While a bit hesitant to pack the car and head out into the awful weather Friday night, I made the 3+ hour drive down to beautiful Coalinga, CA in anticipation of the following days Catua Creek Road Race. While the drive down did little to encourage me, the sky on Saturday morning had cleared and as the air began to warm, I knew we had a great day for racing on our hands.
The Cantua Creek RR course is actually a 26 mile (round-trip) out and back course. The majority of the course is pretty flat, with the exception being a couple freeway (I-5) overpasses and a challenging, lumpy section at the start finish area. The course is all single lane, with the centerline rule in effect.
The E4 race was a three lap affair (70+ mile total). Of course, this early in the year, everyone is still feeling out their own form as well as the condition of the other racers, so it’s tough to pick a guy to follow all day. I had a few ideas of who had been going well and thought I’d wait until the last lap to see who looked strong.
The race got off to a typical fast start, and everyone was moving around the road trying to get comfortable. Because of the rain from the week, the shoulders of the road were fairly muddy, causing more than a few nervous riders, but more annoyingly, the mud was very sticky causing quite a bit of mud to build up between brakes and tires. I was unfortunate enough to pick up a rock that became jammed between by front tire and the crown of my fork. After trying to shake it loose for about 30 minutes (mental note: DO NOT put your fingers in between your fork and spinning tire!), I was forced to stop to get the rock out. While certainly a blow to my mental game, the group wasn’t moving particularly fast at that point, so I got back in without much a problem.
….and it was a good thing because that’s when the attacks began! Two juniors sprinted away from the group and as soon as soon as they were reeled in, another pair of racers decided it was time to go and they went away. The group didn’t respond at all to this pair until the second lap when they were caught after the start/finish downhill section. Once again, the group was pretty mellow until a solo effort went clear and was completely left alone. In fact, most of the group had no idea that anyone had gone. As the group rounded the turn around at the far end of the course we were informed that he had 1:10-1:30 on the group. While not panicking (35+ miles left after all) the group definitely stepped-up our efforts. It wasn’t until starting the 3rd lap, though, that he was back in the fold.
So there we were, 2 laps complete, 25 miles to go. At this point the group began to really accordion a lot. It was a fascinating bit of racing, because we were surging so much. At some points we would start drilling it and the next moment we would all slow down to about 15 mph. It seemed that no one wanted to give anything away and so no one chose to do any work. A few small attacks were tossed in on after the last turn-around, but they really did little more than accelerate the group for a short time. It was becoming clear that we would make it to the last section of rollers together.
The finish at Cantua is about a 2.5-3k section of road that begins with a sweeping right hand turn over and over pass and then a series of rollers into the line. The final k is and up hill right hander, flatish section, and then a 200m roller up to the finish line. The centerline rule was in effect until 200m when we were allowed full use of the road. Although the pace had gone up, no one made a break for the line early, and the pack started to swarm a bit between 1k and 200m to go. I had been sitting in the top 10 at the 1k sign, but as the pack swarmed, I got pushed back a bit, and at 400m to go I began to pick my way forward. I chose wheels pretty poorly, as one guy blew up at about 300m the next guy pulled his cleat out of his pedal and began weaving all over the road. By the time I started to sprint at the 200 sign, a small group of 4 had already begun their kick for the line and I was left behind, rolling across in 8th
The good: The course has a fun finish and the weather was beautiful.
The bad: I didn’t really give myself a great chance at the win.
But overall, it was a very solid day of racing free from crashes and flats, and that’s always a plus.