Let's start with the end, to get that out of the way...
This is my first victory in the 35+ 1/2/3 category. Modesto is not one of the big races on the calendar, but we did have some talent in the field, and the victory was earned with hard riding and smart tactics by myself and the team. It has been a long time in coming.
And now for the advertising pre-roll......Thanks, as always, to my sponsors. My wife and kids, who let me ignore them for long periods in aid of my lucrative cycling career. Mike's Bikes, who always stand ready to take my money with a smile, and put up with my equipment fetishes. Equator Coffees, who prep my tired old ass for battle every day. Toyota Cycling, who wisely decided I was too "rugged" looking to go in their TV ad, and made the SwaggerWagon™ that gets me to the races on weekends, and the kids to school during the week. Osmo Nutrition, who keep me hydrated, and ProBar, who keep me fed. Capo, whose skinsuit is remarkably slimming as well as fast. BarFly, who keep my Garmin out of the wind and out front, so I can obsess about data. Specialized and SRAM for the best go fast gear. Zealios skin care, for my porcelain skin. Violich Farms--yes, Almonds are now the devil, but they are delicious. Smith Optics, who help me see. And, special thanks to Dana Williams of Achieve Performance Training for getting me race fit on fewer hours of training.
This is a story in 4 parts.
Part I - The Prologue
The Modesto Road Race is one of the few races on the calendar that is well suited to my talents...which is to say, it favors the fat and fast. It is dead flat (elevation gain for 100km: 0. As in nada, zip, nothing) and windy, and the race is dominated by rouleurs. Full road closures mean real echelons in the peloton. The Bible says that the meek will inherit the earth. Crosswinds say that the meek will inherit the gutter.
Scott C. generously volunteered me to be the team leader for the race, even though his chances of a victory were good and mine were unclear. Scott B. also came along for some fun. I felt quite a lot of pressure to get a result with two superdomestiques at my service.
With advance warning about the dearth of porta potties from Directeur Sportif Oli, I KOM'd the ladies room at the Starbucks in Ripon. My apologies, ladies.
The 35+ and 45+ 1/2/3 fields were supposed to race together, so I registered as an old man to give us the possibility of results in 2 categories. At the line, we learned that they were going to separate the age groups, per Craig Roemer's request. Scott C. immediately went to the chief referee to explain that we wanted to race together, and with the stroke of a Sharpie on my race number, I was young again. Thanks to the race officials for being so gracious about the change of category.
26 riders lined up for the start. Specialized, Lange Twins and TMB each had 3 riders, and a couple of other teams had 2 riders. The lack of a large team presence would make for a more dynamic race as we rolled out for 7 laps and 60 miles.
Part II - The first half
May not be actual race photo
Having said that the race would be more dynamic with no large teams, it was basically the usual deal--Specialized and TMB controlled the race tightly. The Scotts were dominant on the front. I only stepped out when Roemer or Grefrath went on the attack. On the 2rd lap, a move went about halfway around in a crosswind section and I made an 8 rider selection with Roemer and Espy. I thought that move would stick but the group came back together. The Scotts then went to the front with me tucked in behind them and controlled the race for almost a lap--Team Sky style. Norman Zellers of Lange Twins attacked and got a good gap, but no one seemed bothered. I was mostly concerned with having a pee, since I put down a large french press of Equator Mocha Java pre-race.
Part III - The Game is Afoot
3.5 laps in, I asked the Scotts to turn it up in a crosswind section and then I launched an attack as we turned into a tailwind leg. This broke free a group of 3: myself, Roemer and Robert Amatelli of Cykel. Roemer knows me well enough to cover me, and Amatelli probably had nothing better to do. Soon we picked up Zellers and got a solid rotation going.
Having TMB, Lange Twins and Specialized in the move meant that the group had to coordinate itself for a chase, which they struggled to do. Grefrath and Ben Albrecht tried to rally a chase, but after a lap of what seemed like not very hard riding, we had a minute on the field. Another lap of increasingly unimpressive tempo and we had 3.5 minutes. I wanted to go harder because I wanted more gap, and I had to pee. But I tried to restrain myself since the others were not pulling very hard.
Zellers and Roemer had a spirited exchange about how to ride a breakaway. I was listening to Roemer, given he is the current TTT national champion. It was pretty clear that Roemer and I were stronger than the other 2 riders, and I started thinking about when to shed them rather than take my chances in a sprint. After all the work the Scotts had done, 4th place was not acceptable. I felt like we were just cruising along, but just to be safe I decided to wait until the last lap to make my move.
Part IV - DonkeyStrong
Being a bit short on imagination, I launched my final move at the same place as my previous 2 efforts. Roemer and I were on the back of the rotation and I tapped him and pointed forward, then jumped for the turn into the tailwind. I wanted the insurance of having Roemer with me to drop Zellers and Amatelli, and then I would try and shed him later or outsprint him.
He decided to see how this would play out instead of jumping with me--oh yee of little faith. Zellers and Amatelli did not have the horsepower to bring me back, but they did not want to let go of Roemer, and he did not want to drag them up with him. I was not sure I could hold off 3 guys solo for half a lap, but they were not a cohesive unit and I had a solid gap.
There is an elegance to going all in on the solo move. No more thinking about tactics, who is doing what to whom, marking your opponents. It is a simple calculus of how can you most effectively eliminate all remaining energy from your body by the finish line. I am good at that kind of math.
For the first 4 minutes of the attack, I averaged 30mph as I drove hard in the cross-tailwind to establish the gap. I focused on maximizing my effort relative to the wind: 400+ watts in the cross-headwind sections, 340 watts in the tailwind. Stay low. Shrug the shoulders. Keep the head down. I was prepared for this effort. Aero bike, deeeeep wheels, Power saddle, aero helmet, skinsuit, full commitment. This was how it was meant to be...a long solo effort.
I checked behind me a couple of times on the corners....the gap was not closing. With 3km to go as I went into the last tailwind leg, I knew they could not claw me back. The Donkey had flown the coop. At the final corner into the finish straight, the marshall gave me the time gap--25 seconds.
I kept driving, but I allowed my mind to wander as my legs finished the job. I felt gratitude for the efforts of my teammates that set me up for this moment. I felt relief for not letting them down. And I felt pride for finally getting a win in the 35+ category, even if it was a second tier race.
Most of that pride evaporated when I tried to post up for my victory salute. With the cross headwind in the finish straight and an 80cm deep front wheel, taking my hands off the bars resulted in a rapid turn towards the edge of the road. Not Pro. Oh well, a 1 armed salute will have to do.
Behind me, Amatelli had been dropped from the chase, and Roemer outfoxed Zellers for 2nd. Meanwhile, Cox got bored of the peloton and also attacked with half a lap to go to solo in for 5th. He declined the fauxdium picture, annoying 4th place Amatelli, but earning kudos from the purists.
I earned $30 for my efforts, which covered the In n Out bill on the way home. All in all, one small step for a wheeled ungulate, one giant leap for mankind.