Tuesday, September 05, 2006

... & better still

Monday, 4 September

The new stage 4 at Eugene Celebration was a road race on a circuit of about 19? miles, with each lap featuring a couple of miles of false flat, 2.5 miles of good climbing up McBeth, several miles of descent down Fox Hollow (also known as Kill Hill when you go up it), another half-mile of climbing up the back side of Saturday's feed hill, and a flat/slightly rolling but windy stretch of a big, wide open road. It was kind of like the road race at the Enumclaw stage race in that we did 2.5 laps, finishing at the top of the big climb, which meant 3 times up the hill. Being not too attentive, I thought until sometime late on Sunday that we did 1.5 laps, and adding that extra climb into the mix got me worried. Our race was delayed by 35 minutes, which gave me even more time to fret.

At the start of the day, I was in third place in GC, eight seconds ahead of Kristi. I was two minutes behind Miranda and Lee, who had lapped us in the crit, and didn't hold much hope of jumping ahead of them. On the first time up the climb, Jill (a cat 4--but not for very much longer) and I rode at the front; I let her set the pace and even let her half-wheel me a little to try to keep the race from splitting up too much too early. The problem was that the tempo allowed us to have a conversation, which I guess must have eventually annoyed Lee, and she attacked about 800 meters before the top. That shattered everything, and we were strung out all over the road by the turn to the descent. I was fourth on the road, but Miranda caught me quickly and then we caught Kristi and Jill before the bottom, but Lee was gone. They let me set tempo up the short hill, then we all worked together pretty well in the flat windy section. There was a chase group 30 seconds back, which kept us motivated although we soon realized we were never going to catch Lee.

At this point, I was thinking that it wouldn't be so bad to ride the last lap by myself if I got dropped on the climb (ever the pessimist). But I guess it was a climb that suits me well. Jill rode away from us a little bit, but Miranda and Kristi just stayed on my wheel. They never moved next to me or past me, but I could hear both of them shifting behind me. Somewhere in here, two Broadmark guys off the front of the men's 1-2 race passed us; Ian looked like he was hanging on for dear life. And then eventually I couldn't hear the women behind me any more. They both dropped back in the last kilometer of the climb.

In one of those classic moments of miscommunication in bike racing, I asked our chief referee as I went past the finish line how far back the 1-2 pack was because I have bad memories of being swarmed on a fast descent by a group of guys. The reply was "you are two minutes down from the leader in your race." Um, that's not what I asked--or even what I care about at this stage. So I looked over my shoulder going around every single bend on the descent. I did finally see the pack coming, and they passed on a straight stretch. There were two more riders strung out behind them, but instead of passing me, they got on my wheel, so I knew Miranda and Kristi were back.

We rotated down the rest of the descent, I pulled up the shorter hill, Miranda pulled down the other side, and then we worked together on the flats. Jill (now very secure in her win of the cat 4 race) apparently got lonesome riding 100 meters in front of us and drifted back to cheer us on, offer to help, etc. I think the rest of us were pretty tired at this stage, and the wind had definitely picked up. We got a sort-of time check on the group behind us; they were out of radio contact. Eventually we were told we had 2.5 minutes on them. We came across the weirdest sight in this race: on a slightly uphill, slightly-turning-to-the-left section of road, there was a pickup truck on its side in the ditch. It seemed that it had just happened, and two people were walking around looking puzzled. But we were so focused on what we were doing that not many details sank into my brain.

This is where I got to thinking that I had a job to do the last time up the climb and I couldn't blow it. I have been beaten too many times this year by women who jump in the last however many meters of a climb and outsprint me to the finish. I knew I had to not let Kristi get back those eight seconds if she tried to do this. Jill took off again at the base of the climb, dangling again just 100 meters ahead of us the whole way up. Miranda was on my wheel, and Kristi was on hers. I really focused all the way up on trying to pick a gear that would allow me to at least try to accelerate if I had to. I tried to keep the pressure on when the grade flattened out a little bit and also to keep the speed up in the steeper bends. And I tried to keep track of where the two women behind me were. Miranda was glued to my wheel, and every time I tried to look back I couldn't see past her. But about the times that I would shift, I could usually hear two more shifts behind me.

What to do. If I tried to jump and go really hard for a short distance to get a gap, there was a chance that I would settle back into a slower speed and Kristi would come past and I'd be unable to accelerate and get on her wheel. It didn't matter if Miranda passed me because she already had two minutes on me. The 1K sign was in a more-or-less flat spot, but then there were several steep pitches before you could see the crowd gathered at 200 meters from the finsh, which was just around a bend in the road. I was sure Kristi was going to attack when the road pitched up. But she didn't. So I tried to go that little bit harder to keep her from doing it. At about 500 meters, I figured I had to go even harder to hold off an attack. As we got to 200 meters and the bend in the road, I was still going hard but thinking there was no way she would get eight seconds back in that distance. Nobody came around me, we crossed the line--and there was only Miranda behind me!! We had dropped my GC threat and she rolled in about two minutes later. I told Miranda that I kept trying to look behind her, and she said she climbs better if she can just stay focused on the wheel in front of her, so she would follow me when I pulled out to try to get a look at the road behind. I guess it was better that way because it sure kept me motivated!

I held on to my third place in GC, having been beaten by a super-strong Canadian that nobody knew and by Miranda who is about the nicest person there is to have beat you. It was a hard stage because there was a headwind even on the descent so you had to pedal all the way down. You had to drive the pace on the flats in order not to get caught by a chase group. And you just had to get up the hill however you get up hills. It was fun to have so many people on the course in the last kilometer of the climb. It was a great event for the last road race of 2006!

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