Every morning since my last race report I’ve looked at my bathroom scale and contemplated the possibilities of its display were I to step on it. I do well with positive reinforcement, and seeing my weight go up or stagnate would not qualify, so it sits in peace behind the bathroom door until I can muster up the nerve to take advantage of its services.
With the end of the school year behind me, I have been eating much better, although the occasional trip to the ice cream counter at Rite Aid is still an infrequent yet delicious reality in my summer life. My training has also gotten better, despite not quite putting in the mileage, or time on the saddle, that I would like.
So when it came time to race the finale for the Knobby Time series, I felt better about my fitness, but not exactly good about it. Claire was able to go with me to the race and during the drive she asked if I was nervous or excited. I knew that I had all but a guarantee to make the overall podium for the series just by finishing, and was thinking about my chances to win the whole thing.
“I’m wondering whether I can beat Chris.”
Chris Bautista had beat me handily in the first two races and he was ahead of me by only a few points going into the (points and a half) finale. The routine when I got to South Hills Park was the same: find a place to park, register, warm up, stage. I had spent several days on my foam roller, trying to loosen up my legs as much as I could, and I spent about 5 minutes after my warm up on race day stretching. When we staged, Chris and I both lined up at the front and next to us was Robert Sandoval of So Cal Cross and San Luis Rey Road Race medical-tent fame. Robert had missed the 2nd Knobby Time race, but had a strong podium finish in the opener. I made sure to be in the front because I didn’t want to get caught up behind anyone going into the fence line single track again.
So I went hard when Omar sent us off and got the hole shot, with Chris behind me and Robert Sandoval behind him. When we hit the first climb, it seemed like Chris and I were the only ones there. I always tell Isa that the “race is in front of you,” and heeding my own advice, I didn’t look back. Chris came around me and I jumped on his wheel; he maintained a daunting pace. I started to doubt myself about half way up the climb.
“I don’t think I can hold this pace for 4 laps.”
I was huffing and puffing heavily and Chris seemed as comfortable as a cat on a pillow.
“I’ll stay with him as long as I can.”
I climbed to the top using every bit of oxygen I could force into my lungs trying to hold on to Chris’s wheel, and Robert was right on mine as we hit the first single track descent. I was early enough this time to pre-ride the entire course and had a good idea of what lines I wanted to take. I watched Chris as he exited the loosest section of the single track and he cut left at the very bottom, so I did exactly as he, and it made a world of difference. By the time we hit the asphalt climb, Chris had opened up a sizable gap, then Robert came around and I jumped on his wheel. We caught Chris just before we reached the top of the climb and Robert went around him and I was back on Chris’s wheel.
During the embarrassing coverage on NBC Sports of the 90º+ Amgen Tour of California in May, now retired pro-racer Christian Vandelvede said that the racers needed to pay attention to their mouths:
“If you get cotton mouth, it’s too late, you’re already dehydrated.”
I believe I drank more water this race than I did the last two races combined, and I think it made a big difference. I took a cup from the boys who were handing out the water, drank a little and poured the rest on my back. The water was not yet freezing cold, instead it was a good bearable cool temperature. Robert and Chris were down the hill by the time I finished drinking and I kicked it into my biggest gear and went after them. The momentum took me right to the next quick climb and I caught them before we hit the next single track, which I found pleasantly surprising considering how much space was between us while I was drinking.
As we went down the next single track, they opened up another gap but what was so painfully obvious at the previous race was much better this time: I was able to make some gains on the little kicker hills in the single track. By the time we hit the start/finish straight, they were within reach and very little extra effort put me right back on Chris’s wheel.
I had somewhat recovered from the initial effort to start the race and was content sitting on Chris’s wheel, as I thought about how I could help him win the race. I had decided days before that I would not contest a sprint finish against Chris. I explained it to my brother:
“He’s beat me both races; the only way I would take the win is if I was faster the entire race. I wouldn’t sprint against him because he’s my teammate and he deserves to win.”
In retrospect, I should have told Chris my plans because I would eventually find out that he was trying to beat me, while I was holding on for dear life.
Chris and I followed Robert for the entire second lap, who showed no signs of slowing or fatigue. They both gapped me on the first single track descent and again I was able to pull them back on the asphalt climb. I made a bad mistake on the next single track section, the same one Sal Martinez had made during the previous race, causing me to put my foot down and stop completely, if only momentarily. I gained some ground on the little hills toward the end of that section and would eventually catch them again heading into the start/finish.
Before entering the fence line to start our third lap, Robert, who was in front of Chris, who was in front of me, pulled off to get a water bottle. I saw him stop completely at a chair that was set up just beyond the bathrooms and Chris and I kept going and we talked about what we had just seen.
“That’s unfortunate. Why wouldn’t he carry the bottle in his back pocket?”
By the time we hit the first climb, however, Robert was back and pulling in front of us. I jumped on his wheel and went around Chris, thinking Chris would jump on mine. I could tell Chris didn’t come along although I never looked back. A couple of dozen yards before reaching the first single track of the lap, I noticed Robert slowed a tiny bit, enough to allow me to come around him.
“If you let me go down the single track first, I’m going to slow you down.”
That was the plan anyway, because I wanted to give Chris a chance to catch up. South Hills Park is his back yard and I know he could bomb down that single track.
“Go ahead, I’m just keeping my pace.”
So I went and when I hit the asphalt I looked back to see Robert farther behind me than I expected, and more surprisingly, there was no sign of Chris Bautista. Robert caught me before the top of the asphalt climb and passed me on the way down, although I was right on his wheel. Before entering the next single track section he slowed down and I passed him.
“What are you doing?”
So I did. I hammered all the way through the start/finish area, passing teammate Elmer Caparino along the way.
“Last lap Elmer! Let’s Go!”
I caught teammate Sandra Alvarado on the first climb. I pulled up next to her.
She kicked it into gear and answered right back.
I was surprised to see her keep my pace because I was spinning pretty well up the hill. Her husband, Chris Romero told me after the race that she is a strong climber, which was clear to see on that climb. I asked her if it was her last lap, and it was. She got behind me and I never looked back. I took a smooth line down the first sketchy single track, remembering Chris’s advice to be smooth because it’s faster. When I hit the asphalt I sat up on the front my seat and spun up fearing that the cramps would strike as they so often do on the last lap during this asphalt climb. I hit the top and took a cup: drank and poured and hammered down. No mistakes this time as I kept reminding myself of the list of things to do on a descent:
“Stay low. Heavy feet. Light hands. Look where you want to go.”
I must have repeated that to myself at least twenty times going down the final pump section leading to the finish line. As I made the u-turn to get out I could hear someone approaching in the distance. I shifted to my big ring and spun the biggest gear I could spin, almost sprinting to the finish line. This time I did look back and Robert Sandoval was not too far behind me.
I crossed the finish line almost certain I had won the day, and pretty sure I had won the series. Robert came in right behind me and Chris came in almost a minute later. We talked at the finish line and Robert told me he wasn’t trying to spoil anything for anyone; he knew Chris and I were the top two overall leaders in the series. I know he let me through on that single track, which gave me the win.
Chris told me he went hard because he was trying to crack me and ended up cracking himself in the process. I wish I would have told him I was racing for him before the race because I was working so hard to keep up with him that I could scarcely breathe, much less talk during the race. I told him he’d raced the opposite race of what he had done previously and started too strong from the beginning. Stevo says Chris is like a diesel engine, he doesn’t start too fast and steadily gets faster throughout the race.
This was my first overall series win. Two years ago I placed 2nd overall and didn’t even make the overall podium last year at all. Many of our The Cyclery Bike Shop Racing Team members made the race day and overall podium. Full results can be seen on the beautifully designed Cycle Events Company website.
Until next time!