Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cat's Hill Classic

After a week of training I was back at it this morning for the Cat's Hill Classic in Los Gatos, CA (los gatos is spanish for "cats").  I wasn't really looking forward to this race due to my poor performance in the Wente Road Race last weekend but since I had signed up a few weeks prior I wasn't going to skip it.
A view from the top of Cat's Hill.  At 23% it is very steep and will sap the life out of your legs in no time.  Note the telephone poles in the background to get a reference for the height of the hill.
The Cat's Hill Classic is a staple of the Northern California race circuit and has quite a bit of history as well.  The race has been going since the 1970's and one of the most famous races was in 1978 when a young blond kid from Reno, NV (Greg LeMond, future 3-time winner of the Tour De France) won the race.  The course is about 1 mile long and consists of 5 right-hand turns and 1 left-hand turn.  In the middle of the lap is the "cat's hill" which is about 1 block long and 23% of gradient (for my PA readers, the Manayunk Wall is 17% gradient).  My Cat. 4 race was 16 laps of the course and just as many times over this climb.
On the climb and early in the race.  I am in the middle of the photo.
Kelsey and I woke up early for my race as we had about an hour drive to Los Gatos and my race started at 9:20AM.  We arrived by 8:00AM, picked up my race number, set up my bike on the trainer, and Kelsey walked around the corner to grab a cup of coffee.  My warmup consisted of 30 minutes on the trainer as I was told that you need to be warmed up in order to tackle the climb at race pace right after the start.  In talking with some of my teammates they also mentioned that you need to shift before the hill, use a high cadence to climb whenever possible, and that the hill is the most important part of the course and will almost always determine the winner.
At the start of Cat's Hill, somewhere around half way into the race.
We lined up at the start and I finally got my first glimpse of Cat's hill thru a cross street and it looks quite intimidating.  It looks like a wall of asphalt and I was pretty nervous to get over it for the first time and settle into the race.  We started as a field of about 50 and once we turned left onto the Cat's hill there were a few people who immediately dropped there chain and I had to dodge at least one other rider who just wasn't fast enough to stay with the field.  The next few laps were also pretty nervous as the field is fighting for position before the climb and speeding down the backside on really bad pavement after the climb.  I distinctly remember trying to count the number of laps we had left but it was all too confusing and I realized that it would take forever if I was counting each lap.
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The next thing I remember was hearing that we had 7 laps to go and that the field was all of sudden down about 20 riders.  I was doing a good job of conserving as much energy as possible and I just waiting for the pace to pick up as the number of laps dwindled.  With 2 laps to go the fireworks started to happen at the front of the race and everyone was left chasing to hang on.  I put in a huge effort to close the gap with the field on my 15th time over the climb but as we made our way down towards the finish line it had become clear that the gap was just a little too big to close.  I was now in a race with 2 others for what seemed like 30th place but I managed to put in 1 more good effort up the climb to gap my 2 competitors and almost caught the remainder of the field by the end of the lap.
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By the end I had finished in 24th place but I was felt good about how I rode and how I had reacted to the repeated hard efforts that this course required.  This race was definitely one that I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I think I could do much better in with just a few tweaks to my game plan.  I was kind of kicking myself after the race as I knew I could have went harder and been right in the mix unlike last week when I was crushed and didn't really have much of a shot to do any better.
Just after the race.  This is about the 5th picture that Kelsey was trying to take and I  wasn't having any of it.
Tomorrow, Kelsey and I head up to Sonoma to watch the motorcycle races and next weekend I have another hilly road race to contend with.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wente Road Race

So it has been about two weeks since my last post and I apologize for the delay.  I have been riding quite frequently and I can tell that I am getting stronger.  My training is taking on a more serious characteristic as I have 4 races scheduled in a 5 week span and the 1 weekend I won't be racing I will be heading to Memphis to visit my sister, brother-in-law, 2 nephews, and parents.

I won't bore you with the details of my training in this post but there have been some interesting rides that I have been training on (i.e. the House of Pain ride).  Instead, you get the first race report in over a month.

The Wente Road Race is a fairly popular race for the bay area and because it has a decent amount of true climbing, all of the skinniest riders show up.  I was feeling very confident heading into the race and thought that I had a decent chance at finishing well in the race.  Two weeks before the race we had even ridden down and scouted the course so that there wouldn't be any surprises on race day.

I showed up early for my 11:45 race and had plenty of time to get in a 20 minute warm-up on the trainer and drink lots of fluids as the race was going to be pretty warm.  Our race was 50 miles long and we scheduled to ride 3 and a quarter laps of the course.  From the map above you will see that the finish line is after the start line so we end up going up the initial climb (on Carroll Rd.) 4 times by the end of the race.  Other than the initial climb on Carroll Rd. there are about 3 other areas where the road heads uphill although not as steeply.

I got to the race early and warmed up for about 20 minutes on the trainer.  We were the first race of the second wave and the field was rather large at about 70 riders.  We rolled out and once we hit the first time up Carroll Rd. the pace quickened violently.  I stayed in the pack but I was definitely hurting by the top.  The pace settled slightly for the rest of the lap but it was significantly faster than my last race.  I moved up the field prior to our second time up Carroll Rd. to ensure that I had more space to fall back and to stay in contact with the main field.

Just after the second time up Carroll Rd. we had to have dropped another 20 riders from our field because it was noticeably smaller than the previous lap.  The problem was that after the initial climb the pace picked up for the remainder of this lap.  I was really struggling to stay with the field by the end of the second lap, the consistently high pace was taking its toll on me and we had been going hard for about 80 minutes.  By the beginning of the third time up Carroll Rd. I was well aware that I was cooked and wouldn't be able to hang on much longer.  I watched as the field slowly pulled away and I was unable to react.
The lonesome last lap of the Wente Road Race. 
After feeling so good before the race I was now in the unenviable position of having to race the last 15 miles on my own.  At the beginning of the last lap I made the commitment to finish the race even if I was completely out of the running.  I crossed the finish line without much fanfare (41st place out of 70) and immediately turned around to head to the car.

I was pretty bummed for the rest of the weekend as I was now made aware of how far I have to go before I can be competitive in my field.  On Monday I did head up Mt. Diablo to see if my fitness had improved after such a hard day on Saturday.  I am happy to report that I set a new fastest time to the junction and I did it without the help of any other riders (and my power output went up as well).

Below are a few pictures from earlier this year that I found on photographers website.  I have a race this Saturday and then Kelsey and I will be going to the AMA motorcycle races on Sunday.
On the climb during the Bariani Road Race.
A shot from the Cherry Pie Criterium.
P.S. - Movie of the month: Pirate Radio.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is officially my favorite actor and as I was going thru his movies I ran across this little gem that I definitely would recommend.