First Stage Race in Years

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Bicycle Racing

(I have a bad habit of starting blog posts and not finishing them. Now that I am laid up for a few days I have an opportunity to catch up.)

Through my so-called racing career, I always liked the thought of stage races. Mind you, I don’t have the talent to be a good stage racer, but I fantasize experiencing some of the sensations of a professional bicycle racer competing in a race like the Tour de France. In the 1980s, I competed in several stage races, sometimes twice a year, with the races lasting 2 or 3 days (a far cry from the 23 stages of a Le Tour). However, after a short sabbatical from racing in the mid-1990s when my kids were young, I haven’t felt like I’ve had the fitness to try a stage race.

This year, with the help of my club’s generous sponsor, Cal Pacific Export Packers, I felt like I had enough fitness to try the Valley of the Sun (VoS) Stage Race in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 11-13, 2011. I’ve heard about this race for years and most of my racing friends who have done it have given favorable feedback. It’s a 3-stage event with an individual time trial, a road race, and a criterium. The time trial is an added bonus in making it feel like a big-time race since you have the excuse to bring your time trial bike and road race bike to the event.

I had two teammates there with me; Greg and Tom. Greg was the youngster of our group and in a gesture towards team solidarity, Tom and I, who were eligible to race in the Masters 50+ field, decided to race in the Masters 40+ field with Greg. We took most of Thursday to drive out to Phoenix and arrived in the late afternoon. We decided to go straight to the local bike shop to pick up our registration packages and found that there was a considerable line to get our materials. From there we went back to the hotel to check in and drag six (6) bikes into our suite with two queen size beds and a sofa bed. We made everything fit reasonably well and headed out for dinner.

Our start time on Friday was not too early so we had time for breakfast at the hotel and a relatively short drive to the start. Doing all of the normal pre-race stuff we (or at least I) were still kind of rushed and somewhat short on warm-up. In hindsight I would have benefited from pre-riding or pre-driving the course. It turns out that it was more of an uphill grind on the way out than I expected and I did not ride the return leg as fast as I could have. In the end I finished 55th out of 76 racers, 2 places ahead of my teammate Greg. Tom was further back. The hindsight is 20-20 revelation was I would have been 26th out of 53 if I had entered the 50+ field. Age makes a difference.

After lunch we took a short ride on our road bikes and the messed around until dinner. We had a very early start and a relatively long drive to get to the start of the road race stage so we tried to go to sleep early.

Saturday morning, we got up and got to the start in good time but the start area was kind of a fiasco with a lot of cars trying to squeeze into a small stretch of road. Sign-in was quick but the port-a-potty lines were long. Also, it was cold! I ended up racing with arm and knee warmers.

At this point I should note that part of my decision to do this race in the 40+ field was Greg’s description of the previous year’s race. He noted that the road race was pretty mellow and that the main climb was not too hard. Well 2011 was very different from 2010. This year’s field started relatively quickly and just got faster when we hit the climb. I fell off of the back very close to the top and ended up with two other guys and my teammate, Tom, who had intentions of trying to catch the main field. We worked pretty hard and we caught another chase group that contained my other teammate, Greg. Unfortunately, Tom fell off around this point but we were able to inspire this larger group to work together and, amazingly, we caught the main field — about 3 miles from the climb. Again, I got dropped near the top but this time I was alone. I eventually got caught by a couple of other guys and as we approached the tightest corner on the course, we saw the remnants of a crash in the main field.

I continued to work with these guys as we got back around to the hill. Unfortunately, I pretty much used up everything that I had on the previous lap and they dropped me. Now I was truly alone for a long and windy lap. I got passed by some other racers from some other categories (including some women) and I barely made it up the climb to the finish. Greg had finished about 25 minutes(!) ahead and Tom came in just a few minutes behind with another racer in last. So much for the road race stage.

We made the long drive back to the hotel with a stop for lunch. Can’t quite remember what we did the rest of the day but we ended the day with dinner at a small Mexican restaurant.

Sunday dawned and we had a mid-morning start for our criterium — or so we thought. When we got there we found out that they were over an hour behind schedule because of course logistic issues. That gave us plenty of time to warm up and watch the Masters 50+ race. As it turned out for Tom and me, things could get worse in the criterium. It started very fast from the gun and in my inimitable fashion, I was behind a number of guys who were opening gaps. I closed a few gaps but with a few laps I was off the back — with Tom. Tom and I and a guy who was really bad at cornering but was fast on the straights, worked together off the back. Our average speed was OK for 3 old guys but nowhere near the speed of the field. About 4 laps before the finish we got caught and pulled from the race by the officials.

The kicker is that before the race started, the Chief Referee clearly stated that if someone got dropped and pulled, their finish time would be calculated based on their distance and time when they got pulled. When I looked at the results online after driving home, Tom and I were not listed for the criterium or in the final results. Of course, both of us would have been near last in the race so I didn’t have much to complain about but it is kind of disappointing to race all 3 days and not be shown as a finisher. Oh well.

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