Monday, May 21, 2007

Modesto Road Race

There's only one thing to do when your heroes turn out to be fakes: get up at 5am on a beautiful Sunday morning and drive halfway across Cali to join a bunch of like-minded nuts to race your bikes fair and square. (Except that some CA masters are like 50 so maybe that's not fair. But they go like hell so whatever.)

Methdesto Road Race. Dead flat 9 mile circuit over 7 laps for a grand total of 63 miles through the Monsanto-scorched farmland between I-5 and Highway 99, a hundred miles east of SF. About 45 of us kicked off at 8:30am for the M30 race. Notable attendees: some Morgan Stanley guys; couple of Sierra Nevada guys, Peter and FBanks; Bubba, looking about 30 lbs lighter than I've ever seen him but no less powerful; some EMC and CVC guys? and couple of other good strong guys whose names or teams I don't know.

Who knows what's going to happen in a race like this? No real element of attrition, confusing and counterintuitive team dynamics, small field with a few big guns: I didn't have a clue. But what the hell. The one thing you want to avoid in such a situation is driving home 3 hours later torturing yourself about what you didn't do. I figured the one big risk of that happening was letting a group get away early and having the field lose interest in the race completely. So I lit the match on the first lap and things never really settled down after that.

Through all the gunslinging we managed to get up to a pretty good clip. There were stretches of near-max effort, which felt nice. Plenty of guys were going blow for blow. Problem was, you could never tell what might stick, and for what bizarre, convoluted reasons it may or may not. The one variable that you could count on was Morgan Stanley, bless their hearts. If they missed a little group that shot off the front, they would chase it down nice and slow, diesel style. In my view, when you've got some guns in a popcorn race like this, you might as well take the offensive. Instead, they ended up burning matches dragging the field up to little meaningless breaks here and there for a few laps, then finally got fed up and announced that they were done. I don't blame them, except that they kinda blew it. Right about then a group of 3 slipped away and Bubba bridged. Not sure what the f%@* I was doing at the time. MS missed it but they were unwilling to do anything about it. A few guys including moi tried to animate and get it going to no avail. We would get close, then fail to put the final nail in their coffin. The gap went up to a minute pretty quickly with about half the race left.

The wind had picked up by now so that made things interesting. On about half the course you would find yourself looking for that last cm of pavement in the crosswind sections, craning your neck around the bony ass in front of you to spot the potholes and missing chunks coming at you at 30+. It hurt bad enough to make me realize that as long as I was getting beat up, I might as well be the one dealing out the pain. Plus, the dread of meaninglessness was creeping up on me with every mile that passed. So I tapped a couple of the stronger looking guys and set up a classic crosswind train on the longest section. We left enough room for 4 and hit the nitrous. And it was good. By the end of the first half mile section, only the very strongest were left. We turned the corner, swung the train to the other gutter, and jacked it back up to 34 for another mile of crosswind hell. The guy in the Milram colored kit (Armstrong, Inc or something?) had enough mojo to hurt me bad when he came through but it made it all better when I turned around to see the shrapnel strewn behind us for a mile.

So 7 or so guys were left with 3 laps to go and I thought we'd just get down to business, reel in the raging Bubba, and have a race. It was not to be. Turns out only a few felt like getting down to business at all. They all had the stuff to suffer like champs in the crosswind, but now felt like whimpering and begging out of pulls. C'mon. What the hell did you drive out to bumfuck for? Why are you here? This is where the fun begins, the 31mph breakneck rotation with a few committed guys, hurting through your pull till you've got tunnel vision, then busting capillaries to get on the back, until you recover just enough to make it through again. That's bike racing. In fact, I LIKED that Bubba was out there like a carrot, giving us this wonderful opportunity to make temporary alliances with eachother, take legendary pulls, die a martyr's death, and then do it again 30 seconds later.

I was proud to find two allies in our group of misfit antiestablishment geezers: Milramguy and Big Fella. These guys went pull for pull, no matter what, which is just what you do in such a situation. They were redline like the rest of us and their chins were bouncing off their stems from time to time, but they didn't puss out. At this point, it's not about winning a bike race, or how tired you are, or team politics, or how you're exceeding your lactic threshold, or whatever. It's about putting it all out there, laying it on the line, everything those lame framed motivational quotes in sales offices around America are trying to say but can't. It's about creating some balance between your horribly sedentary modern life and your innate urge to kill and survive. It's about turning the completely pointless exercise of riding bikes around in big flat squares with a bunch of old guys on a Sunday morning into a goddamn life lesson. Everybody who didn't get these basic concepts got yelled at by me, which I now tentatively apologize for, though you can expect me to do it next time too. Can't help myself.

So why didn't the other guys participate? One guy had a mate in the break. Ok, fine. Normally, he has two choices: try to pretend he's not there at all, or roll through without hurting himself so he doesn't suffer punitive damages. Because if he doesn't pull, there is a formula: you simply leave him on the back to plan his certain victory for when we catch the break, then coldly assign the smallest rider to be the gatekeeper and absolutely put the pedal to the floor without mercy in every single crosswind section until his rims crack from bouncing off the busted concrete and his spleen ruptures and you leave him behind, a broken man, hopefully weeping silently by the side of the road. Done. But nobody got that. This guy kept getting in the way, causing stress fractures and consternation, apologizing but repeating, inviting wrath. Two other guys, FBanks included, begged off here and there - just enough to mess up the rythmn. Black stepped up at the end but too little too late. Same fate should have befallen all them. (Banks gets points for hirsuteness, and Black for being there and contributing, but still). But nobody knew the rules. So we all stayed together and went nowhere.

With a lap to go it was a mess out there. Guys were strewn all over the course from the earlier crosswind games, shamed but somehow still turning the pedals. Our group was beaten and unable to organize. 1:30 ahead was Bubba's group of 4 rolling tight but running on fumes. Could we have caught them? Is that the point? All I cared about was trying to. I was so pissed with the situation I wound it up one last time until my eyes bled, swung off and took a right turn towards the cars.

Results? Somebody post them when you find them.

P.S. When's the next race?


banks said...

Mr. Mac, love the hirsuteness call.

We had a guy in the break too. EMC sitting on and and the defensive end dressed in Morgan clothing who was sipping cocktails back there equalled me and my mate's half-hearted work.

Next race is when you make it. I'm not out there every weekend either, but I'm learning us geriatrics in No Cal got somehting special going this year. Maybe it'll continue for a while.

Scott said...

You were in the BREAK!? Goddamn. Dude, when you're in a place to get a whiff of the Vee you've got to follow your nose, wherever it goes.

Kevin said...

Goddammit! A 70+ mile river ride and I missed it!

nosajpalnud said...

cool write up

banks said...

Scott, you're right. In hindsight I realize I blew a great opportunity for the team by dropping back.

I've always thought riverrides were great training grounds to learn how to read a race as it unfolds on the road. I'm afraid I'm not as savvy as some of the big dog geriatrics when it comes to team tactics.

Scott said...

A 70 mile river ride - but worse cause nobody played by the rules.

Kirkpatrick MacMillan said...

Am I reading this right? Did FBanks get points for having hairy legs?

Great race report. I felt like I was in the race... er, one of the shrapnel strewn off the back maybe or maybe the guy not pulling through. Either of those could have been me if I weren't holed up with these damn Madera crash woes.

blue squirrel said...

great write up, love you attitude. what is the point of going out on sunday if you didn't come to lay it on the line? i will take most aggressive over a sprint finish any day....

velophun geezer said...

Scott, i love the milramy mention, thanks for that. You'll be happy to know the 'never say die' tactic at least paid off for me to the tune of a solo last 4 miles to finish clear for 5th. The winner was Jim Masoor, 2nd Bubba, 3rd EMC guy, P Allen 4th

You descibed what i call 'negative' riding. its almost impossible to combat against with our districts uber masters teams; and yes we will all be back for more.

Next year - if this race is back, we should see field limits with the flat roads and a full road closure throughout...
Ciao, Mccaw