Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grasshopper #3: Super Sweetwater

Summary: was riding well, came apart like a piñata 30 minutes before the finish.

As the neutral start rolled through Graton, I was greeted by my own family cheering/heckling squad. Mom lives there, and was out blowing a conch shell for the riders, while Stephanie was yelling and doing her best to embarrass me.

Nothing exciting happened until we hit the steep section of Sweetwater, when Shane, Roger and Mysterious Roadie Guy (hereafter referred to as Mysterio) started turning the screws on us. It hurt bad but a group of 5 of us crested the climb together, with Mysterio up the road. Shane led the ripping descent, and once on the flats we rotated a little, but apparently didn't keep a strong pace, because a large group chased on when we hit River Road.

Once the Old Caz climb was underway, the predicable happened: Mysterio went up the road, the chasers went backwards, and Shane & Roger put the hurt on what was left. The Butterfly and Frog feed station was great to see, even through my fog of pain. I had taken Miguel's comment about the self-supported ideal of the Grasshoppers to heart and started the ride with four full bottles, so didn't go for a hand-up.

There was still a group of us together near the top, but then Shane and Roger attacked. I wasn't able to ride their wheel through the rollers along the top, but kept them in sight and pulled away from all the others.

Just after the gate I blew past Mysterio, who had been waiting and wondering where to go. This was the first and pretty much the only time I was happy to be riding a mountain bike. Shane and Roger were a little ways ahead and bombing the descent, but I put the CXR to work and was with them by the creek. When we reached the town of Cazadero we still had a good gap on everyone else. This was the highpoint of my race, and the time when things started to unravel.

What was it? Was my lackadaisical "training plan" of short rides two or three times a week catching up with me? Should I have eased up on the climbs, taking the gamble that I could get in a group that would chase back on? Had I not been eating enough ice cream and beer? (I don't think so; I'd been sure to have a Boont and à la mode the night before).

My legs felt leaden whenever I would pull, and hurt even while riding Shane's wheel as he dieseled us toward the coast. I was disappointed not to be able to contribute much to our group of three. The first chase finally caught us at Highway One: Mysterio, Carl, and Miguel, who had been riding strong on his road bike all day.

When we got to Willow Creek I knew I was in trouble. Mysterio attacked before we reached the dirt, taking Roger and Shane with him (not surprisingly he went on to win). I couldn't respond at all. That left Miguel, Carl and myself riding much more slowly up the climb. I can't remember the last time my legs felt this bad. It was as like being stuck in a slow-motion dream, except it wasn't a dream and I really was going in slow motion. Carl had some pep left and pulled away quickly, while Miguel and I began an epic battle, trading places repeatedly, keeping a pace worthy of two obese, drunken asthmatics. I passed him on the steep bit when he had to walk his road bike, but he motored past just before the finish. That put me in 6th place among those who did the official route, with two riders who came up Freezout ahead of me.

Riding the Grasshoppers is always humbling. Shane was hurting all of us on the climbs and pulled like a diesel truck on the flats. Roger is always an inspiration: nothing like being soundly trounced by a 50-year-old. Brian Astell wins a hardman award for riding full-size knobbies on his MTB over all those long miles of pavement. Miguel put in a great performance, validating his decision to ride a road bike.

And Mysterio? It's good to be reminded that there are people who can easily accomplish the things we struggle for, just so we don't take it all too seriously.

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