I set out to ride 200 miles during my spring break last April, which was 2 weeks before the Bonelli US Cup race. I figured it would be a good catalyst for my training and hoped my body would start to get used to suffering on the bike again. I sent a text message to Stevo, Chris, and Rob at the end of the week:
My 200 miles this week was a little anticlimactic. I thought I’d feel accomplished, instead I was like “Should’ve done 300.”
I supposed that’s a good sign because I wasn’t wiped out. I’d spent 10 straight days riding my bike and logged close to 300 miles, and I wished I’d done more. The plan was to then follow with a good taper week leading into Bonelli, but that didn’t work out as planned. I rode only once before the race and paid for it. Then as I like to do, I caught up on James Walsh‘s blog and, as he often does, he put things into perspective for me:
“I’ve been training and racing long enough to know that you have to take good days, bad days, good weeks, and bad weeks in stride and not get too caught up in them.”
The following week was a good week of riding that included good hard training and easier rides. I felt the benefits of the good week headed into the weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, Claire and I checked out the Long Beach Bikefest, which seemed to be more of a beer fest than a bike one, but it seemed like the best kind of fest I could have dreamed up. It reminded me of an e-card I saw:
I showed it to Claire and she promptly posted it along with some pictures of us drinking a beer and watching a bike race. Were this James’ site, aptly titled “Blood, Sweat, & Beers” you’d have gotten the low down on the beer. All I will tell you is that the beer was good. Claire and I tried to stick to the two local breweries, Beachwood & Belmont Brewing, and every beer I sampled was pretty darn good.
Dave and I pulled up to South Hills Park just before 9AM on race day. Stevo had camp all set up and after a quick registration we were out warming up. It was warm early and the heat was a concern for Dave from the start. We did one lap, I drank a couple of bottled waters to stay hydrated, and Stevo announced that we’d be taking a team picture before staging.
I staged next to Chris Bautista and Robert Sandoval, and after a few minutes of banter, Omar gave us our pre-race instructions; one minute later we were off. They started the 40+, 50+ and 60+ all together. I got in behind Chris and after the dust settled we hit the fence line and Chris and I got stuck behind two teammates in the 50+ and 60+ races. The leaders in our race were able to get a good gap and I hoped Chris would ask the guys in front to let him through, but he was more patient than I was; we got out of the starting fence line and onto the first fire road climb and I, still on the good doctor’s wheel, went around the two guys and eventually came around Chris.
“Go Chuy!” he cheered, and I pushed up the hill. Robert Sandoval came around and that scared me a little because at the start line he was telling stories of his Super Sport races at Over the Hump; I have yet to earn my first pint glass as a Sport racer there, and I know the Super Sport guys are fast! I jumped on his wheel and followed him up for a bit before I was able to get around him.
On the last climb of the fire road before the single track, a guy wearing a “Hurricane” jersey passed me, so I jumped on his wheel and followed him up to the single track and all the way through the gravel and onto the asphalt. I could see Frank, who was in second place, climbing the asphalt also so I didn’t let up. He was gone by the time we reached the top; I had the girls pour water on my back at the neutral feeding station and after the initial shock of the ice cold water, I started to feel better. I flew down the fire road and back up to the longer single track section.
I went down as quickly and as uninterrupted by braking and skidding as I could, catching Mike right as we entered the final single/pump track section, then decided on the fence line before the finish to pass him. He looked at me as I passed, I offered neither words of encouragement or disdain, too worried about the burning I was starting to feel in my legs. I figured he’d jump on my wheel through the flat section to start the lap through the fence line, but I never looked back.
I went up the fire road and down the single track, across the gravel and up the asphalt. Teammate Rigo caught me as I started to climb up.
“I think you’re in the lead, Rigo!”
“I don’t know, just trying to keep going.”
“That guy up there is in second place. I can’t catch him.”
“Go get him!”
Rigo was completing his second lap also, and had already made up a minute on me. I took a cup of water from the neutral feed zone, this time taking first a sip and pouring the rest on my back. The cold water was still a shock to my system initially, but my core temperature must have dropped a few degrees because as I flew down the fire road I started to feel better and hit the single track with a little more impetus than the first lap and wasn’t quite as smooth or quick going through it.
Before I entered the last single/pump track I saw Gerry standing there and I yelled out to him.
“Tell me how far back the guy in the blue Hurricane jersey is!”
As I came back around through the start/finish he answered:
“Fifty! Five! Zero!”
I went up along the fence line avoiding the leaning trees that look like they’re designed specifically to knock you off your bike, my legs burned a little more. As we started to climb the fire road again, I told Rigo to go for it all and leave it all out on the course, but he said he was going as fast as he could. I told him he could stay on my wheel, but I was taking it easy because I was saving some for my last lap. We climbed up to the single track and he went down first. We caught first- time racer and teammate, Sandra Alvarado, who pulled to the right to let us through. Rigo and I started the asphalt climb together and he started to slow a little bit.
“C’mon Rigo, the one who can suffer the longest is the one who wins.”
That was all he needed to hear because before I could say that everyone was suffering just as much as he was, he accelerated. I jumped on his wheel and he dispatched me before the top of the asphalt climb. I poured another ice cold water on my back at the water station and went after him, but would not see him again until the end of my race.
As I came around for my final lap, Gerry yelled out to me:
“Over two minutes!”
I nodded to show him I understood and hammered across the flat section at the start and through the fence line again. Entering the fire road I saw a single speed youth racer and I joked with him about being a little crazy for racing single speed. I made him a laugh a little then I went ahead and felt my left hamstring tighten up, it was like a nail had been hammered into the back of my leg. I cursed and stood as I pedaled and shifted to an easier gear.
“If I can spin all the way up, I don’t think I’ll lose two minutes.”
I said that to myself because the single speed kid had already dropped me. I spun up to the middle of the climb and then spun up again. Suddenly there was heavy breathing on my neck and I thought the voices in my head were talking to me: it sounded almost like a whisper . . .
“. . . Chuy . . .”
I couldn’t tell who it was, I just hoped it was a teammate and not someone in my race. Up to that point I thought I had third place in the bag, and this guy was breathing much more heavily than I was so I thought I was in a good spot; as we made the final bend before the single track I saw Chris Bautista come around.
“What the . . . Where’d he come from???”
I followed him down, thinking this would work out to my advantage. He’s much better at descending than I am so I didn’t think anyone else would catch us, and I even thought for just a second that we had a chance at catching Frank in second place. I wondered if it would be okay to sprint against my teammate if we made it to the final fence line section together. I had joked with him during Tuesday’s pre-ride that I had the advantage on a sprint because I have the big chain ring in the front and he’s rocking the 1X. As we reached the final section of the asphalt climb, I cramped on my left hamstring. Ordinarily I would stop to stretch it out, but being so close to the top of the final climb, it didn’t seem necessary. Instead, I dismounted like I would at a ‘cross race and ran up to the top.
Chris was long gone down the fire road and my chance at third place was gone. There would be no fence line sprint. I finished in 4th place behind Ninja Chris who was waiting for me across the finish line. Luckily, podiums went 5-deep, so I got a medal and the always welcomed podium picture.
Almost everyone of The Cyclery Bike Shop Racing Team members got on the podium.
Thanks to Mario for all the pictures! Results can be found on the Cycle Events Company page.
I have yet to figure out the remainder of my mountain bike racing season; there are quite a few potential races between now and the end of the US Cup series. In the meantime I’ll have to train hard and stretch and hopefully get a little faster. During the drive home I told Dave that Chris Bautista and I were joking with the winner of my race, calling him a sandbagger and saying he needs to cat-up. When I compared his results to the slower Expert racers in our age group it became clear that I need to be faster. So that’s the only plan for now. Until next time. . .