Sunday, July 23, 2006


Sunday, 23 July

The “queen stage” of the Co-Motion tandem stage race: Wolf Creek. More really hot weather. We tried to persuade them to start the race at 9:00 instead of 10:00, but they couldn’t swing it. I discovered this morning that a good night’s sleep doesn’t make up for how tired you get when you’ve raced 6 days out of the last 8—and also gone to work one day, flown across the country, driven across two states, and endured 90+ degree temps for most of those days. I’m tuckered.

At the start of the race, I reminded myself that this is one of my favorite rides on a bike. The Siuslaw River Road is beautiful, and the Wolf Creek climb itself is a nice steady climb, although they keep cutting more trees on that hill. There are two really nice descents, which I was looking forward to on the tandem.

We set out at a good clip; the rotating paceline kept the pace high. Before the first longish hill (distinct from the two early “rollers”), John W. said to us “we’ll block if you want to roll off the front.” So we did…and we got a gap…and then one of the other mixed tandems nixed it. But it was surprising how easily we got a gap of a couple of hundred meters. I was a little worried about the pretty tough one-mile climb just before the King Winery where we staged for the last event at the Willamette Valley Classic. But nobody pushed the pace too hard and the group stayed together. After that it’s flat and maybe slightly downhill for a long time, and we were cruising pretty fast.

About the only nonrace thing I noticed today was a sign along the Siuslaw road. The name on the mailbox was Bayles, and the name of the, um, manor was “Hey Bayles! Farm.” Okay, it was funny for a few seconds.

The thing about the Siuslaw road is that it all looks the same and I kept thinking the feed zone hill was just around the next bend. The mixed tandem from California (first place mixed GC) took off at this point and dangled about 300 meters off the front. We finally hit the feed hill (which goes on for a couple of miles before the feed zone), and the race blew apart. We were more or less part of a group that included the three male-male tandems and the mixed tandem from Oklahoma City (second place mixed GC). Some of the guys would drop behind us periodically then catch back on, but we all stayed within about 100 feet of each other.

The feed zone was a disaster. There were four feeders, and between the two of us on the bike, we managed to get just one bottle of water. I think I begged even, but the feeders were clearly inexperienced and just couldn’t get the bottles to our hands. So it’s a good thing we started the day with six bottles!

After the feed zone is a fun little descent with a tight corner at the bottom where we went waaaay across the center line last year. We knew it was coming, but some of the other bikes in our group did not, so everybody’s brakes got a good workout. We rolled along for a few more miles, then it was all business as we hit the Wolf Creek climb. The bottom bit is steeper but in the shade, then you roll out into clearcut and slog your way up three miles of climbing. Much to my amazement and Martin’s credit, we stayed with our group all the way to the top. I think the OK couple had a little gap at the top, but we knew he wasn’t too excited about the descent and we all came back together. In fact, we managed to pass all the other bikes on the descent except John and Dan. I don’t know if Martin was really tired from the exertion of the climb, or if the corners were tighter than he was expecting, but the descending was not very smooth or fun and took a lot of braking. John and Martin descend very differently, and I think it was tough for Martin to try to follow John; he said he couldn't ever just let the bike go. About three-quarters of the way down, we rode over a branch in the road, which I didn’t see until it flew up and whacked me in the shin and the hip. I’ve got quite a welt, but I had no idea what hit me until Dan and Martin told me after the race.

In the very last high-speed bend, one of the bikes from the B race (which started 15 minutes before us today) was over on the left side of the road against the guard rail. John (going 25 mph) said “are you OK?” and the answer was “no.” We learned after the race that they had slammed into the guardrail. The top tube of the bike separated behind the captain’s seatpost, and the two bottom tubes had new acute angles to them. The stoker hit his head on the guardrail and had to be “transported” but the CR said he was lucid, knew who he was, etc.

With that sobering sight, we set out up the five miles of false flat to the next descent. Martin was definitely fading at the top, but rallied when I told him it was only another 200 meters to the top. The other bikes in the group were intent on catching the Californians still just up the road (they never did), but we were third in GC going into the race, the two bikes ahead of us were right there on the road with us, and we sure didn’t have anything left to launch an attack and leave them all in our dust to gain the time to move up. Somewhere along in here we caught the pack from the B race and were able to mooch a small bottle of water from their follow car. Much of it went over our heads.

You think you’re nearly done (race-wise, if not physically) when you get to the bottom of the last descent, but there’s a special 6-mile loop that the A bikes get to do after they reach the finish line before they’re done. The first little hill is one I did in the cat 3 men’s race at Eugene Celebration last year, so I figured if I could stay with the 3s, we could stay with our group. And we did. But then you make a right turn, the road goes up again, and we were done (exactly where I got dropped from the 3s). It was like someone flipped a switch. Lights out. You couldn’t call the hill steep, but we just kept shifting down until we ran out of gears. And watched the group ride away from us. We figured we were pretty safe because we’d dropped everyone else before the big climb and had a pretty good time cushion, but in those last four miles we managed to lose four minutes. No worries, we held on to our third place in the final GC.

Coming in to the finish, Martin asked what it was like to pedal a tandem by myself—meaning that he felt so lousy (his legs were cramping) his feet were going around but not contributing much to our forward momentum. It wasn’t so bad on the flat, but the hills/rollers were brutal. The downhill bits were some of the only times I’ve seen Martin coast downhill and not pedal to keep the speed up.

At the finish, we had ice cream and water and watermelon and water and cookies and water. We poured water over our legs and feet. We drank more water. And then we got to take showers in the Crow High School locker rooms. Those didn’t keep us cool very long because it was so hot outside and there was no shade, but at least they got rid of the sunscreen/salt/dirt combo that was stuck to us.

An interesting part of this race is the cast of characters who come out to play. The doctors from Massachusetts who are married but not to each other and whose spouses give them a couple of weeks each year to go play on the tandem. The couple who came all the way from Germany: she’s German, he’s Irish. People who’ve never been in a bike race before, people who race all the time. Guys with hairy legs. People you know, people you don’t know. I found out afterward that at least one pair was calling us the "2M bike." The folks at Co-Motion are out in force to make sure the race is fun and safe, and the OBRA staff are relaxed and having at least as much fun as the riders.

Part of our prize was a free entry to the Ring of Fire race in Maupin in September. Martin wants no part of it, so I guess I have to start training for those long miles. But not until I catch up on some rest.

Martin's race report is here.

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