45 race. A good day for the team that certainly would have been even better were it not for Curt’s crash.

Scott and Justin in chase 1.

Hard man Nate P. coming through second in the 3/4 group. Nate was on track for a new course record but punctured with less than 30k to go. His breakaway companion Al set the new mark at 9:01:44. Next year, Nate, it’s all yours. Sub 9.

Steve outkicked Drew to lead chase 2 across.

Pro/1/2/3 podium l-r: me, Jake P., Garrett, and Jonny H. Garrett commented as I walked to the podium, “that’s a huge damn belt buckle.”

Had you told me before the race that I—along with Jonny, Steve, and Scott, one of just a handful of cat. 3s—would take even the lowest spot on the podium, I’d have never believed you. There were just too many smart, strong racers in that field for me to think I had a chance. A top ten finish was an optimistic outlook, and then only if I were able to follow wheels all day and come to the line relatively fresh. And now, as pleased as I am with the result, I can’t help fixating on the would haves. I will be forever proud of yet haunted by this race.

Congratulations, Garrett. You earned it. A hard man, indeed.

13 comments:

  1. Congrats on a great finish and a great finishing time. Almost made me wish I had ridden it this year.

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  2. Mark - that's a big time finish man, congrats!

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  3. Make sure to remember us little people, now that you're one of those "I didn't really want to race Lotoja, but I showed up and finished on the podium" sort of people. Nice work.

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  4. Great race report Mark. I just wanted to set the record straight on one point. Jonny and I were not sitting on hoping the chase would bridge. We were simply detonated by putting 3 minutes into the field on Strawberry and then more importantly 2+ min on Salt River Pass... I wanted to work and wasn't trying to impede our progress. Neither Jonny or I missed a pull till Alpine. If it wasn't for our attacks on Salt River our little group of 9 probably would have looked more like a group of 20. Great ride though, you rolled the dice and it turned out well. Congrats again.

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  5. Jake: thanks for setting the record straight. I try to be as accurate as I can in these race reports, but of course I have my bias as I write them, and I can only report how I remember things went down. And that's not always accurate. I'm glad the other players read to make sure and keep me honest.

    Great job at the race and congratulations on a great result. Steve told me about your efforts on that Salt River climb. That must have been something to gap the field like that.

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  6. Holy crap your time was fast. Congrats!

    (I don't think I can ride with you anymore. I would leave a longer comment but I'm going to start emailing around and see if I can find me some slower friends to ride with.)

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  7. Oh to be fast enough to have a car pull up holding a whiteboard with a time written on it. Maybe I'll have the wife carry one of those on future races. Of course she'll be updating how far back I am from the lead group and the number will have two colons in it.

    Very cool result Mark - way to go.

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  8. Was in lead group at 150 miles and ended up crahsing due to a Revo guy getting a water bottle/rock. Just got back from Dr. and found out I have a broken wrist and broken elbow. Still finished 16th, worst thing I have ever done. Congrats to the first group of guys.
    Nate/Roosters

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  9. Nate, way to stick it out and finish with the broken wrist/elbow. That had to have been painful. However, before you play the blame game with Curt (Rev guy) for your crash, ask yourself if it would have happened had you been taking turns on the front rather than letting people pull in front of you and getting a free ride.

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  10. Not sure where the blame game is??? Simply said why there was a crash.I believe it's the same thing your teammate said also.

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  11. Nate: Sorry. Misread the tone of "due to Revo guy" as a more accusatory "Revo guy crashed me out." Again, strong work finishing despite the injury and getting that gap on Salt River. That must have been a huge effort for you guys to get away like that--too bad they don't have KOM times, I'm sure yours was something.

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  12. Nice write up... very insightful. Thanks for sharing your story. This year was my first ever in cycling and my first ever LOTOJA. I'm feeling a bit of the postpartum blues from the race experience. Your words and work inspire me.

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