The Corsa Brutale Road Race

24 12 2009

The Race Course

The heat from the day lingered as Phil and I arrived at the church lot staging area. We found some shade beside one of the many ponderosa pine that abound in this area. Other racers had arrived earlier and were busy with race preparation or were just kicking-back until their group call time occurred.

We unloaded our gear and started our own routines. I noted that next time we should bring one of those quick-setup awnings to put our bikes and gear under. I squeezed down a GU packet and washed it down with some drink mix. I had brought four bottles with me, one for pre-race, two for the ride, and one to knock-down afterward. I had been out on days like this and returned with the salt from evaporated sweat encrusting my helmet straps and skin. Today was not a day to dehydrate, in retrospect my logbook showed the temperature as 92F.

We had scouted the course previously and noted the terrain changes. Historically, strong racers in the group would attack at the top of the first climb, about six miles from the start line. If their breakaway was successful, an approximate 5.75 mile,  overall-uphill grade followed by about 3.5 miles  of rollers. The rollers were another area in which to expect an attack, for they led to a long and fast downhill, which could be used to exploit an advantage.

I completed race check-in and the usual administrative stuff. I dropped another GU packet and checked my bike yet another time. All was in order except for my head, I was getting jumpy. This was my second road race following a disastrous first wherein I had burnt myself by doing too much front work. I got dropped in a huge way, not even finishing with the pack. I wanted to be a bit more cognizant of needlessly “burning matches” . I needed to find that 10th place “sweet spot” in the pack to watch the race develop and wait for the right moment. I also needed to draft as much as possible.

My group’s call time had come and I gathered my gear and rolled to the assembly area. “C” pack received their safety briefing and waited for a moment while the lead vehicle made way. I hoped I had made the right decision on water-carriage. This race should last about an hour so I figured one bottle should be enough–I didn’t want to haul the extra couple of pounds up that hill.

Course Elevation of Corsa Brutale

Course Elevation

“C” pack formed a long double-column onto the long straight-away after the start. (The race roster recorded about 25 riders, but by memory it seemed much more.) I remember switching my H/R monitor on and noticing how far back I was in the pack. The lead riders picked-up the pace. By the last small rise before the big climb, I had moved up to the front third. Phil recalls thinking about that after the race ended, “There he goes.” I wanted to be in position in case some of the guys made a break for it at the top.

Click, click-click. The popping of changing gears signaled the increasing workload and racer’s intent. “Here it comes,” I thought, and watched in earnest for the tell-tale signs of an attack. We’re slogging up this thing. I re-affirmed that the compact crankset on my Madone was a good call as there were many shoulders and heads weaving and bobbing. The pack lead is about 3/4 of a mile into the climb, near the last left-hand curve that rises onto the false top. I remember thinking, “I’m doing OK, spinning right along, 150 H/R, keeping tabs on the leaders and…”

Hey! Didn’t two riders just take off? How many more went? I could have sworn that I saw a flash of jersey, a blur of pedals. I looked around, “No one’s reacting,” I thought. Crap, I was missing the break. If they make it to the turn east at Wood Road they’ll have the wind at their backs, and they’ll be gone for good. I’m going, I clicked-down a couple of gears and picked-up the rpm, dropping the other riders behind me. Around the curve, up over the false top. No one’s coming with me. I reach the crest expecting to spy the breakaway on the slight downhill that follows. Nothing. “They must have made the next rise,” I thought. A quick check to the back…they’re way back there. I’ve opened up quite a gap.

I’m out here in no-man’s-land. No one to draft, no one to share the workload. “If I don’t catch them I’m doomed,” I thought. Time for head down and hands into the drops. Time to make my profile as small as possible. Time to grind it out and bridge to the breakaway. I make the east turn onto Wood Road, there’s no one here. I’m second-guessing myself as to what I thought I saw. My matchbook is gone and I confirm that the new chase group behind will catch me sometime before the second climb. Here they come, and I hear a voice saying something to me about split-times or some such. I let them roll past and latch on to their pace line. My H/R meter is flashing the red “bonehead” light.

We snake through the last large climb and speed away on the small downhill, about 31 mph. All I have to do is hang-on, get in the draft and recover. Our breakaway group approaches the south turn at Four Mounds Road. We make the apex and the lead attacks. I’m with them for about 50 yards and then I’m done, cooked, burnt. I watch them drive away, disappearing over the next rise. “Oh man I can’t believe it, into a headwind and rollers too,” I thought. I decided to stay in the drops, keep my speed as sustainably high as possible and try to stay ahead of the peloton.

Time dragged impossibly long. Then something happened, I caught a glimpse of them going over the last rise and into the long downhill. I had made up most of the gap and I was only about 80-100 yards behind. “This is it. This is the only chance I’m going to get.” I pushed the pedals as much as I could, crested the rise and tried to step-on-it even more. “Tuck it in tight. Use the road. Pick the line and stay off the brakes.” I don’t remember the road passing by, I just wanted to catch-up. And catch-up I did. I had caught them on that downhill and had to use my brakes to prevent over-shooting their pace. I was tempted to say, “Hi guys, you miss me?” But I couldn’t, I was low on air.

Survival now. There was no way that I was going to get dropped again. The five of us traded lead within the pace line–move up, pull, and fade into the wind, 5 miles to go as we made the west turn onto Coulee Hite Road. I was feeling pretty worn-out and wondering if I had any gas in the tank. Pull and fade, pull and fade.

Up and around the last right-hand rise towards the finish line, about half-a-mile left, the pace quickens and I can feel the group tensing for the pending sprint. I’m  sitting third in our group of five, tactically correct and watching for the tell. We’ve scuttled the pace line and formed a column of two. I’m second in the left column, with the other three formed to the right, my lead and I are half-a-wheel ahead. Finish line is in sight…200 meters to go. Bikes chomping at the bit.

I don’t remember how fast we were going. What I do remember is watching my lead rise off the saddle. “That’s it! He’s going!” screamed the bull horn between my ears. My hands in the drops snicked-down another gear for the crushing sprint. I let him build a head of steam, pulling me along, just behind his wheel. The other guys faded away, out of my peripheral vision. It was just he and I now, 50 meters to go. I dropped-down another gear and as the pedal came over the top I launched my attack. I popped out of his draft on his left, out of the saddle now, pushing for everything I had when the adrenaline hit. I could feel the bike’s front end get light as my cranks turned to the down stroke. He was right there just a few feet away, dropping back a half-wheel length now. I heard him yell. I crossed the line before he did.

I had won a technical finish. My first-ever finish. The ghost of my first race dropping quickly into distant memory. It felt good.

Post-Race-- One Very Pleased Racer

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2 responses

24 12 2009
Barb Chamberlain

I felt as if I were there with you! What a ride. (and a lesson to be observant about riders around me so I know whether there really is a pack ahead to catch :D)

@BarbChamberlain

28 12 2009
Spokane Al

Wow – what a terrific race report. That explains very succiently why you race! Those moments when everything comes together makes it all worthwhile.

P.S. I follow BiketoWorkBarb’s blog and just read that she and you are married! It is indeed a small world.

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