Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Frozen Flatlands Race Report

"Daddy, Daddy, did you win that gold thing?" my four-year-old daughter asked the second I walked in the back door from Saturday's road race.

"What golden thing?" I asked right back.

"That gold shirt."

"Oh you mean the yellow jersey?" My wife laughed in the background. I'm pretty sure I looked like I had just walked in after barely surviving a mugging. And definitely not like I had just won a race. 

"Yes. Did you win?"

"No, not today."

Have you ever won the gold shirt?" More laughter from the kitchen.

"Yes, but it was a really, really long time ago." (And to our readers, no, it wasn't that yellow jersey. Just a yellow jersey)

"Why didn't you win?"

"Uh. It's a long story." (Actually it isn't. I don't ride enough...)

Fast forward 10 minutes and I'm eating with my daughter at the dinner table.

"Why are you coughing so much?"

"Well, sometimes when you exercise and work really hard your lungs hurt. Afterwards it makes you cough a lot."

"And you also get black boogers." This was a statement, not a question

"That's right sweetie."

"And then you pick them out of your nose." Also a statement. 

"Umm. You should really use a tissue for that."

"I know, but sometimes you don't."

"You should use a tissue though, OK."


It's good to be able to talk about the first races of the year in the past tense. This weekend was hard. Racing is always hard, but there's something about that first race--not knowing exactly where your fitness is, not having done much intensity yet, and this year not even having many rides outdoors--that contributes to the pre-race nervous tension.

I expected to get slaughtered, but thankfully this didn't happen. Well, I feel slaughtered, but it's all relative. Results for me and Rider 2 were better than what we both thought we'd end up with.

Saturday was a double stage. The organizers were especially cruel this year. Saturday morning was a 12.5 mile TT, followed but a 50ish mile road race in the afternoon. Sunday was a 50 minute circuit race.

Rider 2 rode a great TT, finishing 2nd in his category. Fortunately while Quicksilver was battling wind and near-freezing conditions, I spent the morning with our plumber preparing for a bathroom addition. Nice. I don't have a pic of Rider 2's TT bike, but wish I did because he rocked his old steel road bike with a vintage Specialized Tri-Spoke on the rear and a deep section Zipp up front. Many a fixie-rider would be proud.

I registered as "Master A" for the first time in my life. I wasn't going to, but Rider 2 did and I thought it would be more fun to race in the same category. So we went off on a rare sunny day at 2 in the afternoon. The road course is deceptively hard. Yes, it's called the Frozen Flatlands, but it's really not all that flat. More like the Rolling Flatlands. Up and down virtually all the time, with one short (less than a mile long), but steep and significant climb about 8 miles from the finish.

I was totally content to see a break of four roll off the front a few miles after the neutral start, where (dammit) I lost a water bottle crossing a set of railroad tracks. This would haunt me later. 

I don't think the break ever got more than about 90 seconds. They just dangled. Perfect as far as I was concerned. A couple of other teams without riders in the break would occasionally send one guy up to chase for a solid minute or two. It made no sense. If they had stuck a few people up there for 5 minutes they'd have brought them in. But I was more than happy to let them burn their matches even though they weren't getting anything done. Plus, it was a beautiful day. It felt great to roll along at 27 mph with the sun on my face, while someone else unnecessarily toiled at the front.

About an hour into the race it became pretty clear that the race would be decided on the climb. And sure enough, a small group hit the throttle just as the climb started. I jumped to keep them close, waiting for a bigger group to swarm past me at the place on the climb where this kind of thing typically happens. Not today though. I turned around and was all alone in no-man's land. Great.

Quicksilver jumped out of the group and made his way up to me and we wheezed our way to the top of the climb. It felt horrible. Thankfully two others caught us soon after the crest and we started working together on the 7-mile rolling run-in to the finish. 

We started taking even pulls, but that unfortunately didn't last long. I ended up behind a rider who kept winding up the speed really quickly, then pulling off and accelerating even more. So it would take me a good 20 seconds to get by him. Eventually I sat out every other pull. Then I started cramping. Remember that bottle I lost at the beginning of the race? 

We picked off a few guys that were dropped from the front group. We also lost Rider 2 and one other rider from our little group of fun-seekers. At one point I also got gapped until I came to my senses. Somehow I closed the 10 meter gap I let open and made it back to the wheel in front of me.

Have you ever noticed what being completely cross-eyed with pain and suffering does to your bike handling? I'm a pretty smooth rider, but I'm pretty sure I almost took myself by running into the rider in front of me at least once. 

In the end my group finished 30 seconds or so down on a group of 6. So I rolled across the line in 9th overall, and the 2nd place Master. Quicksilver ended up as the 3rd place oldish guy. 

We cooled down and somehow made it to the cars. I snarfed down 2 packets of the new PowerBar Gel Blasts we got last week. This will be a topic for another post, but I really like them. At that moment I would have eaten a scab and been happy about it though. 

Sunday's race was a bit of a surprise. Held at Spokane Raceway Park, it's typically a fun circuit on the car racing track. Unfortunately though, someone at the County started demolishing a piece of the track for resurfacing on Friday without telling anyone from the race. So Sunday morning as 300 racers were showing up, the organizers were busy getting creative, looping the course through the infield and across a series of service roads. Rough pavement, confusion and a 180 degree hairpin 800 meters before the new finish were all part of the fun for the day.

From Team Two Wheel

The hairpin before the finish straight. 

The racing was fast, but uneventful. Small groups attacked pretty frequently, but none had the horsepower to stay away. Rider 2 and I patrolled near the front, mostly stayed out of the wind and chased when we felt like we needed to.

Plans to give Quicksilver a lead-out evaporated when he flatted in the hairpin turn on the last lap, but I hung on for 5th in a very long and windy field sprint. I picked the perfect wheel and was in the right position, but my tank was empty. In hindsight it's easy to say I could have done better, but really, I couldn't have.  So I was the second Master across the line again, and finished second for the weekend. 

Despite his untimely flat Quicksilver still finished fourth overall for the weekend. Good stuff. 

All in all it was a good weekend. This sport is so hard. But could it be any more fun or beautiful?

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