Monday, June 22, 2009

June-uary indeed

Monday, 22 June

Another successful Elkhorn Classic has come and gone. They're different every year, but Baker City always rolls out the red carpet and gives us a warm welcome, and Ernie and so many with OBRA do a marvelous job in putting on the production that is a stage race.

There were a lot of transitioning riders in this year's women's peloton. Okay, there were just plain A LOT of women riders this year. Some were getting back to racing after injury or illness, some had to sit out the race due to illness or obligations (thanks, Judy!), some were rethinking their commitment to competitive cycling, and some were racing for the first time. It was so good to see anxieties overcome and confidence regained.

Stage 1 was different this year because of the direction of the wind. I am usually hating life by the last 25 miles (it's a 75-mile road race), but there was a tailwind for most of the last 40 miles, including up The Climb and over all the "rollers" that are usually brutal. There was an early pee stop and then a short shower (the men's fields got more rain) around the first feed zone, and it was kind of eerie to race between windmills when the sky behind the white towers and blades was stormy black. We rode past a field of mint, which smelled fantastic. It was a good race, no heat exhaustion or dehydration. Wind is my friend when it's behind me!

Stage 2 was a different TT course for 2009. They took out all the hills. It was okay except for an awkward, contorted, contrived finish. This year we finished on Main Street, which involved two 90-degree turns in the last quarter-mile. The problem was getting us set up for those last two corners through a busy intersection. I'm not used to having to pick out a race chute between orange cones in the middle of the road with a sharpish bend after 11 oxygen-deprived miles. I don't care how many people are waving and pointing and trying to direct you along the course, it suddenly becomes a different event.

Stage 3 was a crit. Dry. Uneventful. Loads of primes.

Stage 4 was the anomaly this year. It was 45 degrees and raining in town at race time. The stage is 105 miles and finishes up an 8-mile climb. It was snowing at the finish when we were supposed to start. While everyone realized it would not be snowing still after we finished 105 miles, the fear was for riders who got hypothermic (or nearly) somewhere out on the course. It's one BIG loop, and while there are road signs pointing to some far-off towns, the course does not ride through anything you might call a town. No coffee shops, certainly. Nowhere to warm up and wait while you hope for a ride if you decide to DNF. So. With very short notice, the start times were delayed 30 minutes and the course was changed to "the short way" to the top of said climb--same Dooley Mountain, but climbing up the side closer to town. 10 miles of flat road, 8 miles of climbing. In the cold rain--and most of the cycling clothes you had brought with you.

Much to my surprise, there was no distinguishing the end of the neutral start. We continued to roll out the flat road. The pace picked up a little, there were a couple of faster stretches, but it was all just a nice warm up and never single file. Eventually we made the left turn, started the climb, and still the pace was social. So "social," in fact, that we had a little deja vu with some surge-and-brake issues we battled on Friday. One woman's frustrated reaction was to swear. Then she realized you're not supposed to do that in a bike race (lest you might get DQed) and she apologized profusely. That was pretty funny because we all shared her sentiments. Finally Alice took off at the front of the group and the race was on. The group just kind of dispersed. I followed the other Landshark in the peloton for a long time and let Molly do the work of making a gap between dropped riders trying to take up the whole road. Eventually Molly fell back and I just kept riding a steady tempo. At one point I had a train of about 6 riders behind me. Some of them fell back and a few passed me. The 3K sign came sooner than I expected, and the finish was pretty fast after that. The rain eased up on the climb, and since the climb is not steep, it was really a nice little race.

The pro-1-2 men started 10? 15? minutes after the women did, and I was very (pleasantly) surprised that we finished before they caught us, especially given the easy spin nature of our ride out of town. The finish line was barely controlled chaos, because the officials couldn't see riders' numbers buried under 19 layers of clothing (pin your numbers to the outer layer, people!), because it seemed that every third rider had a personal support vehicle that had driven to the top (where parking is minimal), and because riders were milling around. But that kind of barely controlled chaos is pretty fun. My husband started 45 minutes after I did, so I stood there in my wet clothes, drinking hot chai, wrapped in a blanket, huddled under a tent, until he came through. Then we climbed in a truck (thanks, Claire!) for the ride back to the start and a hot shower and another breakfast. Good times. :)

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