This was a weekend of surprises. I’ve been bemoaning my lack of activity of late and it’s been cause for a great deal of worry leading up to this coming weekend’s stage race in Walla Walla. It’s an event that we as a team get excited about, and personally is one of the highlights of the race season. So to be knocked off my routine of racing hard on the weekends and getting in a good mid-week workout by a maelstrom of strange and stressful life trips has been disconcerting.
The first surprise, due to a two day lapse in perfunctory Facebook perusals, was that Ian banged himself up on the way in to work last Friday yet raced twice at the first criterium race of the season in Volunteer Park on Saturday. The Masters category was open to anyone 30 and older, so a number of us decided to to get as much work in as the day would allow. A mild concussion would not deter Ian from such laid plans! The second surprise was that Jamie, sick as a dog, also raced twice. It was my plan to race Masters and the Pro/1/2 events, but I whiled away the morning and early afternoon canvasing the neighborhood in search of our lost dog.
The Pro/1/2 event was fairly uneventful. It’s a strange course: there’s a slight uphill drag on the finishing strait, a round-about at the water tower, a downhill, and an uphill that has the misfortune, for the racers at least, of having a chicane or two that creates congestion and disrupts the flow of the race. It’s the one place you would naturally advance your position in the group, and so everyone does at the same time and inevitably you end up grabbing a fistful of brakes and sprinting back up to speed. Everyone fired a number of aggressive shots throughout the race. My shot, fired early, was in the form of a poorly thrown three bladed Nerf boomerang, the one you may remember from you childhood, the one that traces an arch with a three foot radius. My legs felt heavy and dead and two laps after my miserable attempt to follow a move off the front I was on the verge of quitting the race. So I tucked my tail and whiled away a good chunk of time in the middle of the field. Ian, Galen, Jamie, and Geoff and Spencer all policed the race and made sure we were represented in any breaks. But nothing got away. Everything was chased down pretty quick. Like I said, pretty uneventful. Sam Johnson rode away, in a move that was not so obvious that anyone reacted to it and wound up holding off the field for the last 5 laps of the race. Back in the pack there were two frenzied laps of fighting for position for the sprint. Lenovo had Ian McKissick in small chase group and so was doing nothing to keep the field speed up. He was caught in the final laps and they were unprepared to set up a leadout for their group of sprinters. So it was unorganized. Ian and I both jockeyed for position, to good avail. I was on the wheel of David Fleischeur, who won the field sprint, but an idiotic move by a Garage rider threw me out of position with a little over a lap to go. Somehow I managed to get on Ian Tubbs’ wheel coming into the finishing stretch and finished up in the front group of sprinters. Ian would have been up there too if not for some poor bike handling in the pack. There were few ambitions for this race, other than getting some speed work done in preparation for Walla Walla. Nobody got hurt, Ian’s head stayed attached, Jamie didn’t make himself sicker, and Galen didn’t even crash once!
For Sunday’s race, out past Elma off highway 101, I had a late start on the day and rushed to get out of the house. Leaving myself barely enough time to drive there and register and change, I realized at Southgate, on the shoulder of I-5, where in a panic I stopped, pulled over and checked my duffel bag to assuage my fears, that, in fact, I was dolt and had forgotten my bibshorts. I had no adequate baselayers to cut up and zip-tie a passable loin-cloth together to race in so it was back home for me, in a mad panick. The drive down was an hour and forty minutes of non stop anxiety. Tricia and Christine had been alerted and filled out my necessary paper work and all I could do was cross my fingers that the traffic revision on I-5 wouldn’t put me at the race after my start time.
Surprise number three was that my forgetfulness wasn’t met with a heavy, heavy stupidity tax. I made my start time, but had no chance to touch base with Spencer, my sole teammate for the day, to strategize briefly. Besides, I was there only to get 90 miles of preparation in my legs. The course, mostly flat with a few good rollers that made you work and hurt a little, had just enough topography to make the race pretty interesting. It was as aggressive as anything I’ve been part of. Much like the early season Sequim races. FAST!! Attacks went off left and right all race long. Since I had nothing to lose, I impulsively went with anything that had any of the usual suspects in it: Tubbs, Hone, Sam Johnson, Lang, Russel. I figured I would do this ’til I tired and then take a break, sit in and ride the rest of the race comfortably in the pack.
Surprise number four was that Lenovo missed a decent break and had to chase! So nice to watch them work! After going with every move I could muster, I finally broke. There was a really fast, short decent with a super tight righthand corkscrew turn in it and a then a quick left/right through a stopsign onto the finishing strait. I went down that in a lead group that had a bit of a gap and there were multiple attacks with a sweet tailwind. Making the next right put us in a cross-wind, and I was fourth wheel behind Sam Johnson, Russel Stevenson, and Ian Tubbs. But the crosswind was too much and the group that looked so promising slipped away from me. That was when Bikesale organized a chase and brought them all back. I considered myself lucky not to have wasted too much energy on that move. I think the next move to go was the one that stuck. Every team except ours and Cucina Fresca was represented, and no one was too threatening in it: Kyle Farrel (Garage), Steve Wilssens (Bikesale), Lang Reynolds and Chris Parrish (HB), Ryan Iddings (Lenovo), some dude from Oregon, and some guy from what used to be The Valley. It turned out the be the perfect mix. Spencer immediately went to the front and presented me with Surprise number five.
If I were to pose the question, how many Lenovo guys would it take to equal the chase efforts of one Spencer Paxon, you would likely say two, maybe three. WRONG! Turns out their entire team combined lacked Spencer’s chasing prowess. In the 20 or so miles that Spencer flogged himself at the front of the field like a man possessed, receiving occasional help from Luke Pennington, a fellow mountainbiker, and a turn here and there thrown in by me, the gap was maintained and on a couple of occassions reduced significantly. They were right THERE! Just up ahead. But nobody else had any interest in chasing.
Until surprise number six: Ryan Iddings popped from the break and Lenovo was forced the chase AGAIN! They, however, were wildly ineffectual, and under their watch the gap steadily grew to two minutes. Russel Stevenson was delighted by this turn of events.
Going into the last lap, Russel rode up to me and said he’d watched me through the corkscrew descent (it dumps you out at about 1.5K to go to the finish) and that I was carrying a line and speed that could get a sweet gap. He suggested that I get to the front, push it through the decent with him and he would lead me out. He’s not a teammate, so I took that plan for what it was: an option that may or may not pan out. Spencer asked me how I felt and I told him I was on the verge of having race-ending leg cramps (typical) and that I would be useless. He suggested that he attack at the top of the feedzone and I try to follow. Then he suggested I fight off the cramps by pushing a huge gear up the feedzone hill. I was skeptical, but I tried it and it worked! Spencer attacked, I followed mashing the biggest gear I could turn and he hammered all the way to the downhill where I was so eager to floor it at the limits of control and gap off the the young HB guys on my wheel. It was all going exactly as I hoped! But then, disappointment. The descent was riddled by traffic. Spencer and I just barely made the turn and cut inside a Jeep, but at the stopsign were TWO cars, slowing down and totally unpredictable. I yelled at him to cut through. Nervewracking! Spencer continued to hammer, towing me closer and closer to the line, but the endless chasing he did mid-race caught up with him and he began to fade with about 300M to go. I came around him and gave it my all. Neck and neck with Sam Johnson who was giving it an early charge, knowing the sprinters would catch him up. With 150M to go my legs completely seized up and the rush of the field sprint passed me up. I limped to the finish line, pleased to see Spencer at the tail end of that lead group.
A better showing by two guys, given the size and strength of several of the teams there, couldn’t have been hoped for. We did the team proud. Spencer had the whole field in awe by the workhorse spectacle he put on for 20 or so miles, and while I came up short, I was a mere 150M from racing my brains out and finishing top5.
Walla Walla here we come! I think the boys are all rested up, amped up, and eager to get the show on the road!