The Pescadero Coastal Classic was my first open race and, as such, I was both excited and nervous. My idea of “open category riders” was based on the guys who go off the front on the Morning Ride: deep rims, deeper quads, and hard as nails. The light trash-talk from the Pen Velo guys at the start line did nothing to ease my anxiety (and I was consequently pleased that none of them made the break).
The cat 4 race consisted of 1.7 laps around the course—twice up Stage road, twice up Haskens. I was expecting (rightly, as it turned out) two key moments: the first time up Haskens, to create a break, and the second time, to determine the winner from that break. Since everyone else seemed to have a similar idea, nothing much happened until the first time up Haskens apart form a crash right before my nose on the first Stage descent (the first guy to go down seemed in a bad way; he also crashed out Brad Lovegren, who went on to get third—kudos to him).
Bernardo (whose moral and tactical support before and during the race was invaluable) advised me to move to the front before the climb and to hang on to the top ten riders no matter what. I did just that and it was very painful, but as I crested Haskens with only two riders in sight behind me, I knew I’d made the break. I used the descent to recover, and expected to continue recovering while in the break – it was quite large, with twelve riders at its thinnest – but Eric, a rider from Cal whom I’d gotten to know over the collegiate season, had other plans. He organized us into a tight paceline and squeezed out a good ten to twenty extra watts out of the riders in the break, whose complacence would otherwise have allowed the main pack to catch them. At that point, I was almost struggling to hang on and dreading every pull I inevitably had to make, and my lower back was crucifying me for slamming my stem (or for skipping core sessions, I’m not sure).
As we reached the bottom of the first Stage climb, the commissar told us that we had a twenty second gap to the chase. The disheartenment was palpable and several riders eased their pace, ready to give up. Eric and I decided to keep a high pace up the climb and see how things would stand after that. To our relief, the gap had increased to thirty seconds at the top of the climb, and by the time we crested the second Stage bump, we had more than a minute on the chase.
From then on, things eased up. We had a tail wind and a lot of time, so we didn’t push ourselves as hard going up 84 as we had going down Pescadero. However, (I think due to improper hydration) I started to cramp up a few minutes after the turn onto 84. My calf muscles were twitching and rippling uncontrollably as I tried desperately to alternate my position on the bike, my cadence, my pedaling style, and everything else I could think of to stave off a pair of full-blown cramps. I found that the cramping would recede if I got out of the saddle, and for a golden, hopeful minute, I thought I had pushed them back. But as we approached the turn onto Pescadero, they returned with a vengeance and I was dropped. I caught back on at the feed zone, a mile or so before the final climb, but at that point, the mental battle was totally lost. I was barely able to stay with the pack on the downhill to Haskens, so I knew that I had no chance of a podium finish. And indeed, I soon had to watch Eric, Brad, and an AV rider fly up without being able to do anything about it. I could feel that if I tried to put out more than a certain amount of power, my legs would completely shut down, and so again, I could only watch as two more riders passed me. Another two were creeping up when I saw the 200m sign. I started dancing and was able to hold them at bay for an excruciating 9th place finish.
Too bad about the cramps, but we did get treated to the beautiful Pescadero descent just after finishing, which I appreciated much more this time around. I was still dropped by Sarah T on the way back to the car. This was a fun and beautiful race and I would highly recommend it for next year. Racing around on home turf feels great.