As you may have seen on the “Blogosphere”, I (BW) just returned from the Mt Hood Cycling Classic. Thought I would try to give a little snapshot of what it was like.
It was just days before the race when Shaun informed me, during a Gchat conversation, that the organizers were including the Cat 2 field at Mt Hood with the Pro-1. Needless to say, I was pretty concerned. I was fresh off two good weeks of training, finally, but the 6 weeks before I had been struggling to recover, working nights, rarely getting more than 12 hours a week. My “sensations” at Wenatchee were nothing other than poor. It also meant that upgrade points would only be awarded for GC, unless you could out-sprint or out-climb the professionals at the front of the race, and that the chance of spending a large portion of the road stages “O-T-B” were astronomical. However, it also meant that I had extra motivation, in the 4 days after our conversation leading up to the race, to trim another pound or two off the old spare tire, ride 12 hours (there's nothing like some good crash training), and psyche myself up for 6 days of racing with, as Linsey Corbin put it last night at Bessetto's birthday party, about as much tactics as a Triathlon: ride the Pro-train as long as possible. Last man standing wins the Cat 2 GC.
Bissell and their defending champion Mach were there with a small team, United Healthcare brought a large team including NW favorite Morgan Schmitt, and most other western American and Canuckan (see http://ryanalexanderpayne.blogspot.com/2010/05/i-gladly-stand-up-next-to-you-and.html) elite amateur teams were in attendance, like HR Block, Total Restoration, Hagens Berman, Yahoo, California Giant Strawberries, and RideClean. Quite a few dirt riding professionals were there too, Ryan Trebon, Sid Taberlay, Carl Decker. (If you're wondering how tall Treefarm really is, let me just say that when I'm riding next to him and we're both in the hoods, his hips as high as my shoulders, give or take an inch. And I have a 34” inseam.) Hood is the biggest race I'd ever started, and would be a great chance to evaluate my fitness. After a week of good days and bad days, you get a pretty refined idea of how you stack up. Unfortunately, when I had good legs on the first RR, I missed a split for being caught slacking in the back, which ironically still produced my best stage placing at 32nd, after dragging the first chase group around for 20 miles with only the help of pro mtb'er Carl Decker and some other cat 2 who was high on GC. But by the end of the week I had found the rhythm of the race, and with pain as the only sensation coming from lower extremities, was able to time my efforts well, and hung with the yellow jersey group on the queen climbing stage until 5k to go, something like half way or more up the final ski resort climb. So while good results eluded me, I also avoided bad ones too. I'm not enough of a stage racer to love that, but I'll take it.
The biggest surprise was that I didn't finish either criterium, my loathsome but historical specialty. You read about the crash in the first one on Shaun's blog, no big deal I was just pushed to the outside where the shoulder slopes down to a gutter, so once my front wheel met mossy, wet, off camber pavement, I hit the deck like an OPRFer follows a lonesome text message... Just a little road rash but a broken derailleur hanger only 3 laps in kept me from continuing; I received a 13 minute time penalty so I could avoid disqualification, a pretty good compromise. I had a spare hanger in the toolbox and was ready to go the next day. In Sunday's final, rainy criterium I was riding complacently in the bunch, happy to have avoided further crashes, like when Sam Johnson for some reason lost it around the downhill corner a couple inches in front of me. I had traction enough left to dodge to the inside at 30mph and avoid him, along with the guy directly behind me, later my mom told me the 25 riders behind us piled into Johnson. But with 2.5 laps to go my rear tire blew out. This time I got a pro-rated time with the peloton. 6th place cat 2 GC got dropped so I took that spot, in the money and a few upgrade points, which was pretty sweet after finding myself D-F-L at the start of stage 2.
The most memorable hours of the week were the early miles of Saturday's queen climbing stage, which starts and finishes at the Mt Hood Meadows ski area. The weather had finally lightened up and the day was set to be crystal clear and sweaty. Once you paid your dues in a long line for the bathroom (yes, ladies, a line out the door for the men's) and sauntered over to the sign in, trying to listen in on UHC's tactical discussions (word on the street was that they were going to let things go until the second climb), heard the head commissaire scolding the Yahoos about bottles jettisoned outside the feed zones, checked your brakes five times wile shivering in the refrigerated morning air, spent ten minutes puzzling over why, since the chairlifts in front of you were running, you were riding bikes today, and then thoroughly soaked in Mt Hood's snow-white grandeur, you threw a leg over the bike and coasted down a hill for something like 15 miles. A large part of the descent was neutralized, which as you can imagine meant the smell of burning carbon brake pads was particularly pungent. At one point early in the wide open, fast descent I saw Hagens Berman rider and former WWU teammate of mine Chris Parrish going backwards, his bike bucking six inches side to side in one of the nastiest speed shimmies I've seen. I yelled “Knees on the top tube!” and hoped he was alright. He was. After reaching the bottom not a few goosebumps later, I was trying to reconstruct the elevation profile in my head, and all I could remember was a sharp dip, the first climb coming immediately at the bottom of the descent. So I was very suspicious when we were happily rolling along on the flats, but I let my guard down and tried to enjoy it for a minute, and warm up my legs. Which is when I saw the lead car make a right turn. No other way to interpret that. It's hard straight from the bottom, Category 1 climb. In a couple minutes Mach and some others are attacking, now we're all on the rivet. 150 riders are strung out two or three wide: a snake winding up the mountain. The arm warmers are hastily shoved down and the jersey is all the way open, “rise and shine legs” its still morning, oh god, how long is this going to be, 30 minutes, 45? Pushing through the lead in my veins I'm trying to remember that cranks move in circles, and wondering why they won't do that any faster. Around a corner I saw a huge split open and had nightmares of the first road race, but this time the split was further back, I was about mid pack, just behind it. A casual observer could tell, this one wasn't closing. I passed a few riders then sprinted hard up the left to cross it, knowing that going into the red is an acceptable compromise because this race is blowing up, just as it started. I was the last rider to bridge the gap, 70th about, and each person behind me never saw the leaders again, until the parking lot 80 miles later. The last 20 miles of that race were touch-and-go, as I moved to the front to drift back on climbs, and even got dropped and chased back with a Bissell rider. Without a doubt, the rudest warm-up of my life, but who cares when you make it!
It was a great experience and I'll probably go back. The first crit course was a little ridiculous, with a hairpin 180 degree turn in a 150 rider field and the slick-as-snot sloping shoulders that ended my race, and I was definitely not happy that the technical prologue course was closed to pre-ride over 3 hours before my start time, which was after dark in the pouring rain. But once out of Portland, the courses and scenery were tremendous, and the competition high but not impossible. The climbs, while long, are all fairly moderate grades so a regular guy like me can hang.
I'm already looking forward to the next big race I can get into, maybe elite nationals, Cascade, or somehow the Tour of Utah, but I was certainly missing the NRO family while at the race, and am very happy to be back home. Thanks for reading-