From the Back of the Pack: 2012 USAC Masters Road National Championships

Posted: September 30, 2012 in Bicycle Racing

Executive Summary

I wasn’t last in any race and objectively I did somewhat better than last year but, subjectively, I still had a pretty lackluster performance. I started running out of gas about 5 Km before the end of the 30 Km individual time trial (ITT). I ended up 26th out of 34 with a time of 46 minutes, 30.54 seconds for an average speed of 24 MPH. In the road race, I stayed in the field until about 15 Km from the finish. I worked with some people for a few miles and then at the top of the finishing climb I was in a group of four. I sprinted in for 56th out of 65 finishers. The criterium was last, and I lasted 8 laps (1 Km per lap) and rode 1 more lap before getting pulled and with a DNF. It was the first time this year that I got dropped in a 55+ criterium. Overall, I give myself a grade of D for my results and a C+ for effort.

Race 1: 30 Km Individual Time Trial, Wednesday

I pre-rode the course on Monday afternoon and was relieved to find that it was a fairly flat course with about 400 ft of climbing. On Tuesday I rode the last 34 miles of the road race course very easily so on Wednesday morning my legs felt reasonably fresh. On Tuesday afternoon I went to registration and had my TT bike checked to see if it met the dimensional requirements set forth by the UCI. My bike passed (unlike last year when it failed), so I had a peaceful Tuesday evening back at our hotel room.

Nina and I got to the race relatively early and I got in a proper warm-up on my trainer. I saw a few racing friends and acquaintances but I was in a fairly solitary state before the start. There wasn’t much wind which I thought would work in my favor as a smaller rider with less power. My goal was 45 minutes or less which would have been 40 KPH (or 24.8 MPH).

USA Cycling (USAC) based our start times on our calculated seeding. Somehow they had me seeded 17th and I would have been ecstatic to finish in my seeded spot. We had 30 seconds between riders and theoretically, everyone starting after me was faster. One of our local referees, John Allen, was the starter and he counted down, 5-4-3-2-1 and I was off. I tried to start relatively easy but I am not good at that and pretty quickly I could see the guy who started 30 seconds in front of me getting closer. It took me a few miles to actually catch and pass him but I did so well before the turnaround point. No one caught me before we turned around.

The turnaround was laid out kind of strangely with three pylons. I definitely slowed down a lot to make the turn and as I headed back towards the finish I could see that a lot of people weren’t too far behind.

A couple of miles after the turn around, someone passed me. I know he wasn’t the guy who started 30 seconds behind me so he had made up at least 1 minute to catch me. I was able to keep him reasonably close without getting so close that I broke the rules. (There were a lot of officials on motorcycles patrolling the course to make sure no one was drafting another rider.) He pulled away from me on the downhill sections and I caught up a bit on the uphill sections. I was doing reasonably well until around the 5 Km to go sign. Another rider passed me and over the next 4 Km two more riders passed for a total of four riders. I couldn’t keep up with any of them as I perished more than once in those last kilometers.

I felt like I left what little I had out on the road. My breathing was the limiting factor as my legs did not totally give out. I managed to beat both of the guys who start just before and just after me, but ultimately I didn’t hit my personal time target.

Race 2: 84 Km Road Race, Thursday

I pre-rode the last 34 miles of the 52 mile course on Tuesday morning. Nina dropped me off at the bottom of the first significant climb and I rode very easy to the finish. The climbing was not as hard as I expected but even at an easy pace I could feel the altitude — especially when I got above 5,000 ft. I was also a bit nervous about the very long and fast descent. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how some of  the racers would handle it and because it was pretty cold in the morning with temperatures around 40°F for the start.

We got to the start a little later than planned because there were road construction delays. We knew they were doing road construction but we didn’t expect them to be working before 7:00 AM. We found out later that they were working 24/7 on the road. Still managed to get ready with enough time to roll around thanks to a lot of help from Nina. We also found out that the start was neutral for the first 3.5 miles, until we got past the construction zone and hit the major descent.

I ended up wearing a mid-weight base layer; a  jersey with arm warmers; light, long-fingered gloves; and knickers. My defense against the cold wind on the descent was a layer of newspaper between the base layer and jersey. It ended up being almost perfect for the conditions. We got the starting gun a few minutes late and started rolling out of the parking lot of Mt. Bachelor behind a pace car and a motorcycle. There were two short and fast descents in the neutral start and I saw a couple of people locking up brakes and one guy getting speed wobbles. All of this before they cut us loose.

Fortunately, everyone was relatively well-behaved on the biggest descent. I saw another rider get speed wobbles but he got his bike back under control fairly quickly. I kept trying to inch my way closer to the front while maintaining safe gaps. Per my Garmin computer data, we averaged 29.9 MPH for the first 15 miles which included the neutral start. About 20 miles into the race we got to the first climb. Since I rode it on Tuesday, I knew that it wasn’t very steep but it was relatively long — 4.25 miles — and it did have a couple of short steeper pitches. I got over this hill with the pack and we dropped a few people. Unfortunately, a long descent followed the climb and I believe that most everyone who got dropped also got back into the pack on the descent.

With 24 miles to go we made the turn on to Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway. We climbed a total of 950 ft over the next 18 miles. A lot of it was false flats with some short steeper grades that were often followed by descents or flats. There were a few breakaway attempts but nothing stuck and nothing broke up the pack. As we approached Devils Lake there was one last pitch and the pace suddenly picked up. It was ultimately too much for me as at that altitude (5,000+ ft), I suddenly felt like I was breathing through a straw. After a bit, there were six of us riding together off the back. Unfortunately, only three of us were working: the guy who would win the criterium later in the week and a guy with a Plan7 kit. Another guy, Mr. Sierra Nevada was sitting at the back and never rotated to the front despite some of my efforts to get him to do so. Even with just three of us working, we got to within 200 meters of the pack by the bottom of the final climb (not that it would have done me much good to get back in).

I was at the front of our chasing group at the bottom of the climb and I tried setting a hard, but not outrageous, tempo. Very quickly, Mr. Sierra went flying past me and started to disappear in the distance. The to-be criterium champ sat on my wheel for a bit but he fell off. Slowly, I started picking off a few more racers. As I was getting near the top of the climb (and still about 3 Km from the finish) I caught back up to Mr. Sierra Nevada. He saw me approaching — or heard me gasping for air — looked back and tried to accelerate. He didn’t get very far and then he sat up. I got on his wheel and he said something like, “I’m dead and just trying to finish.”

I said, “So am I.”

He continued to ride very slowly and soon someone who I passed earlier caught us. Mr. Sierra Nevada had no trouble getting on this guy’s wheel. Soon after that the Plan7 guy from Texas also caught us. Mr. Sierra Nevada let him through and I was not getting off of Nevada’s wheel. As we were coming up to the line, I could see exactly what he was trying to do and I wasn’t going to let him have his way — at least not easily.

Normally I don’t sprint for 50-whatever place when I come in with a group of stragglers. I am typically very glad just to end the pain without creating a few more seconds of it. However, this guy had completely gotten on my nerves. Since I am not a sprinter I knew that if I was going to spoil his “fun” I’d have to surprise him (based on how he blew by me at the bottom of the hill). I could see we were approaching the finishing chute so I jumped him from 4th wheel with what was about 200 meters before the line. Unfortunately, just as we hit the chute he came back around me and I couldn’t get back by him before the line. C’est la vie. Hopefully he had to try hard to get past me.

Race 3: 40 Km Criterium

I really felt like I was building for a reasonable race on Saturday. I had decent sensations in my legs and despite running out of O2 during the road race, the criterium was only at about 3,000 feet of elevation. I had a good recovery ride on Friday with someone who I’d met through an online cycling forum. We checked out the course I also had a nice, healthy dinner with a bunch of other (really good) racers and I hoped that some of their winning karma would rub off on me.

I’ll mention at this point that I was not sleeping very well. I was having vivid dreams and awakening a few times each night. I guess I was anxious and based on how I slept, I was really anxious about the criterium.

A bit to the dismay of my wife, we got to the venue early and I had ample time to check out the course and warm up. Unfortunately, just as we got to the course there was a bad crash in the women’s race that was in progress at that time. They had to stop the race and bring an ambulance on to the course. Not good to see.

I fueled up, warmed up, and emptied and I felt ready. The official opened the course for warm up laps and I did one lap (the first time I was on the course) and when I got to the start most everyone was already on the line! To top it off, unknown to me and for the first time in any of the races, we had to sign in. A bunch of us left our bike at the line and trundled off to the sign in table which was, fortunately, close by.

So now I’m really at the back of the pack for the start.

The race started just as I thought it would — really hard! I was able to pass a few people but it became obvious that I’d be lucky to hang on. All I could see was a strung out line of racers and I was working too hard just to stay on a wheel. Finally the elastic snapped on my 8th lap. I rode one lap solo and the Chief Referee motioned me off the course after my 9th lap. I told my wife that I’d meet her on the outside of the last corner regardless of what happened. While waiting for her I started sneezing and my sinuses got clogged. This pretty much happened last year too but it was worse this year. It wasn’t really my normal allergies because my eyes didn’t start itching but the symptoms lasted the better part of two days!

After watching the end of the race I changed and packed up the car. Next stop was a pizza place on the course. I haven’t had pizza since late June as I was trying to eat better and lose some weight. We got a sidewalk table and we were watching the Masters 50-54 race when my friend from Massachusetts came by after finishing 13th in the 55-59 race. We had a good chat before he took off to head back east via Portland.

That was it. Another year at Master Road Nationals and another mediocre performance. It was still a lot of fun and a great vacation. However, next year I will stay away from Bend and try the Summer National Senior Games in Cleveland, OH or the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, UT.

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