tl;dr: Men 55-59: 40 Km Road Race: 13th; 20 Km Road Race 8th; 10 Km TT: 9th; 5 Km TT: 9th — One podium photo for 8th place:
Long story: I have never flown with so much stuff. After a friendly cab driver with a very decrepit yellow van brought us to Long Beach airport, I negotiated with the former US Airways, now American Airlines, agent at the check-in counter. She eventually agreed (wink-wink) that I didn’t have two bikes and we saved a few bucks.
After a very uncomfortable, 1-hour flight to Phoenix on a regional jet, my back was a disaster. It didn’t get better during our 3-hour layover or our red-eye into Minneapolis. However, our luck changed when we arrived at the hotel at 7:00a (on July 2nd) and they had a room available for a very early check-in. We had some breakfast and slept until about noon. Sleeping helped my back a lot.
This started my “rest” week. We arrived in Minneapolis almost a week before my races because Nina qualified for the 10 Km and 5 Km running road races. Her races were on Saturday, July 4th, and Monday, July 6th. My first race was on Wednesday, July 8th. I’ll spare you the details of my rest week except to say that I pre-rode the road race course quite a bit before race day.
One point about my race preparation is my training during the prior months was pretty sporadic due to an unusual amount of business travel — travel for a week, every-other-week, from February through May. My friend (and professional coach), Kurt, provided me a training outline from that helped me achieve a level of fitness far greater than I would have managed through my normal self-coaching.
My minimum goal for the games: get on the podium (eighth or better) at least once. Finishing 3rd or higher in one of my races was my stretch goal.
No cycling trip is complete without some kind of technical snafu. I purchased a mini floor pump (Lezyne) prior to the trip but I ordered the one without the built-in pressure gauge by mistake. In addition, I stripped the hex head on one of the clamp bolts on my stem while reassembling my road bike. I spent an afternoon driving around Minneapolis to three different bike shops to procure a replacement bolt and a presta valve pressure gauge.
Men 55-59 40 Km Road Race
The entire road race circuit was on the Minnesota State Fair grounds. Nina and I were surprised at the extent of the roads and permanent buildings on the grounds. (Note: Nina’s races were on mostly the same course.) The organizers made a late change to the circuit reducing the number of corners to 14 (from 18) for a 5 Km lap which made me feel better given the diverse quality of the field. There was a series of corners at one end of the circuit that had manhole covers and asphalt patches through the preferred line. My plan was to lead the race through that section on lap 1 just to make sure that I didn’t get caught in something stupid when people raced through there for the first time.
With no trainer, I warmed up on some roads that paralleled the start-finish straight. A number of others were doing the same. However, since I didn’t have the secret decoder ring for identifying which numbers were for which race, I couldn’t determine which racers were in my age group.
The weather was better than I expected, warm but not too humid. I watched the end of the Men 60-64 race which this guy won by a big margin after riding away from the peloton early in the race. A very impressive effort. The field sprint was remarkably sane and entertaining with 2nd place changing hands three times in the last 200 meters.
For my race, there were 27 racers on the line and the field quality looked surprisingly good. No one had knee-high, white athletic socks and there were just a couple of rear view mirrors hanging off of helmets. I quickly spotted a tall lean guy in a Discovery team skinsuit. Despite the wannabee-Lance-look, this guy looked very strong and he had a pro looking saddle to handlebar drop. Figured that I better mark him.
We started and we started fast, but not insanely-SoCal fast. What I didn’t see was that one guy went from the gun and he had two teammates in the race. Guess I was too busy watching the Discovery guy. I executed my plan to lead the pack through the tricky corners and then I settled in for the rest of the lap on the wheel of my marked man.
Laps 2-4 saw me covering the Discovery guy and attacking once or twice myself. The pace wasn’t slow but it wasn’t very fast. As we were finishing lap 4, I went with an attack and heard the announcer say something like, “With four laps to go, the field needs to get serious about catching the solo break.”
My race went from being strategic to tactical. I spent the next two laps driving the field with Discovery guy and someone riding for a Connecticut-based team. The course doubled back on itself for a fairly long stretch. Somehow I never saw the solo break during the first half of the race but I could see we were catching him once I knew to look for him.
After taking a longish pull leading into the longest uphill drag on the circuit, I was about two-thirds of the way back in the pack when Discovery guy attacked. I tried to get up to him but I couldn’t do it. According to Nina, we would have caught the solo break but when Discovery guy caught him, they ended up working together and Discovery guy took the win.
With all the work I did, I had nothing for the field sprint for 3rd and finished towards the back of the remaining pack to take 13th place.
Men 55-59 20 Km Road Race
This race was the day after the 40 Km race. My legs still felt good and the weather was similar to the previous day. The atmosphere was a bit more tense since everyone saw how people performed in the 40 Km race. Interestingly, the guy who went solo from the gun the day before, did the same exact thing in this race. This time I saw him go and I was prepared to work to keep him from getting a big gap as he previously did. Fortunately a couple of other guys, including the Discovery guy, wanted to keep him in sight so he didn’t gain much ground on the first lap and he looked like he was burying himself doing it.
On the second lap, one guy was doing a decent pull and we were single file. I was fifth in line. I could see that the he wanted off the front on a section of the course where we doubled back so we couldn’t cross the center line (there were relatively closely spaced cones on the yellow line). The lead guy was next to the pylons and everyone right behind him wouldn’t come around. I decided to pull out of line and attack on the opposite side of the road. Just as I was coming up to the lead guy, a couple of the guys behind him got tangled up and as I glanced over my shoulder, I saw at least four guys headed for the pavement.
I pushed hard through the next section of the course and as we came back past the crash site, a number of guys were picking themselves off the ground. Unfortunately, the remaining pack was right on my wheel. We finished lap two and very early on lap three, we caught the solo break.
I really thought we were going to have a big field sprint so I was hanging in the back half of the field. We were on the uphill section when Discovery guy attacked hard. I jumped too but I was too far back to catch the train that was on his wheel. Five guys total had a gap and I and two other guys were working to catch them. When we got the bell they still had a gap and one of the guys who was working with me went hard. I tried to get his wheel but failed again and now I was in no-man’s land. He caught the break and I was by myself. I thought maybe I can hold off the pack for 7th — ha!
Group 2 caught me on the back side of the course. My next series of thoughts were rest and try to get at least second in the sprint. One of my mental problems is because I have such a lack of confidence in my sprint, I end up sprinting way too early. This time I kept thinking wait, don’t lead this thing out. I waited and waited and then the sprint started on the false flat to the line. I was third as we got rolling and I was sprinting as hard as I have in years. I passed the guy in front of me but not the guy leading it out. No big problem because it was enough for 8th — last spot on the Senior Games extended podium. Minimum goal achieved. In case you were wondering, Discovery guy took second.
Men 55-59 10 Km Time Trial
There was a “rest day” between the 20 Km road race and the 10 Km time trial. I and most everyone else went to the TT course on the rest day to check it out as well as checking out the parking area and warm up route which was south of the TT course. The designated parking area was about 3/4 of a mile from the start while a local school with a relatively small parking lot was adjacent to the start. The school parking lot was paved while the designated parking lot was dirt and gravel — hmm. I went to the warm up route first and found that after about 1-1/2 miles, the road turned into a dirt road. WFT? If you turned left instead of going straight on to the dirt, you stayed on a paved road that provided reasonable warm up without much traffic.
The TT course was OK, out-and-back, a little bumpy in places with some rolling hills. My biggest concern was that we were told the course would be open to traffic and there was no shoulder.
All of the races were run eldest to youngest age groups with all of the women’s races first. Even with a relatively early arrival, we had to park in the dirt parking lot as the school was completely full — actually somewhat over full with people parking on the grass. I’m sure the locals loved that.
Race day was hot and humid. Definitely not SoCal weather. Had a decent warm up and was completely soaked. I was drinking throughout trying to stay reasonably hydrated without over hydrating. I arrived at the staging area and was happy to see that the course was basically closed. Local police were guarding the barricade and, I guess, select residents got police escorts as necessary.
When I arrived in the staging area, I heard the officials calling for some guy named Bickell. I yelled, “He’s not here.” Don’t know if they heard me. (Please forgive the inside joke.)
My 30 second man was missing too so I had a one minute gap to the guy ahead of me who was on a standard road bike. 5-4-3-2-1 and I was off, unfortunately in more ways than one. Heat, humidity, nerves, or all three? My heart rate was too high for my power output. Push for power or stay within my heart rate zone? Don’t over-think this. Someone passed me and I finally passed my minute guy. It took more time to pass him than than I originally envisioned. After the turnaround, someone else passed me and I was having trouble focusing on going hard. Things were not going well.
Another friend, Rich, talks about no-chain rides. Rides that are fast but feel effortless. This was a rusty chain race. I was over a minute slower than my target time which put me in ninth — just off the extended podium. Ugh!
Men 55-59 5 Km Time Trial
A bunch of guys decided to skip this event. The day before as I was somewhat dejectedly packing up, I overheard some guys, who had done the road races and finished poorly in the 10 Km TT field, say that they were going to head home a day early, not that their departure would help my placing in the race.
This time the weather was cloudy, hot, and humid. Once again I had a good sweat going during warm up.
I figured that for a 5 km TT, blocking my helmet vent with the optional blocker plate would help me more with time than hurt me with heat. I also wore the helmet visor over my glasses. Figured that I would go for broke.
Break is about what I did. Again, I couldn’t generate quite enough power and speed. I was 9th again. What was most aggravating was that the guy who finished behind me during the 10 Km TT, beat me in this race.
I felt better about my performance a few days after the racing ended. Given my work travel, some personal issues, and general lack of training, I performed about as well as I could have realistically expected.
As for Nina, she too did worse than she expected but she made the podium for both of her races with 6th and 4th place finishes.