Race Report: Pescadero Road Race
Some races you enter and you feel crappy on the start line. You know you are going to have a bad day. Some races you enter and within a few minutes you can tell you are on a good day- it feels effortless, your pedaling is light and fluid, the initial surges and accelerations at the start of the race are easily assimilated into your rhythm as if they were nothing. At the 2016 Pescadero Road Race I felt neither of these sensations. Just felt average. Not bad, not good. Just fine.
The course comprised of three 27 mile loops, each loop with 3 climbs, the final major climb being 1.5 miles in length with an average 7% gradient. The finish line was at the top of this climb. I recall feeling that when we climbed the major ascent (Haskins Hill) on the first lap that I didn’t think that we went very fast. It was work but nothing hard. I crested the climb second wheel and looked back and thought the field was struggling. Odd, I mused, as I could have sworn that we hadn’t gone full gas (after the race, according to Strava, I learned that in fact we had climbed the 1.5 miles in 7 minutes flat and I averaged 362 w. So, I guess we did go fast.).
On the flat portion after Haskins on the first lap and before the next climb the field started to attack itself. It seemed to me not a great place for people to try such a maneuver. However, to my surprise, by the time we reached the next climb there was a group of 6 with a small 15 second gap. As we began to climb we closed in on them slightly and I thought that I might as well go across. The field can often sit up at the top of a climb so even if the group would only crest with 5 or 10 seconds, it might go out again. Once I had made the junction we did indeed crest with 10 seconds or so but the field did not relent and had made the junction by the time we had hit the bottom of the subsequent ~1 mile descent.
At the base of the descent the next climb began immediately. I could sense that the field was a little spent after the chase of our small escape. I wasn’t alone in this thought as a single rider pushed to the front on the climb and eeked out a small ~5 second gap. I knew the rider and knew he was strong (He’d been the lone rider who had instigated the breakaway that I bridged up to, and that stayed clear, at Modesto a few weeks prior). I jumped from the pack and made my way up to him. I had the idea that maybe the field would hesitate and a gap would form. After making the short bridge I hooked round him and put it in the big ring as quickly as it was practical to do so at the top of the ascent. We drove down the descent, my hope being that as we hit the flat about a couple of miles later that we would have ~20 seconds or more. I could work with that. We could work with that. It worked, by the end of the descent we had our small gap. Off we went.
Now, I have been known to instigate some ludicrous moves in my time. This particular move was up there in the list of all time ludicrous. We had just traversed ~35 miles of hilly terrain and had 40 miles to the finish. Not so bad, until you consider that we had to incorporate approximately 3000 feet of climbing into that 40 miles. So, we got to it.
Being in a long range move off the front presents with multiple challenges, ignoring the obvious physical difficulties. The mental aspect of it is immense. First, one must accept that is it. That is the move. There is no getting caught then trying for the field sprint. There is no getting caught and then trying again. If the move gets caught you’re done, especially on a hilly road race. There’s no sitting in after the effort, you’d be straight out of the back. Second, you know that you will get tired. You know that you will slow down. But, you need to have faith that if you get tired, the field will too, or at least they may mis-calculate. As you slow, the field will too. Of course, this calculation can and does go wrong and in most cases the break tires first, getting caught by the peloton before the end. This is the stark reality of 90% of breakaway attempts, probably more like 99% of long-range attempts, especially with only two riders. Off the front, there’s no time for that. That thought is redundant. It takes up space and offers you nothing. The die is already cast and the wheels are (literally) in motion. It’s pointless. Fortunately for me at least, it was also fleeting. I had played my cards and now we were asking the question: “This is what we have. There are two of us out here. What have you got, Mr Peloton?”.
Our fist objective was to get a gap. Anything below a minute is hard to work with. We fortunately had the moto ref with us giving us constant updates- he did a superb job. In the initial ~10 miles after the descent towards the base of Haskins we went full gas. As I was rotating through to take my turns my watt-thermometer was reading 350-380 w. My companion was equally as committed. By the base of the next climb we had according to our moto approximately a minute. This was the crux of the escape. If we hit the top of Haskins with a decent gap, it was seriously on. Taking it up, I set a steady but not obscene pace. Keeping a tempo that I thought would prevent us shipping too much time to the pack, but would not blow us up. We hit the climb at a steady and determined pace (my data file later told me that I averaged 332 w on this ascent). We kept it together, hit the descent, then headed out to our next climb. Only 3 more to go.
We kept the same rhythm as before. Sharing on the flats and I would take it up on the climbs (I was a little more spritely on the ascents than my companion who must have about 20 lb on me. He would put me to shame on the down-hill sections though- highlighting my need to further improve that facet of my game). I kept a good pace on each climb, enough to hold our gap but not enough to jettison my companion who I needed. We were constantly updated of our gap but at no point did it balloon. The highest we heard was “about a minute thirty”. As we descended off the penultimate climb, we had about 10 miles of false flat before hitting Haskins for the final time, which would lead us 1.5 miles upwards to the end.
By this time we’d been out front about 30 miles. It was taking its toll. On this section of road 30 miles earlier my computer was showing over 350 w as I pulled through, now it would read a meagre ~300 w. Our pulls were getting shorter. Less assured.
Just before we hit Haskins we were informed that we had somewhere like 90 seconds. The table was set and now it was time for dinner. Us against them. We’d been out front, they had not. In exchange, we had bought ourselves a 90 second head start. It was a bit hit and miss how I would feel. Would I explode? Was I finished? Could I muscle up with a buffer and hold it? I had a short moment of rational thinking as the final climb began. In my fatigue the prospect of a 1.5 mile, 7% drag race to the end was not appealing. I did ask myself a question though- if at the beginning of the race you had asked me if I had wanted a 90 second head start, paid for by the fatigue of 40 miles out front two-up, would I have taken it? Hell yeah I would! That was strangely motivating.
Motivation aside, that didn’t remove the final climb from our path. So I did what I had done all day. Set a tempo that I thought I could hold all the way to the line. I ground up the hill. In retrospect, my final time up the hill was a minute slower than our initial climb on lap 1 (~8 minutes compared to 7). My average power was 312 w: 50 w less than my first climb. It was enough. I was the stronger of us on the climbs and was able to cross the line first. My breakaway companion close behind. Looking at the times up the final climb, it seems that we shipped almost a minute to the field on the last ascent. Our buffer had been enough.
Not sure if I was on a good day or not. Probably doesn’t matter.