Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cherry Blossom Stage Race

My first stage race was the Cherry Blossom last weekend. It included 2 road races, a time trial, and a criterium. All over 3 days. It was a great experience, and after almost a week of rest I can finally say I would definitely do it again.

First Day (Friday) - Columbia Hills Road Race

Two laps on the course for a total of 38 miles. Sounded pretty simple. Our race started at 1pm, so a team-mate, Alex, and I drove over in the morning. Got there to see the 1/2/3 women start the race at 9am - it was sunny but cold. The word from the morning races.... wind. Not a good sign when it typically is not as windy in the morning.

First lap started out very mellow and stayed pretty mellow. Climb up the hill was slow and folks in the pack would yell "speed it up". Well, I spent alittle time at the front and you soon discovered why the pace was slow and there were minimal break attempts - there was a serious headwind.

Second lap a couple Team Oregon guys broke away on the flatter tailwind section. They were moving pretty good so I got to the front and folks were chatting about chasing them down. Well, I attacked after them myself. I guess I unleashed the dogs because we did a really fast pace all the way to the hill. A couple team-mates at the back later stated "that's what dropped me".

I was feeling good until the peak of the second climb. It was at that point I realized I wasn't taking my electrolyte tablets during the race. It was pretty obvious as my left leg froze with a cramp and I almost fell of my bike in pain. I had to stop and watch the pack climb away without me. I chewed an electolyte tablet (not a pleasant taste) and it kicked in. I caught on with a group and finished 1:50 back in the second chase group behind the pack. Lesson learned.

Second Day (Saturday) - Time Trial and Criterium

I've never done a time trial, but my 20 minute power is my strength so I figured I should do OK. I purchased some clip on aero bars (you can tell they make a huge difference). The course was 4 miles up a 2% grade hill and back the same route. I had my power tap on the bike, so I planned to keep my threshold power as a target. Reviewing the power file... mission accomplished on the uphill but I didn't do so well on the downhill. My 20 minute intervals are mostly on an indoor trainer - very consistent. I discovered it's a story going downhill. It's a tricky effort to maintain the power when going down. A technique I need to improve. I was definitely not "spent" when I finished and felt I could have gone much harder. I finished 3:05 minutes behind my powerhouse team-mate who won it.

I've raced a couple criteriums last year. They are always fast paced and intense. I really enjoy them even though they tend to be the risky part of road racing. The course was a 1 kilometer circuit downtown with 4 corners. My plan was to stay safe and definitely stay with the pack - no time loss this time. Mission accomplished. It was actually a pretty "easy" criterium. I'm guessing because everyone had the same plan since it was a stage race - stay safe. I finished easily with the pack 22nd out of 76 riders.

Final Day (Sunday) - Columbia Gorge Road Race

My powerhouse team-mate, Ron, was sitting in 1st place and I was in 40th place down 4:55. However, this day was the "queen stage" - 2 loops - 55 miles - 4280 ft of climbing. This was the big one for the STRONG after 2 previous days of race.

Well, the fireworks started on mile 3 at the beginning of the 7 mile climb. The pack shattered. Long climbs are something you need to do at your own pace. I felt pretty good about my efforts on the 1st lap. I was behind the 1st chase group. There were maybe 15 persons ahead of me. I hooked up with 2 riders with Starbucks kits and could tell they were good decenders. My powertap computer wasn't working, but it folks were saying we hi 45-50mph on the descent. I lost the wheel of the 2 guys and hooked up with a group with a few team-mates on the way back.

We were in a group of 15 riders that started the climb again on the 2nd lap. Again I was pretty happy with my climbing. I was definitely feeling it on this second round. I was taking my endurolytes and drinking water, so no sign of cramps. However, I wasn't doing a good job drinking my fuel bottle on the climb and no way to reach for it on the fast descent. So, I was feeling bonky at the bottom of the descent. I knew I was hurting when everyone was chatting and I was at the back thinking "if I don't hold this wheel I'll be dropped and be roadkill out here". I was fueling and just holding on. I finally felt better with about 5k to go.

Finished with that same group - 32nd place out of 76 riders and 15 minutes behind the leaders. My powerhouse team-mate did his best to hold with the lighter guys, but he didn't make it. He finished 8 minutes behind and dropped to 11th in the GC. My carpool team-mate climbed with the leaders and finished 3rd in the stage and jumped from 10th to 4th on GC. Wow, alot of change in GC in one day - that's why they save the "best for last".

Overall, I finished 34 out of 68 (86 in original field - 18 folks didn't finish) and 19:36 behind the leader. It's a fun experience to live like a pro for a few days. Race, eat, sleep, and recover. I couldn't imagine doing this for 21 days like TdF. I figure not bad for a working dad. I also figure I'll do it again. Actually, I already planned my 40th birthday weekend...... Elkhorn