Saturday, 20 May
"Is the rider able to exit the vehicle without assistance?" So began our prerace technical inspection at the Wasco Wild West 75 tandem and recumbent road race. Having never heard such a thing at an OBRA, USAC, or UCI race, I thought, "we're not in Kansas anymore, Martin...."
The WWW75 is an unsanctioned race on a beautiful 18.75-mile circuit about 4 miles outside of The Dalles, Oregon. It features riders and bikes from all walks of cycling life, eager to take on a tough race, hoping to finish, improve on last year's time, and/or win. The event had been on our tandem race calendar for months, and we had no idea what to expect in the way of competition. The promoter told us in advance that we were the "prerace favorites"--pressure like that is hard to live up to. We just hoped it wasn't the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated jinx.
I can't say enough about the course. There were fewer than 20 houses on the entire route, and we saw fewer than 20 cars during the entire race. The topography is typical north central Oregon stuff: close rolling hills, little valleys, range land, sagebrush, wheat fields. And, with the Columbia River Gorge close by, wind is omnipresent. The first 10 miles are rolling, mostly tailwind today; then (into the headwind) there's about a one-mile climb, a little descending, a shorter climb, a lot of descending, and some flats back to the start/finish. And the road is entirely that oh-so-slow Oregon chipseal.
Tandems and recumbents raced separately and, since there was no lead car, the tandems went first because we were "bigger and more visible." Our field featured 6 mixed tandems and one male/male bike. Last year's winners were there, along with a super strong couple we've raced with before. We figured we knew who to watch. Sure enough, that strong couple took off within a half mile from the start (and I was reminded why it would've been a good thing to warm up before the race). A couple of us knew not to let them get away, so we went after them and pretty soon our group was down to just 4 bikes.
I think we set tempo on the climb (I think we did on every lap), and it was a pretty mellow tempo...as in my legs didn't hurt and I knew I wasn't going hard. Still, we were later accused of "turning on the afterburners." At the top, we were down to 2 bikes. Not relishing the thought of 2 bikes rotating for 60+ miles, we more or less waited for that energizer bunny couple, and sure enough they caught us after the descent. But they had trouble hanging with us on the second lap, and they quickly dropped off the next time up the climb.
So now Martin and I were checking out the two boys we were riding with. We had found out that this was their second ride together, that they were from Portland but didn't ride with a team or club, and that the stoker usually rode tandem with his wife. But they seemed strong and knew what they were doing. They were especially good at keeping stats. Martin and I ride without watches or cycling computer; these guys, on the other hand, reported our average speed and lap time every lap. And they seemed to consume a huge amount of food and water. In turn, they were checking us out. "So you guys did Co-Motion last year? You must have done well?" "Yeah, we did okay." "What category do you race in on your single bikes?" "Uh, 2." We found out later that they thought the answer to that second question was their tip that they were in trouble.
After weighing whether we should "go" the third or last time up the climb, Martin opted to wait for the last lap. And it worked (I don't mean to sound surprised--I agreed that it was the best plan). At the bottom of the climb, I thought we were in such a low gear, spinning like mad, that we couldn't possibly drop anybody. But we soon had a gap, and the gear felt much better (i.e., the hill felt much harder), and we worked harder than we had any of the three previous times up the hill. At the top of the second hill, we could see them at the bottom behind us. We pedaled as hard as we could down the descent (into the headwind, mind you) and time trialed along the flats. We had about 2 minutes on them by the finish. At least we didn't have to worry about testing our unpracticed sprinting skills.
To the winners of this tandem race went hats, suitable for winners of a "Wild West" race. I'm not sure how I ended up with the black one (isn't the guy with the white hat the good guy?!), except that I guess my head had swelled less and the black one was a smaller size.
The recumbent race was dominated by a team of Bacchetta guys. Four of them rode together off the front of their race and then split up the last time up the climb. They started just 5 minutes behind us, and we were surprised they didn't catch us. We lapped one poor recumbent rider not once but twice, so their field was really spread out. We had lots of opportunities after the race to ask questions about recumbents, and Martin went for a test drive.
Special kudos go to the race promoter, Clay Smith, and his many volunteers. I was apprehensive about having no lead or follow vehicles (the one sag pickup drove behind that rider we lapped twice), but it was an incredibly safe course. Marshalls were promised at all the intersections, but we got to the first one so quickly that there was not one there on lap 1--and they had gone home by lap 4. There was neutral water at the top of the second climb and at the start/finish line. And (another tip that this wasn't Kansas) there were two porta-potties for our use on the course. The volunteers were just as excited about the event as the racers, and it was just a cool race all the way around. And it was sunny!
Whatever I am going to do with a cowboy hat??
The view from the front of the tandem is here.