Lee Willmore told me that sometimes “life gets in the way of playing bikes,” and those words have been resonating lately. I’ve been on and off the bike for various reasons: some having to do with motivation, or lack thereof, others having to do with opportunity and time, and lack thereof. Life has indeed gotten in the way. I’ve long been looking towards the summer to get some fitness because life seems to interfere less from June to August. I am by no means complaining; life has thrown some good stuff at me and forced me to choose between family/work (oftentimes they are one in the same) and the bike. So, amidst a seemingly endless series of banquets and awards ceremonies, I squeezed in whatever bike rides I could and looked towards the summer. I do wish I had a little more guilt and regret because I ate lots of cake and sweets and gained 10 pounds before I knew what hit me.
Then, 10 pounds later, it was time to race. The only reason I showed up to race was the fact that I had registered for the Knobby Time 3-Pack. Dave had no plans to race that weekend, so I reluctantly pulled myself away from the bedside of a beautiful woman, loaded my bike into my car, and I made my way to South Hills Park. After greeting everyone and checking in with the race people, I tried to warm up as much as I could, although there was little time for that.
I was stretching inside The Cyclery Bike Shop tent when Stevo announced “5-minutes to race time.” I staged next to Dr. Chris Bautista and after a short amount of the typical starting-line banter with Sal Martinez of Red Zone Racing, we received a peculiar set of pre-race instructions. The usual declaration of how many laps we were scheduled to do and directions on where to lap and where to finish were followed by something I’ve never heard in pre-race instructions.
“One of you is going to crash.”
We were thus warned about the gravel section that leads to the asphalt climb. When we were sent off, I remembered how on the series opener I got stuck behind people I didn’t want to be stuck behind, and apparently so did Dr. Bautista because he moved forward quickly. I tried to go with him when somehow teammate Ed Mundy got between us as we entered the first fence line section. I looked for opportunities to pass, which proved futile on such a narrow path. I watched in vain as the gap opened slowly in front of us. I wasn’t able to get around Ed until we finally came out of the fence line and onto the first fire road climb.
Luckily the entire front of the group was still fairly close and I made a move to try to catch them. Given that I hadn’t warmed up well, I figured I’d take it easy and hoped to keep Bautista in my sights for the entire race. I knew that if I was close to him I would have a chance at making the podium, especially since Omar had announced that the top 5 would medal in all races.
I caught Chris on the climb and saw the guy who was in the lead not too far ahead of us and I was feeling pretty good.
“That’s our guy, Chris! Let’s go get him!”
And I pulled in front of Chris.
“Go get ’em, Chuy!”
I climbed after the leader for a little while and decided to ease up when I realized I couldn’t catch him.
“I’ll wait for Chris and go with him.”
I’d hoped to follow my original plan and hop on Bautista’s wheel, keeping him close the entire race. We climbed together, Chris ahead, and I followed, until the first single track. Unfortunately, with the little opportunity for a warm up that I had, I wasn’t able to pre-ride the course and the downhill section proved to be tricky. I went down skidding and sliding and cursing all over the place and had to come to a complete stop to avoid falling over the cliff and I saw Sal fly through before I eventually got onto the easier section of single track. I avoided the jump that leads to the gravel section and heeding Omar’s warning, I negotiated the transition from gravel to asphalt.
While I was busy skidding and sliding and cursing on the initial descent, Chris had opened up a pretty large gap so he was half way up the asphalt climb as I started it. I resisted the temptation to go after him and the reality that I was unable to close the gap stung more than just a little bit. Teammate Elmer Caparino passed me and I hung on Sal’s wheel all the way to the top where I took a cup of water from the girls and flew down with Sal.
When we hit the next single track section I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get gapped too much, because Sal was between Chris and me. That section is fun, but it’s easy to go too fast and lose control, especially with protruding tree trunks around. I remembered Chris and Steve telling me to try to be smooth on the bike and how I had realized that although smooth feels slower, it’s actually faster. I was right on Sal’s wheel as I passed the protruding tree trunk and in the next bend to the right, his
wheel went too far to the outside and he hit a soft spot that gave, causing him to stop.
I could here someone close behind, I put my foot down as I went around Sal.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
He started to get up and I kept going. I looked to see how far ahead Chris was when I got to the bottom because they split the course there to a two way road. I didn’t see him again until I started the first climb of the second lap. He was half way up the fire road with Elmer right behind him. My inability to close the gap on the climb became more painfully obvious, but I knew I had three laps to go so I maintained a somewhat comfortable pace for the entire lap. I was a little more comfortable knowing that there was no one between Chris and me, improving my chances at a podium. At that point I was sitting in 3rd place and would stay there for the remainder of the race.
On lap three I caught Elmer and hung on his wheel for the entire lap. We were both chasing someone and I pressed a little bit, but felt good for most of my third lap. My hamstring typically warns me in the penultimate lap, but this time it had nothing to say. Elmer gapped me on the descent, which I was able to go down a little more successfully for the first time. Successfully because I was under control the whole time. I coached myself the whole way through:
“Let go of the front brake! Let go of the front brake! Let go of the front brake!”
I caught Elmer again at the start of the next single track and stayed with him through the start/finish area where we saw Chris had caught Steve and they were riding together. On the final visit to the fire road climb, I told Elmer we should leave it all on the course and I went around him. I climb to the top hoping to have enough distance when I got to the tricky downhill so that I wouldn’t get in his way. I negotiated that downhill smoothly again, and pressed up the asphalt climb and through the next single track all the way to the finish.
In the end, I was about 4 minutes slower than the first race, which put me 4 minutes slower than Chris, who was almost 10 minutes behind the winner (we’ll have to bring some sandbags for him if he shows up to the next race). He was waiting at the finish line, and shortly after I finished, Elmer came in and then Eric Howe.
There were good results for our team, Brad Coghill won his expert race, Mike Corona and Stevo each got 4th place in their respective Expert races. Ed Mundy and Chris Bautista were 2nd, I was 3rd, Elmer was 4th, and Eric was 5th in our respective Sport races; the Romero brothers, Rob and Chris were both 2nd in their respective Beginner races.
Full results can be seen on the fancy Cycle Events Company website.
I skipped Big Bear the following Sunday knowing my fitness wasn’t there, and since the overall results show Chris Bautista and me with a comfortable 1st and 2nd overall, I’m going to try to get myself ready for the finale, coming up June 29th.
Until then, I hope you enjoy this video, because I did! Where do they come up with this stuff?