On Saturday I was back at home and got a good night’s rest after the long drive from Santa Cruz. Dave Williams and I went to Bonelli to pre-ride the course late in the afternoon. We stopped to talk to Gary Stewart of ESI Grips and then went around for 1 lap before Dave got a flat. Last year, we pre-rode the pro course and many of the tricky technical sections were not a part of our race. I thought the same would happen this year so I decided to skip those parts that I believed would not be there on race day. . . that turned out to be a mistake.
Claire, Isa and I showed up Sunday prepared for three things: 1) Tanya’s birthday, 2) Dave’s race, and 3) my race. We stopped at Porto’s Bakery in Downey to buy Tanya a birthday cake. Tanya, in case you don’t already know is Dave’s wife. I met Dave because of Tanya; she and I have been working together for 11 years and I absolutely love her. . . don’t tell him, but probably more than Dave does.
She is the best, but she hates it when I tell her Dave is my BFF. Claire and Isa both love her also and if you knew her, you’d love her, too! So we bought her a birthday cake on our way to support Dave at the race.
When we got to Bonelli, Dave was about ready to get going, and Tanya and I ran out to take pictures. I went to the start line and saw Chris Bautista there, we couldn’t talk much from the spectator side of the fence to the racing side, but I’m glad he saw me. Then I saw Max Flaxman who I believe was the overall champion in the 35-39 Cat 3 last year; he moved up to Cat 2 this year: the only one with the confidence and courage to do so, from what I’ve noticed so far. I said hey to Max, and then I saw Robert Sandoval of So Cal ‘Cross fame, also lined up with Chris. I snapped a few pictures of everyone, made sure they saw me and ran out to different spots on the course.
I caught Chris and Max and Robert at the start then Dave up the hill. I thought Dave had a very good chance of doing well at Bonelli. It’s not a super tough course and it’s got a lot of sections that play to his strengths. He’s good at climbing and he’s good at descending. The only thing that could adversely affect him would be a crash or a mechanical. Dave wasn’t at the front when they went up the first climb, but he didn’t want to be. He went passed me as I was snapping pictures and then Chris’s group came around and out of the little canyon. I was waiting for Dave to come out as well but he walked up behind me instead with a broken chain.
“I just can’t do well at this park.”
He had flatted last year and was unable to finish . . . and now a broken chain. I offered him mine but it was too little too late for Dave. He walked back to Camp Celo disheartened and somewhat incredulous. Next time he’ll win there, I think . . . it’s the only thing left for him.
A few more pictures and it was time for me to head back to get ready. Before I could walk away I heard loud bellowing coming from one of the racers. He looked fairly young (perhaps early 20s, maybe younger) and another man standing on the side walked over to him. The racer seemed to be complaining about his breathing and I thought he had pushed himself too hard and was paying the physiological price for his efforts until I realized that he was crying . . . bawling, in fact. Like a bystander at an intersection after a car accident I couldn’t help but look over there. As one of the other racers came through he suggested in jest that I take a picture of the guy doubled over crying. I quickly realized that his pain was not physical, it was emotional. I could only guess and thought perhaps it was a love lost of some kind, but the pain in which he appeared to be made me think that perhaps he lost a loved one. It was and continues to be all speculation because I couldn’t bring myself to ask the other guy who helped him what happened, if for no other reason than it was none of my business. But it left quite the impression, which is why I decided to mention it here.
When I got back to Camp Celo, Dave was at his truck changing his clothes and his bike was sitting there waiting for him, like a pet that knows it disappointed his owner without completely understanding why the owner is upset.
I changed and got myself ready and when Dave got back I told him that I had been reading James Walsh‘s race reports and that James had been warming up for an hour before his road races. Claire asked how much time I took to warm up and I said about 30 minutes.
“But I’m going to warm-up for an hour today.”
I made that declaration knowing that wasn’t true. James is on his way to becoming the fittest man in America (if he’s not there already) and I had to draw the warm up to scale (forgive the mixed metaphor), because I’m not close to his level of fitness and I’m sure I’m well over 50 pounds heavier, so I went out and found a section of fire road near the entrance of the park that wasn’t being used for racing and followed up and down until I found a fun single track that went up and down. Some rocky, somewhat technical sections went along with it and 25 minutes later I was back around and at Camp Celo. Dave and Tanya’s son, Blake, was there with his friends and we chatted a little and then I went again for another warm up. My warm up totaled about 45 minutes and I was a little bit worried about having used up too much energy.
As I got ready to stage I kissed Claire and not Tanya because I was afraid Dave might punch in the gut, and Tanya said
“I’m not going to win.”
“At least get on the podium.”
“The podium is a possibility.”
I told Tanya I wasn’t going to win because I wasn’t prepared to put out the effort needed to have a chance at winning. At the start line I saw Eric Hatfield of Sho-Air and Jerry Martinez of SC Velo. We talked for a little bit, I caught up with Eric because I hadn’t seen him since the October race at Vail. I told him and Jerry that I was going to race at my pace because I was afraid too much exertion would have an adverse affect on my pneumonia.
We were the second wave and we wished each other good luck. I saw Carlos Guarddon lined up in the first row and we waved at each other and then they sent us off. I started easy and was in the middle of everything when I saw Eric and Jerry take off before we got to the first climb. As we started to climb I caught Carlos who has admitted that he’d rather be going down a hill than up, so in my effort to not over exert myself I jumped on his wheel and decided to follow his line down.
I lost his wheel going down the first single track but I could still see him and when we turned right and then left we started to climb again and I caught him and Eric. They both descend better than I do, so I waited. Eric got to the top first and killed it down the hill, then Carlos did and they both opened up a good gap. I wasn’t worried because the first part of the course was not suited to my strengths and as I maneuvered through the next single track descent I was strangely comfortable. I think it was because I was going slow enough for my own comfort. Dave was there and he told me I had about 11 guys in front of me. I figured that would put me somewhere around 6th if half of the people in front of me were in my AG.
I heard someone behind me and instead of feeling rushed I finally completely accepted that I was faster getting there and earned that spot in front. It was fun and when I started to climb out, Dave was waiting and told me that at least 4 of the guys in the lead group where from my AG. We climbed out and I felt good, not too winded and was able to pass a couple of guys. As I came down and around the lake I pushed a little bit because I knew that there was some climbing coming.
A guy passed me like I was standing still when I came onto Raging Waters Dr. on the west side of the park near the entrance of the park. I was impressed and I think I yelled out, Nice work! I went after him and caught and dropped him as we started to climb. I noticed that my front skewer lever wasn’t where I put it; I reached down to touch it and it moved easily. The long fast descent was coming so I decided to stop at the top to tighten it. I passed Eric and when I came out of the single track a few feet before the descent I pulled over and got off my bike to tighten the skewer. My bike has a thru-axle but it was still too big a risk. Eric passed me and that was ok. It took me a while to catch him but I did.
I passed a few more people on the last lap and Dave told me he thought I was in 4th. The next time I came around to the climb after Raging Waters Drive I caught another guy in my group. He kept standing during that climb and pushing up but eventually he burned out enough where I could pass him. I didn’t want him to catch me because I thought I was in 3rd place and tried to bomb it down the hill and almost went into the bushes in the little left in the middle of it.
My front wheel slipped a couple of times and I almost went down towards the end, but managed to keep the rubber side down and when I crossed the finish line Dave Towle announce that I was unofficially in 5th place, good enough to earn me that podium that I promised Tanya for her birthday. I felt good about 5th place and felt good for having just finished a race. A week ago at Vail I got 5th place but almost coughed up my lungs at the end of it; at Bonelli, I think I could’ve gone around for another lap. A quick check of results showed that I was only a minute behind the 4th place finisher, a very different 5th place finishing time from the almost 20 minutes behind the 4th place finisher at Vail. Overall, I had a much better race.
Dave, still full of energy from having his race cut short, went for a run and Blake and his friends made fun of him.
“If I ever say that to you, punch me!” They told each other. The boys said they cheered for me as I came around, “Chuuuuy! Chuuuy! Chuuy! Chuy!” I never heard them, but hearing them after the race made me laugh.
Claire, Isa, Tanya and Dave walked over to watch the awards at the podium and I got a nice medal for 5th place. After they did podiums we sang Happy Birthday to Tanya and cut the cake. She and Claire had some fun with the hairy nipple fruits and although we couldn’t figure out what they were, we all agreed the cake was delicious!
The question for me remains, now what? As far as I know I’ll keep training; I’ve been running and I’m feeling better every time. I’ll throw in some races at El Do, although now they’ve cut it down to 30 minutes for the 4/5 and raised the price by more than $5: more money for less race, I have to decide whether it’s worth it. In April I’ll get another X-ray and until the doc tells me my lungs are clear, I can’t race on the rivets, as Phil Ligget would say.
Next up is Fontana, another course that scares me and not so suited to my strengths. Oh well, it’s training!
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