Saturday, January 5, 2008

Pine Flat Road Race (Four is still the magic number) (20060225)

Alright, so where are we? Well, in official races this year, I've:

* gotten crashed out (Early Bird Crit)
* gotten fourth place (Martinez Crit)
* then crashed out (Cherry Pie Crit, though I still finished top half)

I haven't done a road race yet though, and I haven't done anything
against my peers that involved climbing up hills while on a bike, so I
thought this weekend would be a good opportunity to see how I did in
those conditions.

That means it's time to head to beautiful Pine Flat Reservoir, outside
of Fresno, California. The drive is so long that I drove up the day
before, pre-rode part of the course with my friend and teammate Jason
James, then we camped out near registration. That was great actually -
the stars were fantastic.

The next morning dawned cold but with good weather, we lined up and took
off. This race features two sharp climbs in it after about 50 miles of
rolling or flat roads, and nothing really happens in the race until the
climbs hit.

I had one other teammate there besides Jason James - Jim Rusk. Jim is a
climber by trade so he was looking forward to Pine Flat but he also
hadn't raced yet this year so he wasn't sure how he would do. The night
before, we talked strategy and decided that we would pay attention
during the race so that no breakaways got away in the flat section (like
one did last year) but we wouldn't do anything until the first climb.
Once that climb came, the goal was to make it over in a small group, but
not alone, then get to the bottom of the final sharp climb in a
competitive spot.

Things basically played out exactly as we wanted them to - the pace was
really lethargic on the run-up to the first climb, but things all of the
sudden got hot once the road pointed up. When the pack hit the climb,
gaps started opening up everywhere and people were going either forwards
or backwards really fast as the climb sorted the group out. I attacked
up the last steep ramp of the first climb and got a decent gap, with a
couple people headed off the pack in search of me, meanwhile the pack
continued disintegrating.

Just over the top of the climb, I sat up a little bit to regroup so I
wouldn't have to work alone on the long downhill to the final climb, and
I eventually ended up in a group of 10 or 12 (I'm not sure) along with
my teammate Jason James. This was a good spot to be in as none of the
other guys had teammates, and the group was big enough that we could
hold off the rest of the field if we worked together.

We got a quick rotation going, and somewhere in the middle of it, Jason
rolled by me and asked how I felt on the climb. I told him I felt
fantastic (since I did - which was a really great feeling after all the
work this winter) and then he asked me if there was anything I wanted
him to do. That alone is a really self-less act, and the best thing I
could think of was for him to drill it in the section right before the
final climb to make sure we had pressure on the group and we really did
stay away.

Jason said he'd do it, and true to his offer, he really lined it out, in
just the right spot, for just the right amount of time. We got to the
point where we staring at the final 1.5km of climb, and I was sitting
third wheel, just behind one guy, and with a Webcor guy maybe 20 meters
in front of us. The final climb was a real slugfest - just brute
strength really. With 200 meters to go I was in fourth place, and I
stepped on the gas, momentarily passing two guys and making it up to
second place (the Webcor guy was still in front, with a solid lead).
Unfortunately, I couldn't quite hold that pace, so I eased off a touch,
and two people came by me, so I ended up in fourth place at the finish,
earning a free "Pine Flat" t-shirt for my trouble

For his part, Jason James has a goal this year of getting enough top-10
finishes to move up to category 3 (we're 4s right now), and after he
worked for me he realized he was about 12th. He dug deep, and beat up on
a few different dudes, finishing 7th. True grit right there,
congratulations, sir.

Jim Rusk unfortunately cramped up a bit on the first climb, but that's
racing - the first race back does that to most people since race-pace
accelerations are hard to simulate in training. He'll be back though,
I'm sure.

The cool thing is that this tells me that I can climb this year, so a
lot of road races I didn't do last year (since they had hills in them)
are open to me now. That should be a lot more fun than all the short

What's next? Snelling Road Race in beautiful Snelling, CA...

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