Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cat 5 Men - Strong at Orosi

Seems like in the past Orosi’s been good to Touchstone riders: Pat won there, Markham and Craig S. also fared well. This year it was the Cat 5’s turn.

Chris K. and I drove down to the metropolis of Visalia (would you believe wine bars and chique restaurants with $25+ entrees on Main Street) on Friday afternoon, checked into our hotel, and rode one lap of the loop course, a whopping 30 miles (more than I rode all week).

Seems like Orosi’s got a bit of a reputation. A Google search will turn up reports of sustained climbing and ‘hardest race in the district!’ During our reconnaissance ride we focused on the beauty of our surroundings: mainly the vast fields of flowers, which marked various stages of the ‘hill’ – yellow on the bottom, white near the top. Huge bulls were strutting among the oaks, decomposing granite boulders dotted the landscape, the sun had a late afternoon glow, and we knew the leisurely pace would be far removed from the pain we anticipated for race day.

The course has a flat promenade to a left turn, another short, flat section, and then kicks up to a gentle grade (mostly 4-5%) with some relief and a few steeper sections for a little over five miles. Then there are some more bumps and rollers, until the high point around 12 miles, followed by more bumps and rollers with a gentle downhill trend. Much of this section is bumpy and has gravel and sand on it. With tubulars and a Specialized Roubaix it didn’t feel all that bad, but it was certainly the most technical section of the race. Eventually one turns right on Boyd, goes through more rollers (with a downhill trend), until finally descending steeply on a narrow road which is flanked to the East by a spectacular view of orchards on the valley floor below. Climbing, bumps, gravel, and every thing else – this was a varied, fun, and spectacular course!

We went for dinner at some Italian place in town and I assured Chris K. and our table neighbors that I would indeed be able to finish the rather large Calzone in front of me. Know this – it’s the little skinny guys who can eat massive quantities of food and still walk away from the table! Needless to say I had to finish off with Chocolate Mousse, but unfortunately forsake the port. We rolled back to the hotel and did a quick rear derailleur adjustment on my bike. Seems like I have somewhat of a reputation of pulling up to the starting line at races with a maladjusted rear derailleur, leading to later fiddling with the barrel adjuster when I should be thinking about my legs going soft and my heart and lungs evacuating!

Sometime during the night Justin joined us to complete the trio of Cat 5 Touchstone starters. We awoke way too early, ate breakfast, and headed to the start at Orosi high school. Dustin and I spent 15 minutes on the trainer, while Chris K. opted to be chased by the local dogs instead. The race started late, which facilitated two more bathroom breaks. Finally we’re off, but as soon as we’re a couple of miles into the promenade people are pulling off into the orchards. The main group turns the corner and the race is on!

The flat part is benign, the group in a forgiving mood. The orchard stragglers (including myself) catch back on, the hill kicks up - the pace stiffens a bit, but remains manageable. I suck wheel, until I realize that the guy in front of me is hyperventilating. Primal instinct tells me that I ‘Must go find new wheel!’ Move up, but stay out of the wind. The hill goes on a bit, which is a good thing. I figure I eat too many Calzones to be a ‘real’ climber, but the fact is that I enjoy climbing, thus the longer the hill the better – grind it out! A carpet of white flowers appears, the worst is over. Looking around it becomes apparent that there’s been quite a bit of carnage. We’ve decimated the field by over a half and eight riders remain in the lead group. The three Touchstone jerseys are there. We stay together for the remainder of the lap and the start of the hill on the second lap. About two thirds of the way up I’m in 4th place, Dustin is right behind me, and Chris K. decides to make his move in the front, ratcheting the pace up another notch or two. I sense impending doom, the transformation of legs to noodles, and wave Dustin through: ‘if you can hang with them go for it, if not wait for me.’ He gives it a spurt and pulls away, but doesn’t quite latch on to the three in the front. Another guy passes me and pulls away, there are two more behind.

I reach the top and recover a bit, mindfully trying to keep some sort of pace. Looking around I see a guy from Simply Fit chasing me. He pulled us through the flats on the first lap and has legs the size of tree trunks! I hear his shifting problems on the last steep bump and give it all I’ve got. He’s gone. Hammer, hammer, hammer. I’m resigned to riding the remaining 25 miles on my own and taking sixth!

A couple of miles later Simply Fit is back - the man’s a moose. I’ll work with him (suck wheel) and let the tree trunks kill me at the finish, taking 7th. Fine, (in my mind) it’s settled! However, the race has a different agenda. We catch the last guy to pass me on the hill AND, surprisingly, one of the three riders from the lead group. Cool! Chris K. is in line for 1st or 2nd! We drop the former lead group rider on the steep descent (no time to look at the pretty orchards below this time around) and Simply Fit starts pulling us through the flat. We catch Dustin, who’s struggling a bit. I give him a pat and he hops in the back. Simply Fit pulls, and pulls, and pulls. The pace is strong and steady. We round the corner and head toward the finish and he’s still pulling. I’m amazed at the fact that he’s so damn strong and that he’s willing to tow us to the finish. I figure the tree trunks are just getting warmed up for the sprint and tuck in behind, watching his every move.

Wow – what just happened??? We’re 100 yards or so from the finish. Simply Fit blows, slows, and pulls off. I see the other guy (FastTrek?) come around from behind me on the left and watch Dustin pass him further over to the left! Everything is in slow motion. I hear Chris K. scream! It’s over! Chris K took 2nd, Dustin 3rd, and I finish 5th Touchstone likes Orosi!

No comments: