Still Crazy After All These Years...
should have known better.
Last year I had a lot of fun, riding my first road race in 20 years.
I said then that I'd do it again, and fortunately, it looked like a variety of
conspiracies (including the tendency to schedule road races on Saturdays, when I can't get
away from the shop) were going to keep me from experiencing such pain & suffering, er,
I mean fun, again.
Until they flip-flopped the dates for the Vacaville Criterium and the Winters' Road
Race, that is. All of a sudden, there was what looked like an ideal road race for me
on Sunday, August 30th. The description said rolling hills, and I'd kinda had my
share of the really nasty stuff, so this looked just about right.
Of course, it turned out the description wasn't quite correct...the "rolling"
hills had a couple of sections steeper than Tunitas Creek, and when you add that to
Sacramento Valley heat, well...
This time there were four of us from Chain Reaction in Redwood City...myself (Mike),
Bruno (our service manager), Dick (super road-bike salesperson) and Jim (who works in our
warehouse). All of us are Cat-5 material...OK, I'd be Cat-6 if there was such a
thing! (I left out Sergei, who normally races as a Junior, but today was riding Cat-3
The race starts out innocently enough, basically flat for the first 8 miles or so as
you head south, parallel to I-505. After last year's experience, I knew that
maneuvering around a pack wasn't going to be too difficult, and I also knew that I was
going to have a much easier time on the flats than I would once we hit the hills (which is
very ironic, since I much prefer riding hills...I'm just not so fast on them anymore!).
After about a mile of 21mph or so, I figured I'd better get something going to
split things up or else there wouldn't be anyone behind me when we hit the hills! So
a few of us head up to the front and kick the speed up to 25-26mph or so. I figured
even if we don't shake a few people loose, at least I'd get used to working my legs out
before we hit the so-called rollers.
Eventually we turn right and head west into some relatively easy and short climbs...and
I'm hanging in there feeling pretty good. As long as I start each climb near the
front, I'm still in fine shape over the top, finding myself in the middle of the pack.
It's about this time (10 miles into the first lap) where I have my first not-so-fun
experience (many more are to come!) as something, don't know what, has found its way into
my jersey and stings me four times before I either manage to get it out or have
successfully squished it...you'd think that by now (12 hours later) I'd have looked at the
inside of the jersey to find out...
And now we come to the first real climb...and there I go off the back. The group
had started with about 40 riders, and at this point I'm not really sure how many riders
are ahead of me, but it's probably about 20, including the other three from the shop.
As I get towards the top I notice the main group's about 20 seconds ahead of me,
and Dick (one of our riders) is in-between myself and the pack. Darn. I was
hoping he'd be able to hang in there. Well, OK, what I was really hoping was that
I'd be in the main pack at that moment!
And now for the big descent...which I could really use...only to find that Dick's
crashed about 1/3 of the way down while trying to pass some other riders! At this
point, I'm torn between racing and checking Dick out...well, since I've already been
dropped, I slow down to see if he's OK. Looks like he's going to get back on his
bike, so I slowly proceed a bit down the hill and wait...but he's not coming, and I'm only
getting in the way of other cyclists. Later on, I find out that he's OK (road rash,
of course) but couldn't continue because he'd broken his helmet!
Well, from this point on it really looks like I'm going to be riding mostly alone...the
rules don't allow you to ride with anyone not in your category, and I'm definitely faster
than those behind me, and there's not much chance I'll catch up with the pack. The
prospect of riding 35 miles alone isn't exactly wonderful, but one never knows how many
might drop out in front! Besides, I'm riding the Y-Foil with Rolf Wheels, and there
is absolutely, positively a significant aero advantage on the flats with that bike.
But it turns out that riding alone is not going to be the worst of my problems.
Since this was going to be a very hot race (forecast of 102 degrees), I had decided to
rig the bike for three water bottles...with two behind the seat. And I did this rigging on
the evening before the race, meaning that I hadn't had a chance to really check it out,
other than to make sure it wasn't going to hit my legs as I pedaled. Which means
that it was a complete surprise to me that not once, not twice, but three times I lost
both water bottles (and their contents) on a couple bumpy sections of road! Which
also means that three separate times during the race I had to retrieve my bottles, since I
didn't want them to cause anyone to crash. Such fun.
What it also meant was that, half-way through the first lap, I had less than half a
bottle of Cytomax, and had to hope that, if I decided to continue, that A: There'd be
somebody in the feed zone who could hand me a bottle (there was), and B: That I could
somehow survive that long (in the heat) before getting more water. Unfortunately,
I'm not one to start a race and not finish, and much as I wanted to, I wasn't going to
start today. So I assume the position (semi-aero, trying to get out of the wind,
light as it was) and gamely finish the first lap and fatalistically make the right turn
for the next lap instead of the left turn that would take me back to the car (and a cooler
full of cold drinks!). And for half a lap pray for water at the feed zone.
Thank goodness there were friendly faces in the feed zone!!! Sergei, our
super-duper junior, had his mom & younger brother there, and they got two priceless
bottles of cool water to me. I now had enough to keep going, although I had no hope
of catching up to whatever was left of the pack. Still, I was able to gradually
catch and pass a number of individual riders, without having anyone overtake me...so
things could be worse.
On the final steep climb I find Jim Taylor at the side of the road, underneath a tree,
looking like he wanted to do anything but get back on his bike! I really didn't
expect this...I figured he was still up there with the main pack...but it did mean at
least I was ahead of somebody in my group. I struggled up the remainder of the climb
and down the tricky descent one last time. At the bottom is a sharp right-hand
corner, complete with a course marshal and a sheriff controlling traffic, both offering
the kind of encouragement you'd expect if you were trying to break the hour record!
Amazingly, I still had some wit remaining and yelled back something along the lines of
"Gee, it's great that you guys are out here helping me to suffer like this!"
They seemed to get a kick out of that...and I really can't say enough about the
enthusiasm of both the course marshals and those from the sheriff's department.
I'm on the flats now in what really is quite a pretty area...lots of trees & grass,
creeks & orchards. It's almost like a hidden Shangri-la, in great contrast to
the dried-out and barren landscape that's visible from the freeway...and yet at this point
you just really don't care. You should, but the heat is beginning to get to you,
your legs feel like they're just beginning to cramp first here, then there, and dang if I
didn't lose my bottles one more time...this just after passing a young lady who'd been
dropped by her group and was also going it alone. So, once more I turn around,
retrieve my bottles and get back on track...passing the female cyclist again about a mile
down the road.
I've got my rhythm down at this point...a steady 21 miles per hour (the pack would be
doing about 23 here)...and pass the small lake/large pond on the left thinking two things:
#1: The scene in the movie The Yellow Jersey, about the Tour De France many years
ago, where on a very hot day the entire pack ditched their bikes and jumped into a canal,
and #2: It's not too far to the finish. But my how those last four miles took their
toll on my body! I kept my pace up not having any idea how...I felt totally wasted,
but continued on in autopilot mode, without even pain as my friend. I just existed,
droning along, waiting for the finish line, continuing to pass a few stragglers here and
there. Stragglers who had given in to the pain in their legs and the unquenchable
dryness of their mouths. People smarter than I!
And finally, there it was...the finish line. OK, first there was a 500 meter
sign, which seemed to come much further in advance of the line than I imagined it would.
Then the 200 meter sprint sign, at which point I figured there was a darned good
chance I was going to make it. And then the finish line itself, which I crossed at
full speed...so fast, in fact, that the only image that wasn't blurred was the finish line
itself, which was very much in focus! OK, that's not quite true...I crossed the line at
"full drone speed" (21mph) and was so out of it that I didn't notice Bruno was
there...I only thought of making it back to the truck. I just continued on, back into town
and to my waiting truck and its promise of cold drinks and the opportunity to sit on
something other than a bicycle seat.
My guess is that I probably finished around 20th out of a field of 40, due almost
entirely to attrition as quite a few riders sensibly dropped out. Alas, a DNF (did
not finish) is something I couldn't do 25 years ago, and I seem no less sensible now.
Looking back on it, I'm glad I did it, but not really sure why. Last year's
race left me feeling much better afterwards...maybe I was in better shape then? And
I certainly finished better (9th place then vs 20th or so now). But I'm still
looking forward to next year...I hear the San Ardo road race isn't nearly so hilly!
2:40 overall time, 48.7 miles, 18.1 avs
1:18 first lap, 25.0 miles, 19.4 avs (first lap a bit longer due to a lead-in to the
For Jim Taylor's account of this same race...
For an overview of the
various rides on this site...