Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 Elkhorn Classic

2011 Elkhorn Classic

When I first read about Elkhorn over the Winter I knew right away that this was a race I really wanted to do. Big miles with lots of climbing in an amazing location. I was still really excited last week leading into the race but my expectations for a good result were extremely low after getting dropped on the final day of the Capital stage race. My plan was to have a great time, hammer the TT, survive the Crit, and help Travis as much as possible. Travis and I along with Jason Cemanski left Seattle around 4:00PM Thursday and arrived in Baker City at 10:30PM after stopping for a great steak dinner in Pendleton, OR. Cemanski had three other teammates racing that were staying in the same motel (Knights Inn), we agreed to meet up for breakfast and get in a spin before getting ready for our 2:00PM race start. After breakfast Friday we took the TT bikes out to check out the TT course. We ended up taking the wrong route but got in a good “easy” spin.

Stage 1: The Oregon Trail Road Race
71.6 miles with 3,055’ of elevation gain. The weather was beautiful, warm enough to race w/o any thermal gear but not too hot. The fields were down 40 percent this year so organizers mixed the cat 4/5 with the masters 4/5 but would score us separately. One of Cemanski’s teammates Bill was racing Masters 4/5 and we all agreed ahead of time to race together as much as possible.

The first couple miles were neutral as we rode out of town, it was pretty cool starting in town vs. the middle of nowhere. Travis was off the front a couple times early but never got too far away. The first Cat5 climb came at mile 23, I started near the front and faded back to the middle/rear of the peloton, I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible. Shortly after the climb the calls came out for a pee break, I didn’t really need to go but I figured I should since everyone else was. By the time I finished up most of the group was riding again and several of us had to put in a solid 2 minute effort to catch back on. Getting dropped on a pee break would seriously suck! The next 20 miles cruised past w/o incident, then we hit the Cat3 climb and things blew up. The climb was 2.9 miles and gained almost 800’, I tried not to panic when a few riders started pulling away. After the first 5 minutes I started to get into a groove and began pulling riders back. I slowly moved past Travis and Bill, I was now pulling a few riders along behind me. Cemanski was doing the same a few meters in front of me, I put in a big effort and soon we were a group of 10. Our grupetto was roughly 30 seconds behind the leading group of 8-10 at the top of the climb. We closed in a bit on the descent and quickly reeled the leaders back in within a few miles. After a hard chase I was elated to hear Travis and Bill had rejoined the group. Over the next couple climbs we dropped a few riders but the 4 of us were still together. The final rollers that led into the final climb were brutal for me, they never seemed to end. I was really digging deep to hang on, I didn’t want to get gapped off after all the work I had already put in. Somewhere on the final climb a Master came across the road at a wild angle and slammed into Travis’s front wheel. Travis kept his bike upright but his bars were knocked sideways and he had a damaged front spoke. Travis was able to finish the stage but this cost him over 3 minutes on the lead group. A young Second Ascent kid soloed off on the final climb, our chase group was 1:05 down to him at the top of the final rise. Over the final 3 miles we cut his lead to 30 seconds, but there was no coordinated effort to chase him down. Our group was now 15, Cemanski and I were both scared to mix it up in a sprint with several of the remaining guys, it was surprising how many poor bike handlers there were. With 1K to go Cemanski agreed to try to lead me out, at 200M he swung left across the yellow line, we had a clear shot to the finish. I would love to see video of the sprint, before we hit the line both of us cramped up and were yelping, I went around Cemanski too early and didn’t (couldn’t) pull past him before the line. We finished 1-2 in the sprint though, 2-3 for the stage. 

Stage 2: The Pleasant Valley Time Trial
11.3 miles with 260’ of elevation gain. It was a cool overcast morning, perfect for hammering a TT! 

The TT was an out and back with an addition mile added past the start line so we finished in town. The first 5 miles were slightly uphill and into the wind, I wanted to be careful not to blow up on the way out. Travis and Cemanski both out TT me so I really wanted to take 3rd and not let Cemanski who was starting right behind me pass me on the course. Mission accomplished! Cemanski almost got me but I held him off. Travis won the TT in 25:30, Cemanski was 2nd with 25:36, I took 3rd with 26:00, 4th place was a further 41 seconds behind me @ 26:41. Podium sweep = sweet. Cemanski took over as race leader, I was 2nd 24 seconds back.
GPS Data  (I didn't stop it till .3 miles past the finish)

Stage 3: The Gold Rush Criterium
40 minutes on a 6 corner flat course.
This was really the race that wasn’t. by the end of the TT in the morning the rain had started and we figured the crit would be canceled, our start time was 2:30PM. Around 2:00PM we jumped on the course to check it out and get a warm up in. Main St. has a lot of river rock in it so it was clear that if it was wet there would be problems. Well, it was wet. The rain started picking up at the start line while we were getting instructions from the race official. I got a good spot on the front line and was able to clip in quickly as we started, I was able to get a good position near the front. I gave up some ground early so I could keep an outside line thru the corners, it was already getting slick. In the first corner of the 3rd lap there was a pile up of 6 riders. As I passed by the kid who won the first stage was screaming that he lost his teeth, bad news! We were neutral (sort of) for the next couple laps before the crit was officially cancelled. Goal achieved, I survived the crit.
After dinner Travis and I along with the Apex guys drove out to Dooley mountain to check out the summit finish of Sunday’s stage. 8 miles of climbing to finish a 101 mile stage, ouch. I took some solace in the fact that the pitch wasn't that bad, 4.3% on average with the steepest sections near the start and at 4.5 miles. We headed back to town and had a fantastic dinner at Barley Brown's Brew Pub. The rain had stopped and we were treated to watching the Men's Cat3 and 1/2 races. 
Stage 4: Dooley Mountain Road Race
100.5 miles with 6,635' of climbing.Six rated climbs, 2 Cat5's, 3 Cat3's, and a Cat1. It was a bit chilly warming up before the race, I started with arm warmers but no other thermal gear.

Our neutral rollout was a couple miles, as soon as it ended Travis took off. This is becoming Travis's MO to open his legs up early. A few guys freaked out and started to chase but Travis stayed away for several miles before sitting up. Cemanski and I were both concerned about the guys 3rd and 4th in the GC, they could climb well. One guy (#411) had talked a little trash at the crit the night before, he wasn't thrilled that he was out sprinted in the 1st RR and beat by all three of us in the TT. The other guy Paul was a total wildcard, this was his first bike race! We all came to really like him and were super impressed by his climbing. I was really just hoping to make it to the final climb with the peloton and have a crack at defending my 2nd GC position. I had 5 rated climbs to contend with 1st though!
About 14 miles in I was at the front with a team Oregon rider, we each took a little pull and then slid off. At least I tried to get off the front, I looked down and I was doing 16mph (into a modest wind) and the two of us had gapped the field a bit. Right away I thought, hey, if I can get a head start on the first short Cat5 I might as well take it. We worked together at an 80% effort for the next 3 miles and hit the climb with a small gap on the field. Travis and Jason in an attempt to make 411 work chased up to us and took 411 by surprise, this forced him to pull the field up to us. Half way up the climb 411 pulled up to me huffing and puffing hard, Travis's move clearly worked. 10 miles later we started the hardest of the cat3's, 3.2 miles, 4.4% grade. The pace was hard but none of the better climbers were trying to hurt the field. Despite this, at the top of the climb 15 minutes later the peloton was halved. The second Cat3 was a lot of work but the pace was slightly softer than the previous Cat3. Next up was a Cat5 that was fast but a non event. The Final Cat3 came up a couple miles after the previous Cat5. The pace was up and there was a lot of huffing and puffing in the field. Maybe a 3rd of the way up Travis took over pace making. It was perfect, fast but not so fast he dropped us. This kept 411 in check until near the end of the climb when he soloed off. Cemanski started to chase but I told him not to, 411 was not going to solo the next 30 miles on his own before the final climb.
As I mentioned before the 4/5's were racing with the Masters 4/5's. Before the second Cat3 a breakaway formed that contained 4 Masters and 1 Cat4. the Cat4 got spit out the back pretty early so there was no pressure on the 4/5's to chase. I was in favor of double pacelining to real the break back and help Bill out but there was no interest from the 4/5's outside our group. For the most part Bill and 2-3 other Masters drilled it for the next 30 miles, at times we were north of 30mph on the flats (we had a helping wind), it was work to just sit in. Travis had been protecting me all day and helped pull me along during this stretch.

92.5 miles in we hit the final climb. 411 went right to the front and was drilling it. I started to lose his wheel after a few minutes, Cemanski and Carsten from Second Ascent came around me. Carsten was only about 80 seconds down to me in the GC. I was able to dig deep and pull back up to 411's group. The road swung left, I was hurting to hold on, then I hear a bad sound and see Cemanski's chain hit the ground right in front of me. I couldn't believe his bad luck. Before the next switchback I was gapped, 411, Paul, and a Master were pulling away slowly, SHIT! Bill was on my wheel when I started feeling better, I unzipped the jersey to get the nice white trash look going and picked up the pace. I started reeling Carsten back in, this fueled my fire. I tried to attack Carsten when I went past but he had some fight in him and held on. For the next few miles it was just the two of us, he tried to pull a couple times but it was short lived, I did 90% of the pace making. Up the road I saw Paul pass 411 and the Master he was dragging along. I only had 41 seconds on 411 and 56 seconds on Paul. About this time Travis starts yelling encouragement to me from an SUV, WTF? I was pumped up but confused, turns out he felt so bad about Cemanski (#1 GC) sitting on the side of the road that he handed him his bike! Pretty fricking amazing, after helping drag our asses 92 miles with 5K of climbing he gives up his bike, wow. I dropped Carsten with a few miles to go and was flying solo. I have to say it's the closest to a Tour de France type experience I have had racing all year. I went deep the last few miles and finished as strong as I could. There is a festival with free beer and pizza at the top, very cool. not 15 seconds after I finished Cemanski comes flying in. He almost caught me after his earlier disaster. I finished 3rd on the stage but dropped from 2nd to 4th GC. I had a great climb up Dooley, 13.0mph average was faster then all the previous shorter climbs that day. Next year my power will be up and my weight will be down!
Elkhorn is an amazing race! I would encourage everyone to consider it for next year. This was my 6th stage race of the season and by far my favorite.
Between Cemanski, Travis and I we picked up 6 of 9 possible podium spots (no podium for the crit) including a sweep of the TT, not too shabby.

If you made it this far you must be a hard core cycling nerd, or retarded, or both.

Final note: One of my goals was to get some upgrade points this weekend. I succeeded by picking up 9 ORBA points, bad news is USA Cycling won't accept them, total BS!