Monday, 11 June
Yesterday I did a tandem road race with my husband for the very first time. And--the short version of the long-winded version below--we finished in first place. Pretty nice.
The occasion was the Oregon tandem road race championship on a "new" course west of Eugene. Only one stretch--the most significant stretch--was on roads we haven't raced on many times. This section was about 5 miles: from Territorial Highway, stairstepping up through a pretty little valley of vineyards toward Briggs Hill, which is a steep, switchback climb of maybe 1.5 miles, then dropping off the backside of Briggs toward Spencer Creek Road. The feedzone was on a lesser hill, and there are a couple of longish drags and rollers, but otherwise the course is mostly flattish and somewhat windy. Showers were kept to a minimum on race day (a blessing considering the bends and paint stripe on the descent--okay, you're not supposed to cross it anyway, but, you know, just in case).
To my surprise, there were a total of 10 tandems for the start of our race (that's 4 bikes more than the senior women's race had!). The attacks began shortly after the neutral rollout ended but eventually we settled into a paceline rotation of about 5 bikes with the others just sitting on. Over the feedzone hill, which I don't think gapped anybody, then more rotating around the 10 miles of flat roads to the turn onto Briggs. This is a very narrow little road, and you wouldn't want to be caught at the back of a group even on your single bike. So we were at the front when we got to the serious climbing. We just rode a steady tempo--and had gap at the top. The descent is a little bit technical, and pretty high speed, and there were 5 bikes back together by the time we turned onto Spencer Creek and headed for the finish line at the end of the first lap (of 3).
Gradually all the other bikes caught back on, and most wouldn't pull through at all. (This is the problem with getting to the top of a hill first--you're marked, and everybody wants to tire you out.) We rolled over the feed hill, got to the bottom, and were just rolling along. I decided it would be a good time to eat and took a big bite out of my Odwalla bar. At this point we were on the front, my captain was fed up with nobody riding hard, and so he just pushed the pace--and voila, we had a gap. And I had my mouth full and couldn't breathe hard. Somehow I managed (chipmunk cheeks), our gap grew to several hundred meters, and one bike bridged up. They had been one of the bikes willing to work earlier, and we rotated steady, hard pulls. Nobody else tried to bridge (or we didn't see them if they did). Eventually, the official's car came up behind us, which is a good sign when you're trying to make a break stick.
At the bottom of the steep climb, our chain got tangled up, so we both had to get off the bike. I got it running the right direction, and then we had to get back on the bike. Getting two people on and off a bike obviously takes longer than just one, so we had some work to do to catch the other tandem. We were only about 50 meters behind them at the top of the climb, and we came together again after the descent. More trading pulls; they got gapped a little on the feed hill but got right back on. Finally we got around to the last time up the hill, and we knew had to give it everything we had left to get a gap that would be big enough to hold all the way to the finish.
The last switchback is about 200 meters from the top of the climb, and I swear they were only 100 meters behind at that stage. But as we were cresting the top of the hill, I couldn't see them or the follow car anywhere behind us. By this lap, we were a little smoother on the descent. I tried to glance behind us when I could, but couldn't see anything. It's pretty hard to communicate from the back of a tandem when you're whooshing downhill at 45 [update: 48] mph, so I had to wait until the rollout at the bottom before I could yell that I didn't see anything.
After we made the turn at the bottom, it was 2.5 miles of flat road to the finish. Could we time trial it and hold them off? After 1/4 mile, I looked back and was positive I could see them just a couple hundred meters back, in front of the follow car. Mick saw the same thing, so we absolutely buried ourselves, thankful for the new 56 [it's only a 55] chain ring "borrowed" from a TT bike. Another look at about a mile to go revealed just the follow car behind us--but who knew if they were just out of sight behind it? Turned out that they were at least 90 seconds back, and the next group of 3 bikes was a couple minutes behind them. Mike (who won the masters 40-49 race that morning) and Sam (who is maybe 10) attacked the group and took third. In an odd twist, all the captains who medaled in our race were named Michael.
I had worried that the course would be boring (overly familiar), and someone had tried to tell us it was a 10-minute climb. Fortunately, I got to preview the course by driving lead car for the cat 3 men in the morning. And during our race, our lead vehicle was a motorcycle, which helped my confidence in the bends on the descent: if he can do it at this speed, so can we (maybe not the best philosophy, but helpful in this case). The climb looked significantly steeper from the car than it felt on the bike, and (except for the last lap) it seemed shorter on the bike than in the car. In three weeks, I get to do this all over again on my single bike (masters women RR championship), and then I think all the flat sections will get dull and windy and hard. Hopefully, I'll remember that the descent is not as bad as it looks!