Monday, 15 May
Racing this Mothers Day weekend was in Wenatchee, apple capital of the world. [My heart was at the 40K tandem TT on the beautiful course at Peoria, Oregon, but being there just didn't work out.] Two of the three stages started and finished at the Alcoa plant east of the "town" of Malaga. The drives to and from the race were beautiful (there's still snow under the bottom of the chairlift at Stevens Pass), the weather was sunny and not unbearably windy, Saturday's race schedule left time for snoozing and shopping--what more could you want? Oh yeah...results. I tried for some of those, too.
Our first stage was a 9.x mile TT. Reports from the first riders off were that it was hard on the way back because of the wind. Impossibly hard. Even my masters buddies who got back just before I started said it was ridiculous. But the wind while I was warming up didn't seem that bad, and certainly nothing like at the Ice Breaker TT back in March. Fortunately, there was one voice of reason among all the last-minute reports that confirmed what I was thinking, so I wasn't in a complete state of panic when I started.
It's a pretty uneventful TT course, except for the last 750 meters before the turnaround, which are up a fairly steep little hill. I stupidly stayed in my aero bars and should've sat up for a little more power; I was dragging pretty slow at the top. Straight out of the turnaround you got the full-on headwind. It was strong, but it didn't affect my ability to keep the bike in a straight line. And pretty soon I realized that it was hard mostly because it was mostly uphill. This was a combination I could cope with. In the end, I was just 8 seconds off the fastest women's time overall, and I beat all the other masters women.
I'll skip a description of the crit because I pretty much skipped that stage of the race. Let's just say that the highlights of the afternoon and evening were accomplishing my (shopping) goal for Wenatchee and watching friends race well. And breaking the law on the sidewalk in downtown Wenatchee....with law enforcement by my side....
Sunday's road race featured about 2 miles of more or less flat road, 10 miles of climbing broken up by a one-mile (oh-so-sweet) descent, a 2-part (more technical then not technical) descent, and a 9-mile flat road back to the finish. Apart from the pain and oxygen deprivation, the climb is spectacular. There is only one protracted section steep enough to make me cry, and that comes just before the feed zone so you know that help is literally just around the corner.
At the risk of sounding like Glenn B, who can talk himself into prerace fears no matter who is or is not at a race, I was not expecting a repeat of my 2005 performance on this course because the field included several cat 4s (masters women and cat 4s raced together) known for their stellar climbing skills as well as stronger masters women than last year.
Not wanting to have to work my way to the front on the climb, I rode at the front of the group from the start during the 2-mile headwind section to the climb. And nobody seemed particularly interested in coming around me. The climb starts with a short (200m?) pitch, then a few hundred meters of flat, then another short pitch, then a left turn onto the cutest little one-lane (uphill) road through orchards. After a half-kilometer or so, you have a beautiful view of the valley, and this is where I was riding by myself last year. But this year there were still some women on my wheel. Hmmm. Should I get worried yet? No, as it turned out. They didn't blow up, but the gap behind my wheel very gradually got bigger. At about mile 2 of this piddly little road (there are milepost markers), there was a good view back down through a sort of canyon, and I could see the field completely strung out as each rider tried to find her own rhythm.
I have one trick that consistently works for me for plugging along at a seemingly impossible and endless effort, and yesterday I found two more: I just imagined I was trying desperately to stay on Leah G's wheel (as I tried to do at Willamette), and I tried to close the gap to the lead car (I succeeded once!). I got through the hardest section without crying, I found my feeder in the feed zone and got a flawless hand-off (thanks, Tom!), and then had to mentally (physically, too, I guess) deal with all the climbing still ahead. The second part of the climb moves into pine forest, and the sunflowers were profuse. This climbing is not relentless, and there's that mile of luscious descending in the middle. This is really a fun, beautiful climb.
I knew I had to see the radio tower before I was at the top, but I had forgotten about the two tight bends in the very first part of the descent. This was the part of the course I knew I had to work at especially hard because a good descender could make up time on me. But (I think) everybody has to brake in the tightest corners, and the rest of the descending is pretty much straight, so that even I was bombing down the hill. It's hard to keep your heart rate up when you're zooming downhill at 35+ mph. Those 50 women in pursuit were a constant reminder, though, that that's exactly what I had to do.
I got no time checks on the road this year, so I just had to keep motoring along once I got to the flat highway and hope there wasn't a big, organized group about to overtake me. At about a mile to go, I started looking over my shoulder but I couldn't see anyone. I kept checking all the way to the last bend and with no one out there, at least I didn't have to sprint up this finish hill. I was almost expecting to get passed by Dave Z of the masters D field who had started not far behind us, but I was able to hold him off too.
During the afternoon, I drove up the climb twice more behind the men's cat 1-2 race, and I saw so much more scenery than that narrow little window you have when you're riding hard allows. Not only were the sunflowers profuse under the pines, but you could see them spread across meadows a half-mile away. The vistas to Mission Ridge and the surrounding Cascades were spectacular. And there are some pretty cool houses nestled on hilltops up there (along with less impressive doublewide trailers). And watching even the best cat 1 men suffer on that climb was reassurance that they're mortal too. Congrats to Andrew McD for an amazing attack the second time up the hill (he had 3 minutes by the feed zone--and only increased it before his finish) and to rider 808 from Boise who flatted on the highway and chased all the way up the climb to get back into the lead group.