19
Jun
09

Elkhorn Classic Day 1 – 73 miles

Oh man. I am BEAT. Beat, but UP beat!

The view from the first feed zone

The view from the first feed zone

I’m up here in Oregon, in Baker City, attending the Elkhorn Classic, a 4 stage race held on the solstice weekend annually. Spencer, my buddy that lives up here, brought two teammates with him, David and Matt, and we all hit it off immediately. On Thursday afternoon, we actually drove the course for Stage 1, showing the two newbies, Dave and Matt, the nuances of the course.

The first 35 miles are mostly downhill, as you leave Baker City and follow some green farmland and basically parallel the Interstate, though you can’t hear it. Then, you cross under I-84 and head out in to some hills, where the real action begins. There is a wind farm at the head of the valley, so we ride right underneath them, and then get in to a canyon which takes us to another tiny village, and then IT IS ON, with a 14-mile climb, the last of which is at maybe 7 to 10%. After that, though, it doesn’t get any easier, because you end up on the high prairie desert, and there’s this black ribbon of road that just winds its’ way back to Baker City, over hill and down dale, following creeks, climbing up rolling hills, until it finally drops you down in to a flat runout to the finish line, which is near the Baker City airport.

Spencer (left) and Matt (right)

Spencer (left) and Matt (right)

I had prepared for this since November. I had followed a strategic plan to show up stronger than ever, and to compete, rather than just survive. Spencer was also ready, and from the conversations with David and Matt, I was convinced that they were in great shape as well.

We started off at 1:40pm from Baker City High School, and within a mile, a friend I’d made here last year, George Chiou, showed up at the front of the race, and started setting a HIGH pace. Spencer stayed up there with me, and together, we took roughly 2 minute pulls, keeping the pace high, keeping the pack single-file, and basically screaming down the valley. Others took some good pulls, but George and Spencer and I were the instigators. However, both George and Spencer pointed out, after about an hour, that a storm was brewing in the EXACT direction we were headed.

Mountain storms in the summer are nothing to sneeze at. I remember one time in July of 1994, when my friend Jeremy and I were mountain biking in Montana, and we got stuck in a storm that dumped snow, ice, and lightning, in our midst. It scared the absolute bejeebers out of me, and I remember being cold for days afterwards, when we were essentially rescued by a neighbor. Anyway, that’s a digression.

On the first real climb up to the first feed zone, I OWNED IT, and I pulled and guttered as many people as I could. Spencer later told me that I actually SPLIT THE FIELD! 90 people started this event, so I was STOKED that this flatlander was able to climb at least somewhat with the locals. But as SOON as we hit the feed zone, the rain started. Now, this is not typical Oregon weather. Usually, when I come out here, it’s dry and hot. But this year, the weather pattern was different. It had started raining earlier in the day, and had not let up until the start of the race, so we had a nice break from the weather for about an hour, maybe longer. But when this stuff hit, it hit hard, it hit dark, and it came down in a cold, quarter-size drop DELUGE.

Instantly the pack went on the defensive. Gaps betwen wheels were longer, and we single-filed to the center of the road, to try and avoid the deeper wheel wells, which were quickly filling with 4+cm of rain. For a short while, George told me that we had a gap of about 10 seconds, so the two of us, with about 7 others, tore it up through some tight, twisty roads, and tried to get a gap. It lasted maybe a minute. Damn. The rain kept coming down, though, and I was glad I had my leggings on, because for a while there I started quaking. That settled down, however, when we got to Union, and started the climb that would define the race.

The climb is about 14 miles long, and it starts gradually, but then pitches up to the point where the gradient is about 8% or more for short periods of time. But it is relentless, and the rain, accompanied with the short range of vision due to the twists and turns, really sort of hampered our ability to predict what was coming around the next corner. But about 4  miles in, Matt came up to the front, and within a mile, with two riders about 20 seconds off the front, I launched him and he was able to bridge up to those guys, and form a working break. It was AWESOME! I stayed at or near the front, but my pulls were so-so, as Matt pulled away with the other two guys. Several attacks to try and close the gap were nullified by me, and I found that as we near the crest, I was actually holding on to the leaders pretty darned well.

But about 1.5 miles from the top, maybe 1.2, after urging myself on and on and on, I just couldn’t hold on with the leaders, and I fell back. I hate getting gassed, and I  hate getting passed. But this hill, at this gradient (one of the steepest parts), and given my flair for pushing and pulling from the front too early, too much (man, Jason, what was I thinking?), just combined to make my legs and lungs swell up and lock. Well, not really, but it was just enough to fall back. David passed me, but I was too out of breath to tell him about Matt being up the road. It took about 30 seconds for me to get my head back in to the game, but by then, the pack had slid past and I was fighting for scraps.

But this time, I didn’t lose my head. I kept pushing, and I rallied, and I got over the pass less than a minute away from the pack, which was down to less than 30 riders. There was another group in between, and then scattered riders in 2’s and 3’s. I grabbed a bottle, left a bottle, and then raced like a demon down the back side of the pass and on to the plain in between the area where the rolling hills are. George rejoined me (he had also been dropped – still no sign of Spencer, though, which was surprising), and we all grouped up to try and paceline it back to the main field.

We were doing pretty well at this, when, weirdly, my right calf, and my left hamstring, started to give me some weird sensations of pre-cramping. What made it weird was that they never seized outright, and the weather (wet and cold, yet the legs were wrapped in a pair of leg warmers, nevermind the fact that I’d been religiously holding to my schedule to drink my EFS every 15 minutes, finishing a bottle an hour, just so I wouldn’t cramp) should’ve been more to my liking. I did everything I could, but my legs were definitely ‘off’, and I communicated this to the grupetto that I was in, trying to stay with them and contribute, but unable. Everyone was great about it, however, and they let me try to massage my hamstring and calf, and eventually, maybe 2 minutes later, the twitching went away, and I freakin’ climbed the first 1-minute hill from the front!

With 20 miles to go, the agenda now was to do everything possible to mitigate time losses, and try to bridge with the larger pack. Slowly, we reeled other riders in, but our efforts were just always a little off, and try as we might, we never got inside a minute on the front pack. The good news is that we were just a minute or so off, maybe a little more, but the bad news was that we were never good enough at reeling in the bigger fish, nor were we strong enough to keep the pack together. Riders dropped off like flies, leaving us with a core group of 6 + 3. Somewhere on one of the 3-minute hills, George and two others got away, and stayed about 30 seconds ahead until we got within 3 miles of the finish.

When we finally regrouped, I told everyone that we were now riding for nothing but time, and that we could minimize the gap by working together. We actually sort of did, for  a while, but in the end, I think I finished about 4 minutes off the front, together with George. However, the entire pace of the race had been so high over it’s entire duration, that we were FIFTEEN MINUTES faster than last year, and I know I was somewhere in the mid 30’s or 40’s, well above the 86th position that I got in the Stage 1 race last year. Matt finished slightly ahead of me, and David was in that main pack at the front, or just behind it.

But where was Spencer?

Sadly, Spencer, who had been having a banner day at Elkhorn in the first half of the race, fell victim to a flat, on the main climb, just feet from where the gradient went from moderate to steep. He lost a minute in the wheel exchange, then soloed in the rest of the way, finishing 7 minutes down. He’s had a lot of flats this year, and he’s got some of the most puncture proof tires in the business, and whatever Karma he’s ticked off, his debt has been more than paid.  BUT, we were all still in good enough spirits, and we all animatedly talked about the race, our strategy, and what we should do next.

I could go on, but I’m exhausted, and this is detailed enough. Placings haven’t been posted, but I’ll put up what I know when I know it, and I’m going to bust patootie on the TT and crit tomorrow, in the hopes that I’ll move up in the GC. Of course, that’s everyone’s strategy, so you never really know. Still, I’m satisfied with my effort, feel like I came here strong enough to do well, and I did.

Sidebar – unfortunately, I have no wattage information. Apparently the flight up here affected the PM on my road bike, via the compression/decompression of the cargo hold in the aircraft, so I’ll be sending in my unit come Tuesday. That means no wattage info on Stages 1,3, and 4. The TT bike’s unit still works, but I’ll be ‘going commando’ for the duration of the weekend on my road bike. It’s unfortunate, but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for the Quarq or for the race.

See ya’ll tomorrow after the TT, and then again after the Crit!! Pray for drier weather!!

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2 Responses to “Elkhorn Classic Day 1 – 73 miles”


  1. 1 Mieke
    2009/06/19 at 11:14 pm

    Great write up Richard! Sorry about the CinQo. Sounds like you had a pretty good ride anyhow going commando. I hope the rest of the stages go well too. Good luck!

  2. 2009/06/20 at 9:43 am

    Mieke,
    You know your product is the highest-quality, best value Power Meter on the market today. I know it’s going to continually improve, and I know that the Quality Control and Service from the Owners is second to none. I wear my Quarq T-Shirts and logos with pride. I mean it. The weather conditions yesterday would’ve ruined it for just about any other PM out there, including several that DO NOT WORK AT ALL in the rain.


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