I wasn't going to race this weekend, I really wasn't. As of the Monday before the race, I hadn't sent in a registration form. Only the previous weekend had I even noted that things might align where I could go racing without a whole lot of jumping through various size hoops just to go to a race that wasn't really on my radar to begin with. I tend to identify myself first as a mountain bike racer and quite a bit further down the line I may mention I've done a few road races. If you count sanctioned races, I think this weekend puts me up to 4 total. Sure I train on the road, do some fun races like Race like a girl and some other training type races, but only a small handful of them have been pay my fees, present a license, and line up to see who's got the legs today. After my first foray into actual road racing at Big Creek last year, I really wasn't too hot about mixing it up with a huge class of guys again. But, something about working your butt off all winter bugged me enough to see where my fitness was starting the season.
Kent Park has a pretty good reputation of being a tough, but fun opener to the road race season every year. A number of friends have raced it and told me how good a time they've had. It seemed like a good idea so I sent in my registration and check and waited to find my name on the confirmed guest list. Yup, having done very few road races, I'm still a humble Cat 5 racer in that regards. Lou, Pete, and I met up at the buttcrack of dawn (4:45) to head to the race together along with some stops at Starbucks and nature breaks along the way. We rolled in just after the gates opened at 7:30 and grabbed our registration numbers. I still wasn't sure what my final kit would be for the day considering the temp was hovering at a balmy 38 degrees with a nice breeze at 15-20 from the north.
After rolling out our gear I followed Pete on a warm up/recon lap. Lou had said the course was all about momentum and it was a pretty spot on description. A few of the short ups could nearly be coasted up if you built your speed on the way down. However, there were plenty of climbs that needed leg work to get up as well. The laps were a shade under 4 miles with 250ish feet of climbing per lap. My legs felt pretty good and opened right up on a single warm up lap. I headed back to the car to finalize my gear and pin on a number. I had a bit of a hodge podge on with leg warmers, wool socks, bibs, winter base, short sleeve jersey, and a wind vest to top it off. Some long finger Deflect gloves from Specialized, a Rassy cycling cap, and my Oakley half jackets capped off the ensemble.
All geared up and feeling great:
The Cat 5 guys were lined up near the back of the starters with only the women and jr's behind us. In all, it looked like we had 17 starters in the class. A few guys looked like they might be packing some firepower from Twisted Spokes and Velosport Racing. My teammate Mike Reagan was keeping me company and we were hoping to hit it hard early and maybe work ourselves into the group of 4's or higher in front if we could get a break going. That was pretty much the extent of our pre-race strategizing other than some words of wisdom from Lou about covering any possible breaks and attacks.
We rolled off in roughly 1 minute intervals based on our categories. We swept across the dam and hit the finish hill climb for the first time. My legs were pretty cold at this point so I just kept things low key and made sure I wasn't headed towards the back. We had one guy roll off ever so slightly in the first lap, but he'd yo-yo back and forth a bit so I wasn't really worried as he never got more than about 20 yards on us. We kept a pretty chill pace through the first lap with some slightly harder efforts on the hills, but nothing concerning. We rolled down across the dam at the end of lap 1 and I hit my top speed for the day at just over 40 mph chasing the two lead bikes. As we climbed the hill to the finish line again, I kept the pressure steady, but not too hard and rolled up the hill leading the group. A few friends were standing near the top and cheering so I heard my name called out and felt great about it.
Leading the charge:
My legs were warmed up and it was time to see what would happen. We had a slight tailwind section right after the finish line as a lead in to a tight left hand turn. I kept the pace up over the hill climb and into this section. By the time we'd hit the top of the climb following the downhill, I had a 20 yard gap on the group and we'd pretty much selected our way down to a group of 6-8 of us still in the game. I didn't give much thought to rolling off the front figuring that many guys would pretty easily reel me in so I soft pedaled and waited for them to latch back on. I'd take my pull and drop to 2nd or 3rd wheel to draft through parts of the headwind section. This went on pretty much through all of the laps. Every once in a while, we'd swallow up some higher cat racers and they'd roll into our rotation. For the most part though only about 3 of us were doing the work up front. I'm not sure if that was an indicator of the strength of the group or that the 3 of us doing pulls were dumber than the rest sitting on.
The fast downhills would crank things up only to have us all stayed pretty well grouped up on the hills. For my part, I never really felt gassed on the hills and was content to let the other guys set the pace and I'd just match it. As the laps wore on, I still felt pretty fresh and really hadn't worked too hard in any area. I'd usually tail the top rider or two coming across the dam and then work my way to the front and open a small gap as we came through the finish area. By the time we hit the last lap, I hadn't been out of my zone 4 heart rate.
With lap 5 coming to a close, we hit the finish hill for the next to the last time. I put in just a little more effort even though I was all ready in the front on the way up. I stayed on the gas through the tailwind and hammered the subsequent downhill sweeper and climb. At the top of the climb I looked back anticipating my usual 20ish yard gap to be rewarded with the site of having broken away with what appeared to be well more than 100 yards. A quick calculation led me to believe that I was probably the strongest rider and just hadn't been working very hard yet while the other guys were running pretty close to flat out. I turned back and put the pressure on the pedals. I wasn't going to sit up and wait this time.
Not the final lap, but building a gap:
I ran through the headwind section ducking behind riders where I could and mostly kept my pace in check. I was running hard, but not all out by any means. I passed one DMOS rider than jumped on my wheel and kept pace on a headwind section. I asked him for a pull in return and he was kind enough to give me a brief respite. I kept looking back thinking the chase group might get together and pull me back in, but it would seem the gap kept increasing. I broke away from the DMOS rider on one of the hills and didn't look back. I asked a few other riders for pulls only to realize later that if I was all ready catching and passing them, there wasn't going to be much they could do for me. I never really laid it all out, but kept my pace steady and hard. As I hit the final downhill across the dam, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have any problems winning my class. Just to be sure I hit the last hill pretty hard through to the finish.
Final hill climb:
As I crossed the line, I still wasn't sure I'd won, but I sure couldn't think of anyone that was out in front of us. I stayed pretty low key about it, but once the final results were up, I was pretty ecstatic. A win in the cat 5's without really breaking a sweat was pretty sweet.
Number 1 with teammate Brad Bach taking the Cat 4 win as well:
Overall, I'm a bit unsure what to think about finishing how I did. I was pretty nervous with some of the downhills with sweeping turns on a rough surface, but the rest of the course seemed to play pretty well for me. I never gassed it on any of the hills, kept my heart rate down, and still soloed off the front on the last lap. I know my fitness is pretty good with the training I put in over the winter and a strong building season last year. I'm just not sure if it means that I need to move up right away or if being an early season race, there weren't too many guys in the same area of their training that I'm at. I'm leaning more towards I'm probably in the wrong category for the time being and need to move up. I'm thinking maybe one more/bigger race to see how I fair and then most likely, it'll be time for me to head on up to the 4's.
I definitely want to thank all of my team mates that trained over the winter with me and kept me motivated to keep pushing, Rasmussen bike shop for keeping me in great and functional gear, and Oakley Rob for some sweet shades to keep the dust and dirt that were whipping around out of my eyes.
Photo credits to Angy Snoop.