Monday, May 14, 2007

The right bike for the race

Monday, 14 May

Always be sure to to pick the right bike for conditions on a race course!

Saturday was the Wasco Wild West 75, just outside The Dalles. Any time you're in the Gorge, things are likely to be windy, but Saturday was particularly so. Like 40-50 mph. This race goes around part of the circuit for Stage 1 of the Mt. Hood stage race (4 laps), a really nice course with one long (1 mile?) climb and one short (400 meters?) climb. The longest descent comes after the second hill, and on a still day, you could probably just fly down this, especially since this is a tandem race. However....

We rolled out from the start, a chatty bunch. Where I remembered the course being rolly from last year, it seemed easy (that meant a tailwind, but I was oblivious on this lap). In the last half mile before the first climb, there was some headwind. Then we got to the climb, I thought we were going nice and steady, working but not all-out. After a couple of minutes, Sal said, casually, like he was asking what flavor gel I like, "do you want to stay with those guys?" I looked up and saw that the only male-male (carbon Calfee) bike had a gap. Well, this was lap one, and you don't just let people ride away, even if they are technically in a different category. So we closed the gap, worked a little harder on the rest of the climb, got to the top, and entered the wind tunnel at a low setting. Even then, I remember saying "I'm so glad I'm not on my single bike." It was a thought that came back to me many times during the rest of the race.

Laps 2 and 3 were pretty much the same, just us two bikes riding around, except that the flat tailwind section was noticeably faster (we hit 45), and somehow it was harder whenever we were NOT at the front (that's not how a rotating paceline is supposed to work, is it?). We pulled for about a mile before the hill the third time up, and then the boys attacked us on the climb. An attack on a tandem is usually a slow-motion thing, but these guys had dropped back a little and were going several miles an hour faster than us when they zoomed by. We could've jumped, closed the gap, hung with them for 10 feet, and then blown up--so we just went harder, hoping they'd blow up or at least have to ease up, and watched the gap gradually get bigger. By now, the wind tunnel at the top of the hill was at full blast, and we barely changed gears to go down the descent. A couple of times the bike went in an odd direction, and when we tried to get out of the saddle at one stage, the bike went one direction and I got blown another. "That's why you're locked into your pedals," Sal said.

For much of lap 4, we were mixed in with 3 recumbents from the race that started behind us, and the oddest experience was when we were lined up behind them. No draft effect, I'm sure, but why not try? They'd been sitting on us for miles. The last time down the descent was really, really hard--almost as hard the climb (which was also into the wind). In a moment of typical Sal understatement, he observed "you might describe this course as 'windswept.'" There were several times (in the tailwind section, where you could HEAR things besides air rushing past your ears) that the wind was howling so hard it actually had harmonic pitch. Our legs on this lap were pretty cooked, and we were lucky to get up the long climb without using the granny gear. Riding hard into a strong headwind works your legs differently than a climb, and the combination of the two is really tough.

We won our "co-ed" division, had a nice postrace "cowboy picnic," smiled for the cameras when we collected our medals, and headed out. I was bound for Wenatchee, which meant a gorgeous drive along the north side of the Gorge, over Satus Pass, through the dust storms and across the valley to Yakima, over the ridges to Ellensburg, and through the rainstorm over Blewitt Pass. Got to Wenatchee just in time to see Kenny take full advantage of the Canadian escort that followed Tyler F. everywhere he went in the pro-1-2 crit.

Sunday's omnium stage at Wenatchee was 4.5 flat miles out to a cone in the middle of the road, back to the start, 2 more flat miles, 12 miles up, long descent, and 8 miles of highway to the finish. Given that the selection of skills and tools I brought to this start was even more limited than usual, it seemed that the best I could do was help my climber teammates by keeping the pack together to the bottom of the climb so that they could work as little as possible. This plan worked fine (it probably would've worked just fine without me too, so I don't kid myself that I was a proverbial "factor" in the race). Nobody was the least bit interested in an attack (there was probably a 20 mph tailwind at the start) and nobody seemed to mind that I monopolized the front all the way to the bottom of the climb. (The tricky part was getting my bike around the cone: you don't steer on the back of a tandem, and it takes a while to get back into the habit.) We got to the hill, they took off, I went backward, and then it was time for a nice little training ride in the warm sunshine. Apart from the crushed ego and all the time I spent wondering why I could barely get up the hill in my 34x23, it was a nice ride. For once, I was grateful to be on my single bike: I thought repeatedly about how much I would hate this course on a tandem. And it wasn't the climbing part that scares me most: it's the descent!

Congrats to Allison for riding away from them all on the descent and staying away to the finish! And congrats too to Old as Dirt for beating all the Local Old Fast Guys!


.n. said...

You should have run a 34-25 like me :-)

stokediam said...

Maybe I just should've run?

stokediam said...

Ha! Turns out what I really should've done was check my saddle. It had slipped and was 1.5 cm too low. :(

Argentius said...

See, it's good to have excuses.

Did you have a carbon seatpost, or had it just come untorqued?

Also, people were telling me I ought to have brought a gear smaller than 39x23.

Except Kerry.

He wondered what I had a 39 on there for.

stokediam said...

Yep, carbon seatpost. Now I'm wondering how long it had been slipping. I'd love to blame my suffering at Longbranch on it too!

Old as dirt said...

SO am I now a LOFG(tm)
I think I used a 39x23 on the climb,pretty sure I didn't go up to the 26.