Saturday, February 18th the UCLA “shut up legs” Road Race was held. It was four laps of a 12 mile course. The race begins with a long slow climb, then takes a right turn onto a shorter “stair-step” type climb. It then heads into a long FAST downhill, turns right where you catch a nice tailwind, then the final right takes you onto about a 1.5k slope to the finish.
There were only about 30 competitors in the Cat 3 race. The La Grange racers were myself, Yair Vetchtein, and Nick Gillock. The weather was beautiful by the time our race began, sunny and warm-ish with just a bit of wind at times. I came into the race having done some hard work early in the week, but had taken it very easy on thursday and friday. I felt very little anxiety, which is not normal for me. I guess I was confident with my fitness, but I never know how that will compare with the fitness of the other racers (Gerry Cody, Marco Cubillos, Nick Ostrovsky, Aaron Wise…).
As we staged, Nick rolled up and let Yair and I know that his derailleur was having issues. Great. I believe he pulled out of the race after the first lap…
Yair and I were both present up front. We worked with other teams and riders to ensure that no break went too far ahead. In a race earlier this year, I learned that short bursts of speed REALLY drain my strength, so I was conscious about keeping a consistent yet strong pace. Each lap as we turned right onto the 2nd climb, I took the front. The wind was coming from the left, so I stayed close to the dirt on the right. This meant even the guy directly behind me was not getting a draft. I was able to keep the pace high enough that no one would want to come around me, but just easy enough that I knew I could recover each lap. We hit the downhill, and here again I led every lap. Being a bigger body (185 lbs.), I am able to crouch down onto the top tube and wouldn’t have to pedal at all heading down. The riders behind would have had to get in the wind and work just to get in front of me, so they were more than happy to follow.
There were a couple of testing breaks on the tailwind section, and some separation on the finishing climb, but a main group of about twenty was always able to stay together. However, At the end of the third lap, there was some excitement. A small break got a little gap…a chase group of about six went to join, and Yair and I had missed both! I saw Yair begin his solo chase, and just watched hoping the group would follow, or Yair would make it…neither one happened. After feeling sorry for myself for a couple of seconds, I had to head out and either help Yair, or help myself. I chased. Yair saw me coming and slowed so that we could work together and at least get one of us there. Brilliant! As I reached him, he told me that he would do all he could to get me there then he was done. I slipped in behind and was struggling even to stay on his wheel. He was killing himself (figuratively) to close the gap, which was about 200 meters by now. As we headed up to one lap to go, I was back in the front group and able to rest a LITTLE.
I still set the pace up the climb, but feeling strong and knowing I needed to thin the group even more, I chose to attack. I figured I could still recover enough to finish well, but it would test whoever was left. It seemed to work. I was alone over the top, all the way downhill, and probably had about 15 seconds at the bottom of the hill. I felt fatigued along the bottom, but knew I had to push the pace. With that tailwind, the group would have a good chance to catch me AND drop me!
It turned out that two riders were chasing, and I was feeling like I wouldn’t be able to hold them off alone. I softened up a bit so I could hang on when they caught me. They were a Big Orange rider and a Fast Friday guy, who Yair had told me to watch before the race. The three of us worked very well together immediately. No games here…we needed to cooperate to stay ahead of the chasers! We made the final turn into the finish together, then it was a slow motion slog-fest all the way up. We traded positions a bit, but in the end the Big Orange rider took the win. I came in about 10 meters back, and Fast Friday about 10 meters behind me.
-Teammates are great. Yair spent himself for me, and was as happy as I was at the finish.
-Someone please convince Nick Gillock (a top Cat 3 climber!) to ride a standard Di2 set up.
-I listened to my body during the race, and felt like I was more successful because of the time I spent at the front…?
-The three times I’ve raced this course (healthy), I have used the top of the climb as my finish line and it has worked out well. 4th, 2nd, and 2nd! There’s enough time to recover on the downhill and the rest of the racers are really struggling there.