Salida Road Race – Report

Aug 1 2005

Some of you no doubt said, upon reading my report from Wednesday’s Maroon Bells-Ashcroft, “Oh, Cosmo, you fat little turd, you only didn’t like this race because it’s got lots of climbing and you a loathsome hunk of chubby, unathletic flesh,” Untrue. Climbing does not negate my enjoyment of a race course in the slightest. I am huge fan of the Mad River Glen Road Race at the GMSR. It’s climbing done right. Just like today’s Salida Road Race. 1300′ of climbing per lap, in what is basically just an “up/down” 11.9 mile loop.

What makes it different you ask? Well, first off, there’s the descent, which features a variety of twists and turns, and speeds of 50mph+, there’s the fact that the climb itself isn’t just a slog, but has steep sections, false-flats, downhill segments, sharp, banked corners and requires a fair bit of panache. If someone jumps, do you respond immediately, or let them tire on the false flat? Do you slow off toward the top of a pitch to catch the wheel of the person in front of you as the turn into the headwind? How far before the crest of the hill do you have break to be out of sight when you hit the rolling (for real rolling, this time) headwind section at the bottom? GOD, it was fun.

I began the day by making use of the sanitary facilities at Safeway. Unlike in Carbondale, my contribution to the local water treatment plant will someday find its way to the Atlantic. Exciting. Then I register, then I get all my stuff set, then I go to rollout, but it turns out they’ve delayed it one hour until HIGH NOON. Keep in mind, Salida is definitely in the desert; not as much in the desert as Whitewater was, but there is no shade on course. So I sit in the car, chugging water with the AC cranked and playing Warlords on a Mac Plus emulator. Noon comes around, and I go to rollout.

“Rollout” is a 7 mile ride out to where the race actually starts. When we get to the “start” (which still isn’t on the course), we sit around for 10 minutes staging, despite the fact that we arrived staged. Finally, we start racing after 30 minutes sitting in the sun. The course, as I said, is sweet. Up, then down, finish line half-way up the climb, but at the end of a 1.5km, dead straight false flat. Very cool. But our first entrance to the course is at the very end of the descent, just before it turns right onto a rolling headwind section.

Now, I didn’t climb so great on Wednesday. So I was not psyched to hit the first pitch of the climb. And yet, I rocketed up it, standing and cranking easy in 39-17/19. The descent snakes it’s way through pitches and corners, and has no trees (very Ventoux), so you can really judge your efforts based on the field. I kept it near the leaders over the steep stuff, and was locked in as we hit the false flat. Then I started getting wrecked, spinning gears smaller than I had stomped earlier. Weird, but I think it’s these slight ups where the altitude really gets me. ‘Tev. As we run through the finish the first time, I give the leaders some space, recover around a slight downhill/90° corner, and mash up to the high point.

Knowing the descent is tricky, I take it conservatively, a few guys get by me. But it all seems pretty easy (if you keep your toes), and on the last section, I just tuck up and bomb down the road. Me a few other dudes reach the leaders right as they hit the headwind section. Yes! But then, on one of the longer rollers, I start to get shredded again, spinning pathetic l’il gears, but unable to push anything harder. Knowing there’s lots of guys coming back up behind me, I drift back into the last little group of riders. Just then the wheel car passes me, and noting the main field is only a few seconds ahead, and not moving very quickly, I hatch a plan.

Ah, the moto draft. Semi-legal and oh so effective. I surge for a few seconds, catch the Passat’s slipstream, get in the big ring, and just coast up to the main field. As I swing past the passenger’s side door and reintegrate with the field, the driver shouts at me. Not to DQ me, as a USCF driver might, but to say “Nice work! Way to race smart.” Sweet. The ACA rules. Damn right I race smart. 5 seconds of effort, 15 seconds of rest and a nice, plush position mid pack. The moral boost alone was enough to make me forget about the pathetic l’il gear suffering of earlier. And no official making my life miserable.

As we head up the hill for the second time, I start to get in a solid rhythm. Hit the base of hills hard, see what the good climbers are doing, and react accordingly, whether that means pound it over the top and snare a wheel to drag you over the easier stuff, or back off and spot the skinnies a few seconds to be easily retaken on the descent. Second time over the high point, I am the first chaser to a group of 10 leaders. I start smoking it down the descent, tucked down, and popping up to brake right before the corners. But as I approach this one corner (more a junction, really), I realise suddenly that I am going waaaaaaay too fast. I get on the clamps, but they appear to do nothing. I’m leaning hard, so hard that I can hear the rear tire scream as it starts to skip sideways. If I could just get a little more over…but I don’t want to lose the front, also. Gotta find that happy mean…

Oh, I was so close to that happy mean. Another foot of pavement and I could have had it. As it happened, I just inched off the edge onto the unbelievably loose (but also soft!) Salida dirt. I hit it going fast, but mostly just cartwheeled and ended up sitting on my bottom on the edge of the pavement, essentially untouched. Worst damage was some dirt got on my Wednesday forearm rash and hardened into a dirt scab, that had to be removed extremely painfully in the shower hours later.

So I, with big old bandages on arm and leg, quip “man, this is really not my week.” I never crashed in consecutive races, never crashed in road races, never ridden myself right of the road on a descent before – just bad things that never happen to me started happening. But hey, how could get any worse, right? Well, very easily as it turns out. The course marshalls could get involved.

Me: Man, this is really not my week.
Marshall: Yeah I saw your bandages.
Me: (attempting to get up) Well, better get going.
Marhsall 2: Don’t let him keep going!
(racers shoot by)
Me: What?
Marshall: (holding me down) Hold on. are you ok?
Me: (thinking that obviously I am) Yeah, just little cuts and dirt. No big deal.
Marshall: (takes off my helmet) Just let me look at your head.
Marhsall 2: I didn’t seem him crash, only heard the squealing tires. Did he land on his head?
Me: (complying, acting as cogent as possible after doing a 20-25mph cartwheel to dispel any thought he might have of head injury.) I should be fine. It (indicating helmet) just kind of skidded on impact.
(other racers zoom by)
Marshall: Wait, you didn’t land on your head, did you? If you did we have to take you to medical.
Me: (wanting to explain that I landed in about 15 different places at once but not wanting to seem head injured) Naw, I just rolled. Really, I’m fine.
Marshall: (handing me my helmet) well, better check the bike.
Me: No really, it’s ok, I got it.
Marshall 2: (to me) Y’know, you’ve already got some bandages. Maybe you should slow it down.
(more racers go by, some women)
Me: (internalized eye-rolling, profanity-laced internal diatribe about how I havn’t crashed in over a year’s worth of racing) ok.
Marshall: (has already taken bike and walked it across the road) Let’s see, nothing seems to wrong. Wait, this brake is sorta rubbing a little
(more racers shoot by as he fiddles with it)
Me: Yeah, ok. Just give me the bike.
Marhsall: Ok (hands me the bike). Just ride up way on the outside, ok, so other racers don’t hit you.
Me: (muttering as I pedal off) what other racers? I’m in the seriously cheap seats now.
Marshall 2: Man, its a good thing we were here to help him out.

I usually am pretty conservative (but still fast) on downhills to avoid incidents like that. I think the reason why this one got blown is 1) the tailwind kicked up, between laps 1 and 2 really rocketing you down into the corner, and 2) the event horizon for this particular off-camber corner is very far off, as the road dips steeply (9%, I’d say) in the 200 meters right before it. Anyway, from here on out, the race was mostly a question of survival. By the time first two laps were done, I was both out of fluid and dehydrated. I wasn’t cramping, but I definately felt weakened by it. To make matters worse, the huge thing of water bottles just after the line was labelled “finishers only; feed zone ahead.” Yeah, feed zone with no neutral bottles. Uncool.

Finally, with two to go, they realized that people were going to DIE if they didn’t throw out some free water, so from then on in, I felt alot less like I was fighting just to finish. I picked off lots of stragglers, just churning along, and slammed a Crackpack with a lap to go, which bought me another place or two. But dang, after the race was done: NO WATER. And a 9 mile ride back into Salida. In the hot sun. Along a 65mph state highway. Poor form. Anyone who finished today was tough. Normally, I don’t say that finishing further down the results sheet makes you tougher, but dang, today, in the hot, dry, cloudless conditions, for 60 miles (76 if you count the rollout and return, the longer it took you, the more toughness you needed to do it.

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