Monday, April 24, 2006

Willamette Valley Classic Stage Race 4/21,22,23/2006

Four stages in three days, this SR is a great warm up for the later NRC event, The Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, which is longer and steeper. It was yesterday that Veloshop traveled back from Eugene with this bad-boy notched in our collective belt. Here’s how the race went for me:

Willamette Valley Classic #1

53-miles of dead flat country road, done in three laps, in sunny 60 degree weather with an assy wind.

I get ready and lightly warmed up, have some coffee, feel great. So this is where my WVC goes wrong. Pretty early to be saying that, huh? Yeah, it sucked. I line up, not at all late, but still mid pack with other VS’ers. We go. The pack surges and swerves comically through the neutral start through the staging area. This is not good. These guys suck. We get on to the road and start racing upwind. The guys in front aren’t going anywhere, and I really don’t think even wanted to be near the front. The guys in back are trying desperately to move forward. The lane is narrow, with no shoulder, and there’s just no way to reshuffle. This goes on and on. Mile 7: Duncan “these accelerations (are lame)”. Me: “We’re way too far back.” Mile 9: going down a mild descent, the pack in front of us comes to a complete skidding halt. My foot’s on the ground, I’m standing there frustrated. Somebody goes down two riders up from me. I’m standing there fuming, when a push comes from the back and my own wing man, Duncan, is pushed down on the back of my bike, forcing it to the ground from between my legs. As quickly as the incident started, it’s over, and everyone goes racing off down the hill, except me and some bloody dumbshit who surely caused the incident. My wheel won’t spin. I move quickly to move the brake, which has surely been pushed over, but no, it’s fine. It’s my AmClassic 350 that’s the problem. It’s suddenly 4 inches out of true. I shout for a wheel and get one, some 36 spoke tank with a cassette that doesn’t work with my sh!t. They hadn’t allowed me to check in my spare race wheels. I jam it in and do a running remount.

Here begins the pain. This is, to date, the hardest effort I’ve ever put in in a road race. It begins with an ITT that I guesstimate will be no more than 10 minutes, so I quickly get up to about 190 bpm. The wind is unreal. I try to mimic my TT position on my road bike. 11 miles later, the pack is still in sight but not regained. Several riders have come through me and refused all encouragement to get on me and hopefully take just one pull before losing contact with me as they had the field. Then, a glimmer of hope: Steve from Veloce (a strong rider) is finishing a mechanical and getting back on the road in front of me. I pull hard up to him. He’s happy to see me, too. The two of us set a crazy TTT pace to regain. 2 miles later, he says, “We’ve got ‘em.” Me: “We don’t got ‘em till we got ‘em.” I was sorry to be right. They surged just out of our reach on the same descent on which I lost contact. 14 miles later, he tells me he can’t hold me anymore. I force him into taking shorter pulls and trying one last swan song. We grind through the unrelenting wind and see the field just in time to see them stringing out for the last prime. We’re done. Jess is now one of the popped riders coming through us, and joins our now relaxed pace. We’ve failed. We’re out of the GC. We’ll ride the last 10 miles like a training ride and be 10 minutes down by the end of the day. It was a bad, bad day to have to chase.

The good side: I impressed myself by refusing to die and killing myself in my least favorite kind of effort (TT) trying to save my weekend. The bad side: not only had I lost so badly, I was now in a two-way tie for the honor of most-tired-man in the peloton. Me and Steve were absolutely toasted.

Willamette Valley Classic #2

A 17-mile ITT over rolling terrain on an out-and-back course in cold dry weather

Now begins the fun. What’s great about not being in the GC running? Not caring about your time trial. I double-checked with officials that there was no time cut, and then went back to the car to part out my TT gear to my teammates. They did their trainers, their nervousness and their grief, and I had a bagel. I rolled up to the start line 5 seconds before my time, incidentally (I hadn’t bothered with checking the clock), refused the standing start, and went off on a beautiful ride. 3 miles in, I noticed I felt a bit tight from yesterday. So, I pulled off the road, sat in the grass and stretched for a bit. It was a beautiful ride. I really made the most of it, setting a new course record of 48:30, and coming in dead last.

This sounds really quite lazy, but I was just playing the hand I was dealt. The only thing I could earn by turning in a good time was dead legs for the afternoon circuit race. And I wasn’t the only one doing it. Since we started in reverse GC order, I was surrounded by guys doing the same thing; and it wasn’t until I stopped to stretch that I got passed by anybody actually racing. It’s tactics.

Willamette Valley Classic #3

38 miles of rolling, curvy country roads, done in 5 mile laps, with a slight rise in the finishing stretch, taking place 5 hours after the morning time trial

Now, I’m racing again.

This rolled out into another clusterf*k traffic jam. The roads there are just so narrow. This time, however, I survived until the first prime set the race in motion, after which we were moving… maybe even too fast, as 3 of my 4 teammates fell victim to the pace and weren’t seen again. I stayed out of the primes. My shot at the points jersey was long gone. My job was to get a pink and black stage win. I sat in, hoping for and receiving a fast race. By the 7th and final lap, I had the run-in memorized and put myself near the front. A rider had gone off with 5 miles to go, and I couldn’t be the one to pull him back. When a Veloce rider and a Webcor rider attacked with 3 miles to go, I recognized it as the only response to the soloist that I could logically partake in. I bridged surprisingly quickly to them… uh oh, too surprisingly quickly. They weren’t going anywhere. I drifted back to the pack and forced 4th wheel. The last miles were disappointingly slow, and the GC-challenged soloist stayed off to win. I came into the last bend 6th wheel and the sprint went off the front. Only in this stupid race could 5 guys in front of you still be a traffic jam. I watched my race run away from me as I tried everything to get around the guys in front of me (who I should have guessed were up front to protect their GC but had no interest in duking out the finish, duh). But after a couple of elbows and with 200 meters to go, I was finally free, and torched my legs. They were too fresh for anybody, and even with my tactical error, I won the sprint pretty convincingly, making up about 20 meters on the Red Jersey in the final 150. It felt real, real good. At last, there was at least SOME evidence that I had even showed up at this stage race. And I got $35 for second place in a stage.

Willamette Valley Classic #4

This is a toughie. 70 miles, 1 lap, 1 sun, and 7500 feet of climbing

I had told Duncan, pointing to the top of the second and largest climb on the profile, “If I’m still in it right here, I’m proud.” Pointing to the top of the ultimate climb, “If I’m still in it right here, I’m f#cking everybody up.”

I was right on the first count, but wrong on the second. I’m still happy about the result.

Right out of bed, we went up hill. It hurt, but it hurt everybody. A lot of guys with dead legs went out the back right then and there. We then rolled flat for 10 miles and really warmed up. Then, the biggie: I sat and ground it out like Ulle, just doing my pace, and finding it very pleasing. Many went bye-bye, including my whole team (three of which caught back on, working a Veloshop TTT to do it…WTG). About 35 of the starting 90-something were together at the summit, and I made sure everyone noticed me so I didn’t get a reputation as a dangerous sprinter who can be beaten on any climb.

The race was pretty serene for a while, with one particularly notable section on a semi-paved one-lane logging “road”, littered with sticks, branches, bark and gravel. We did one of the larger climbs on this terrain and the subsequent descent. It was cool, and I was really glad I raced ‘cross last fall.

At mile 45, disaster struck. We were starting the other biggest climb, called “Wolf Creek”, and went through the feed zone. My big bottle of sugar magic was anticipated and needed. And I didn’t get it. I couldn’t stop, I was already flirting with losing contact with the group. But I should have. As it played out, I, regardless, got paged up this climb that had looked like nothing on the profile. It was epic, and it was totally exposed to the sun and to the mountain wind from which, when you go out the back, there is no shelter. Again I never said “die” and climbed that shi+ faster than I thought possible. Over the top, I was with two other riders and volunteered the first downhill pull. I sprinted over the top and into the first of many sharp turns. Out the other side, I glanced back. The two were 50 meters back. They wanted no part of that. I, on the other hand was willing to do whatever it took to maximize my chances of regaining the group. It was the most fun I’d had all weekend. Each subsequent corner, I dove faster and harder, as though I were researching the threshold of my tire’s grip on pavement. I was absolutely flying. So fun. It turned out not to matter, though, as I just missed contact with group at the bottom. I was starting up my TT engine when I noticed the two riders 500 meters behind me. I sat up and waited for them, we got a fourth from behind, and it was on. We regained easily.

So, I was back in and we had 15 miles of flat between us and the sharp uphill driveway to the finish. I was out of liquid and parched. It was too late to eat the MoJo bar in my jersey pocket, but I did scarf the PowerGel (without any water to chase it, yuk). Oh, did I mention I was tired, too? I just had to sit here, try to recover and wait for that driveway. I had surveyed it, and it was a bit long for my signature uphill 400-meter sprint/climb/kneegrind, but I was sure as hell going to try it. I wanted to win this “climber’s race” so freaking bad. So bad. It would be my finest achievement.

We hit the turn up to the winery that overlooks the valley we were in, and it was on. I was told that the first 200 meters of the driveway is 22%. Perfect. I wheelcrush’d my way through almost everybody. This is not a climber’s climb (I would guess that I was kicking 800 watts). But when I get up to the faux plat, I see 6 people in front of me and 300 meters to go, but there’s a problem. I’m out of gas, and I just burnt the fumes. I wasn’t “blowing up”, and I could still suck breath; I just had no fuel left anywhere in my body. I sat down and (surely burning muscle as fuel) turned about 50 rpm to the finish, during which time I actually caught one of the six riders. I came across the line in 6th place and in total glucose, oxygen and seratonin depletion. I coasted to the car. Nobody was there. I sat with my head in my hands and cried tears of helpless, overwhelming sorrow despite being thrilled with my result. I had broken my body and my brain was no longer working properly. I bummed.

One hour, three bottles of Endurox, one bottle of Muscle Milk, one muscle pill, three shots of tequila and one Diet 7-up later, I sat in the grass roadside with my team, basking in the glorious sun and singing the praises of road racing.


Blogger Patrick said...

Somtimes you rhyme hard sometimes you rhyme fast...... You've taught me a lot about never giving up. Rode Sauvie today at a grandma's pace, which was pretty wierd. Sauvie's a nice place when you're not gasping for air and can look around.

Drink more water and tequila!!!

5:48 PM  
Blogger Chris DuBois said...

A Mark Blackwelder who never gives up? That's not the Mark I met two years ago.
Booya. Yay bike racing.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Little Package said...

Looks like you got yourself some pink foam tape! Congratulations on your race!

8:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Blackwelder said...

No way, Caroline, Robin got 11th in the 4's on his own. Way more deserving.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Mark Blackwelder said...

Chris: it's no accident. It was you that converted me. Thanks.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Little Package said...

Mark, I said the fastest rider in the fastest category if you don't remember, but if you want to pass off the tape after I give it to you that's OK. Fourth in the 3s!!?? Rad!

7:08 AM  

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