John Whipple’s Hillsboro Cat 4 Race Report
The first thing I remember about this race is Eric spending around 20 minutes pinning my number on my new TATI skinsuit. The suit was tight, and difficult to pin, and Eric’s hands were cramping up by the end of the ordeal. I should also note that (contrary to J’s remarks) no blood was spilt in the process. It was a perfect pin.
Yes, I was wearing a skinsuit to a road race. Yes, I was the only one wearing a skinsuit (so far as I could see—and I was looking). Yes, I heard more than a few wisecracks from fellow racers about my attire. But this good-natured heckling didn’t bother me (in fact, I was quite used to it after a year of racing on a bike with down tube shifters). And besides, are pockets really necessary for a 60 mile road race? Wouldn’t two water bottles and one 90 calorie goo tucked under my skinsuit suffice?
We had a solid group of riders in the race: Dan, Eric, Jesse, Adam, and myself. Unfortunately we didn’t get much of a warm up in (largely as a result of the time lost to the pinning episode). We thought we were lining up for the race early but at least a third of the field was already lined up by the time we got there. As we waited to be sent off I took some time to survey the field. There were quite a few strong riders in the race. Mike Hemme (cyclocross superstar) was lined up in the front row. I figured he was probably the strongest rider in this race, and my plan was to get to the front of the peloton and try to stay on his wheel. Other riders I recognized were Jeff Perkins (2009 state road race champion, sporting his championship jersey), Chris Koster (state road race podium), Tim Speciale (2009 Fall Fling omnium winner), and Mike Morrell (sixth place finisher in the cat 4 race at Hillsboro last year).
The first lap started as expected. The pace was relatively slow. I managed to get to the front of the peloton in about a mile and settled in at 5th wheel behind Hemme. Almost immediately the Wild Card team started sending riders off the front. These attacks didn’t look very serious, but they were consistent. As soon as one rider was reeled back in another took off. I didn’t mind doing some of the work to bring these riders back but I was careful to do it in a slow and deliberate manner in order to not expend too much energy. My only big efforts were when Hemme took off after a couple of riders that were off the front. I jumped as soon as I saw him go and stayed right on his wheel. I’m pretty sure that at this point in the race he was just loosening up his legs, not looking to start a serious break, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Things proceeded roughly along these lines for the first twenty miles. I knew that the pace would ramp up in the last few miles before the hills heading into town, but I wanted to try to put the field in some difficulty prior to this point. As the peloton started heading up a moderate incline I surged off the front from around 5th wheel. Not an all-out attack, but enough to ensure that no one was on my wheel for the rest of the hill. The peloton chased and caught me towards the bottom of the descent. I pulled for a little longer and then dropped back to 5th wheel. The pace started to slow as we approached another hill and I decided to go off the front again. Same strategy, same result. I’m not really sure whether these attacks were a good idea. I suspect not, but it was probably more effective than simply pulling for extended periods (a bad habit that I’m trying to break).
In any case, we were now only a few miles from the main hills; the pace stayed high as everyone jockeyed for position. I stayed between 5th and 10th wheel while conserving energy for the climbs. I was second wheel as we started the first climb. The pace was steady, not that hard at all. We cruised through the feed area (I stayed left to avoid the traffic); shouts of support from Dave and J were much appreciated. I was still second wheel as we headed up the second climb. As we neared the top I moved into the lead and started pushing the pace. I stayed on the gas all the way through town. After crossing the mid-point of the race and taking a right turn that would lead us out of town I looked back to survey the damage. The field was strung out for as far as I could see with some significant gaps developing. I tried to convince the other guys near the front to help keep the pace high to prevent the field from coming back together (hoping that Adam, Jesse, Eric, and Dan were near the front—I hadn’t seen any of them up to this point). A few of them were receptive and willing to do some work, but many of them were tired and/or unwilling to make much of an effort.
It’s around this time that I make contact with Adam. It took him a long time to get through the field on the first lap but he had finally made it to the front and he was looking strong. A Wild Card Rider shot off the front. Another rider soon joined him and they started working together in earnest. It was certainly a more serious attempt to get away from the field than anything that had happened earlier in the race. Over the next half-mile at least three more riders jumped off the front and attempted to bridge up to the break. I decided that it was time to go. I moved to the front with Adam right on my wheel. At the beginning of a long incline I rolled off the front with a quick and sustained acceleration (staying in the saddle). Adam played it perfectly, easing up just enough to let me get away. By the time I reached the top of the incline I had a significant gap on the field. I caught the riders who were attempting to bridge to the original break; in a few minutes all of the riders who were off the front came together. I believe there were six of us. Things went well for a couple of miles but then our effort started to fizzle. I was first wheel and no one seemed interested in pulling through. Looking back I could see that a few of the riders were gassed and that the peloton was closing in on us fast.
Decision time. Should I sit up and reintegrate with the field or push the pace and see if anyone is willing to put in a serious effort? I opted for the latter, taking a hard pull that dropped two riders off the back. Now we were four. Tim Speciale from PSIMET Racing, Frenchie from Wild Card, and another rider that I don’t remember. We worked well together for a couple of miles. Quick pulls, echelons, etc. The gap was slowly increasing. I pushed the pace a bit too hard through some short uphill sections inadvertendly dropping Frenchie and the rider whose name I didn’t know. I eased up to let Frenchie catch back up. Now we were three. Frenchie didn’t have much left to contribute to the break, but his team had the largest contingent of riders in the race, and they seemed to know what they were doing. I knew that they were helping Adam block now, but that they would probably organize a chase if their rider was dropped from the break. So I let Frenchie hang on my wheel without pulling through. I doubted that he could hold on all the way but the longer we kept him with us the better chance we had of staying away. A couple of miles later Tim yells “we lost him.” Frenchie had come unhitched; he was about 50 meters back pedaling slowly with his head down. Decision time. Ease up for Frenchie or forge ahead? In retrospect this decision should have been an easy one. Frenchie was done. This was now a two man break. Any residual doubts about this decision were quickly erased as the swarm of the peloton emerged in the distance.
Time to go. But there was a problem. Tim was gassed. He tried to pull through but just couldn’t keep up the pace. Decision time. Do I drop Tim and try to solo the rest of the way or let Tim hang on my wheel with the hope that he can take a few short pulls? We had already been in the break for over ten miles, and we still had over 15 miles to go to the finish. Any little bit of help could be the difference between staying away and getting caught. And even if Tim couldn’t do that much work I figured that his teammate Raviv was probably helping Adam block. But I know that Tim is a very strong sprinter, so if I let him hang around too long he might recover and beat me in a sprint. Tim admitted that he was gassed and told me that he wouldn’t contest the sprint if we stayed together for the rest of the race. This tipped the scales in favor of not trying to drop Tim.
Power meter? Nope. Heart rate monitor? Nope. Speedometer? Nope (it stopped working after my first trip through the bricks). Fifteen miles of intense suffering with no electronic distractions. It was just me, the bike, the road, and the wind.
With around seven miles to go I decided it was time to refuel with my 90 calorie goo. Have I ever tried to open and consume a goo while riding before? Of course not. I gave it the ol’ college try as Tim took a pull. It wasn’t pretty. My best guess is that about 60 calories of the goo eventually made it into my mouth. The remaining 30 calories were deposited in various places on my uniform and my bike. Shortly thereafter I squeezed the remaining drops of water out of my last bottle. I would have done just about anything for a third water bottle at that point.
After what seemed an eternity I finally saw the cones at the bottom of the first big climb into town. I looked back and the peloton was nowhere in sight. Barring catastrophe the race was ours. J and Dave were screaming wildly on the side of the road as Tim and I ascended the hill. We cruised by the feed zone flat and headed up the second hill. My legs were completely wasted at this point. We flew down the last hill and took one last trip across the infamous bricks of Hillsboro.
True to his word, Tim eased up on the last brick section. I was all alone as I rounded the final turn. Decision time. To post-up or not to post-up? The deliberations were more complicated than you might think. On the one hand, everyone likes to see a good post-up. And who knows whether I’ll ever have a chance to post-up again? The major complication was that my headset wasn’t entirely functional. Suffice it to say that taking my hands off the handlebars for more than two seconds at a time was likely to result in a crash. YouTube images of that rider who posted up early, crashed, and lost the race ran through my mind. I decided to go for a quick post-up right as I crossed the finish line. If I crashed at least it would be on the other side of the line. Fortunately I kept the rubber side of my goo-covered bike down.
Great win for the team. A huge thanks to Adam for helping me get away and for his expert blocking. A huge thanks to Alex for killing me in intervals over the last two weeks, and for his sage strategic advice. A huge thanks to J for building my wheels last week and for making sure that all our bikes were ready to hit the bricks.