Thursday, March 01, 2007

Winter Rerun: 2005 Wasco Wild West 75

Here is the third report in my series of old ride narratives that I'm re-posting here. This one concerns the second edition of the Wasco Wild West 75, which featured top-shelf international competition. That, plus my experience the previous year led me to work hard training all spring to give myself the best possible chance out there. As you'll see, the bad-luck bug bit me again this year, but you'll also see if I let all my hard work be for naught. -ed

they are on their way
We set ourselves up on the starting line at around noon. I was riding my Challenge Seiran SL, so I wanted to be sure and stay close to the other high racers. The gun went off, and away we went.

Hans Wessels (a former world-champion HPV racer, over for the race from the Netherlands) was aggressive from the get-go, which wasn't really a surprise. The strong high racer riders, including J. Schlitter, J. Climaldi, Chris Sandmel from OSU, and myself, plus Rand Milam on his socked GRR were getting ourselves sorted out and getting into a rhythm. I figured we'd sort out a paceline and see what we could do to reel in Wessels in when we were good and warmed up.

This process had only just begun when I hit a rock.

My first thought was, oh dear god.
My second was, oh please no pinch flat.
My third was obscured by the loud BANG that followed as my front tire blew out.

I hadn't pinched, but apparently I hadn't seated the bead of my tire quite perfectly, and the rock caused the tube to squirm out around the tire. And then blammo. I pulled off to the side, and cursed my terrible luck as the whole pack sailed by, offering their sympathy. I was disconsolate.

I have to say, I nearly bagged it right there. But I decided that I was made of sterner stuff, and the wheels in my head started turning, even while the wheel on my bicycle would not.

I did not have a tube, pump, or patch kit. But I did have three resources.

The first was the motorcycle escort that was bringing up the back of the recumbent heat. She pulled over and offered to help.

My second resource was the spare wheel that I had left back at the start/finish line, in case of wheel trouble. I asked her to be so good as to go back and retrieve it for me. She agreed.

My third resource came from a new wrinkle that the race organizer, Clay Smith, added this year. Last year Wasco was a recumbent race. This year, Wasco was a recumbent and tandem race. And the tandems were scheduled to start exactly 10 minutes after the recumbents.

Well, I sat on pins and needles for those ten minutes, waiting for the race escort to show up with my wheel. Then, the phalanx of four tandems came around the bend. Behind them came the tandem heat escort, and then the motorcyclist with my salvation. The tandemers offered their condolences. I just replied, "I'll see you soon."

The escort handed me my spare wheel, and I gave her my old one. I threw the new one on as quickly as I could. It was agonizing, trying to work with haste and accuracy at the same time -- lining up the wheel with the brakes and the dropouts, and keeping everything out of the spokes is incredibly difficult when you're shaking from adrenaline.

I was rolling 2 or 3 minutes later, pushing as hard as I could maintain. I do a flat, 10 mile time trial on the Seiran at 25.5 mph, and I feel like puking afterward. I wasn't going that hard, but I wasn't too far from it. I had to catch the tandems, or I was sunk.

The Wasco race course is mostly gentle rollers and creek grade for the north half of the loop, with a huge 3 mile climb (and one false summit) and a 4 mile drop on the south half of the loop. I pushed through 3 or 4 rollers when I came up over a crest and saw my quarry climbing up the other side, about half a mile away.

I proceeded to reel in that tandem paceline, oh so agonizingly slowly. In doing so, I passed a few of the stragglers from the recumbent race. I felt a brief glimmer of gladness to be back in it, but I knew that I had come out to compete, and that meant finding some way to get back up to the leaders, and that meant catching those tandems.

It was touch and go for the rest of the north half of the lap. Finally, I made it to the base of the hill and saw the tandems about 200 yards ahead. I figured I would make up some time on them on the climb; I'm light and strong, and I've been doing hills 3 times a week since January. These were obviously 4 very athletic tandem teams, but they're almost as legendary for lack of climbing performance as bents are, right?

Well, that's another legend to put to bed -- these guys were strong, and strong climbers. I made up some time on them before the top, and in fact got within a softball pitch of their paceline's rear wheel before they rolled over the crest and out of sight. That feeling was like being a castaway on a rubber raft in the middle of the ocean and watching a ship pass by without noticing you.

But I wasn't done yet. Coming over the top of the hill, I was greeted by a face full of wind, which I hoped would dampen their downhill advantage. I threw my chain into 3 and 9, and plowed full bore down that hill. I had no hope of catching them on the descent, but I was going to do everything I could to minimize the damage. It worked -- they took it easy on that first drop, and I didn't lose more than a couple seconds.

I made up some more time on them on the winding flat part before the start/finish line, and came around the 180 degree turn that comes right before it to find myself almost in their lap. I finished my first lap to rousing cheers from the spectators and only a couple seconds behind the tandems.

I got on their wheel at almost the exact same point where I had flatted, meaning it had taken me a full lap of intense exertion to reel them in, but merciful heaven, was it worth it. Being behind those guys was like drafting a freight train. We were barreling along at 23, no problem. I figured I'd hang out with them for a couple laps and see how far that got me.

We started reeling in more bent riders at this point, and the ones we passed were getting stronger and stronger. I took a couple turns towing, and I took a few flyers off the front, but realized that while I could do bursts that outran the tandem train, I couldn't sustain a faster pace than theirs without some serious pain.

One of the stokers asked me what place I thought I was in. I realized that we had passed enough riders that all of a sudden I was in the thick of it again. I did a quick mental calculation, and figured out that unless there was someone out there that I hadn't noticed, I was in 7th place. Then, on the 3rd lap in the middle of the hill, we passed my friend Chris Alling, who was riding my Vision Sabre. Chris is a very strong rider -- Cat 3 and Masters -- but this was his first ride on a bent of any real distance. I told him to hook on, but he just didn't have the reserves. So then I found myself in 6th place as we started the fourth and final lap.

A quarter of the way into the lap, we met my friend John Climaldi, who greeted me cheerily, and said, "I'm tired of riding alone, I'm going to hook on with you guys!" Which was really cool. But he was on my wheel for maybe a mile or so before the tandem team in front made their move. The couple up front pounced, and before any of us knew it, they had opened up a hundred yard lead on us.

I love John like a brother, but there's nobody more competitive than the two of us. So, when I saw my opportunity to turn up the heat on John a little, I leapt at it. If I could catch the lead tandem and hang on, I might be able to make it onto the podium. So I pulled out of the trailing tandems' slipstream, and started putting the hammer down. Then the three tandems still in the paceline saw that I was going to go for it, and they got on my wheel. And John just didn't have enough left to hang on.

I felt pretty good at that point, and I actually outran the tandems who were drafting me. I closed the gap on the breakaway bike to maybe 20 yards. But then, once again, they crested a hill and sailed away. I let the remaining three tandems overtake me, and not long after that, we came up on my friend Rand. Rand rode with us for several miles, but seemed to have used up his reserves, and then I found myself in fourth place.

The remaining three tandems powered up the hill very aggressively, figuring that this was where 2nd place would be decided. I just tried to stay out of the way. I did my best to stay with the leader when it was clear he had broken away, without influencing things by bridging the gap behind him. By the time we got to the top, two tandems had pulled away in front of me, and one had fallen behind, and I set about keeping myself together long enough to hang on to 4th. I pushed down the hill through the wind, and caught the tandems again on the flat at the bottom. I whizzed around the 180 hairpin turn, and crossed the finish line.

So, it certainly wasn't plan A. Plan A was to mix it up with John and John and OSU Chris and maybe close the gap on Hans a little bit, so that we Yanks didn't get skunked quite so bad. I think I would have been a big help with that, and I think we could have been pretty successful. But as Plan B's go, this wasn't too bad. Certainly beat going home and crying in my beer.

Hans Wessels has some great pictures of the race here.


Blogger Vik said...

Wow! Nice recovery. I would have been sorely tempted to bag it after a blow out in the first 30 seconds. Sounds like you enjoyed the challenge of catching up to the leaders and you did a great job.

Although it was exciting to read I hope your future races are less eventful - at least at the start....=-)

10:55 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Actually, if I had blown out in 30 seconds, it would have been easy to just run back to the start and replace the wheel. I was about 2 miles along, which was much worse.

There's one more Wasco write-up, the 2006 edition. It wouldn't be a Wasco without some drama at the beginning, and you'll get it!

10:25 AM  
Anonymous david friend said...


i am planning my annual "boys" bike trip next june (08) to perhaps hood river area. we go with two vans and our bikes so we can ride out of the one city we stay at (hood river?) or drive not too long a distance to another ride. we usually ride 4 days. can i pick your brain for 3-4 rides in that area (we love to climb) of 40-80 miles or so? you seem to have ridden and know that area quite well

david friend

8:36 PM  

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