<--- Going through turn 1 third wheel. Just like old times!
The Madera Stage race is cool to me because A)I love stage races, B)It was the first race I did when I moved to California, C)It was the last race I did in 1998 and D)It's mostly flat and I don't have high intensity climbing legs... yet.
Criterium: The crit went pretty well. I have to admit I was pretty nervous as I warmed up on the trainer and tried to remember all the basic crit strategies. Move up, move up move up. Stay near the front. Don't allow a gap to form when it's strung out. Figure out the wind. If a guy is getting gapped ahead of you, get around him and don't get behind him again. Finally, the watch told me it was time to get off the trainer and get to the start. I lined up with 49 other guys. I sucked up my fears and chose a start place that would put me on the inside in turn one. We were off and there wasn't a mad dash for the hole shot so it was pretty easy to cruise the first five laps or so in the top three to ten riders. The wind was tricky but I soon figured the best places to hide and that made it easy to see where I could give a little and where I could move up. Unfortunately, the pace jacked up pretty high after the first prime and that was about the last time I saw the front of the pack. There was one really bad crash going down the front straight that I managed to avoid. Other than that, it was pretty uneventful. I have to say the work I've been doing with cornering and bike handling at speed is really paying off. I had no problem moving up through turns and it wasn't such a bad deal to get swarmed and have to go through corners with guys on both sides. That's always been a panic moment for me. I guess I just don't trust other people to ride smoothly and not take me out. I experienced a combination of not having the legs and lungs and not having the desire enough to move up in the final laps and was content to roll in with the pack and ended up 30th of 50 with no one escaping off the front (meaning no real impact on the general class).
TT: In 1998 I did very well on this stage. Unfortunately it was a points race back then so I didn't get any team support for my effort and didn't build on it for the overall classification. This year, however, it was just 27 minutes of pain. About three miles in my 60 second guy caught me. That was okay but I was a little discouraged. Then at about 7 miles my 90 second guy caught me. Again, not a show stopper but not super for the morale. Then at 9 miles my 30 second guy finally reeled me in. At this point I was going slightly cross-eyed and searching for the 1KM sign. Finally, it showed up and after riding the last 200M for what seemed like an hour, it was over. I heard another number called out as I crossed the line and that was my 120 second tail guy. Needless to say I was not too optimistic about my placing given all that. If I'd at least been able to reel in my 30 second guy I would have been happy but. He didn't get away from me but I never caught him either.
After the TT I spent about 30 minutes farting around with a stupidly simple tire change (my training wheel tire blew while sitting in the sun) and then went out for a 15 mile cool down ride to find my happy place and remind myself that it's just cool to even be racing right now, nevermind results. When I got back, I checked my result and found I was 26th of 50. Not bad, not good, not horrible, not excellent. Just middle of the pack.
Road Race: The road race was 51 miles of wind, bumpy roads and only one or two steep little rollers around the finish line. During the first lap, guys were being really ridiculous about fighting for position at the front of the pack given the length of the race. The pace was actually pretty high and at one point we had closed the five minute starting gap behind the Cat 3's to a coupld of minutes. On the first time through the rollers I was really feeling the previous day's efforts but I managed to stay in the pack. After that first lap, things really calmed down. I could tell everyone suddenly realized it was a much longer day and that they had to ride those hills two more times. On the second time over the rollers, I was zoning out and got stuck in a second group. I put my head down and closed the gap down and got back into the front group but then they slowed way down through the feed zone and the pack all came back together anyway. But that gave me confidence since I could tell I would be able to better at least half of the pack for the finish. The attrition was high on the last lap. A few guys never got back on after the rollers, several guys flatted out and I saw one guy's chain fly right off his bike (never seen that before!). The pace went up for the last three miles and I managed to hang onto the pack by a thread as a few more guys filtered off the back. First roller, about twenty guys stuck together while the rest of us sort of dropped off one by one. I just rode in as hard as I could and was only a couple of seconds off the back of the final sprinting pack. After the sprint, I did the usual "count how many guys you see" thing and only saw 17. So I possibly came in 18th but history has shown that counting method pretty innaccurate so I was probably 20-somethingthingth.
So overall it was a middle-of-the-pack experience. The road race was actually quite fun and I was happy to be that close in the finish. I'd really like to be doing better than this in a Cat. 5 race, however. The real dissappoinment was the time trial. I really thought I'd be faster. But I did ride it as well as I possibly could. It wasn't one of those tt's where you find yourself wondering where you could have squeezed out a few seconds better here or there.