"Forty-two miles just doesn't seem long enough for a road race. Any good road race should be at least 60 miles." Now, you would think I would have a longer memory, but I actually uttered these words while driving over to the infamous Hodges Gardens location with Tom Campbell and Joey D'Antoni this last Saturday morning. The next time that comment came to mind, I was grinding away, alone, climbing that *&%*^$# hill at about 11 mph.
The Master's 35 Road Race this year attracted a large and fit field to the torturous Hodges Gardens course. The 42-mile race would take the riders 8 times around the deceptively beautiful loop that included one long, steep climb, followed quickly by a quick stair-step and a very steep wall that kept most of the derailleurs close to the spokes. The killer part of the course constitutes maybe half its length, with the remainder mostly low rolling hills and flat. This year's event started briskly, but the pace stayed smooth and the group went up the first lap climbs together. On lap two, however, Ricky Tenney surged up the hill and strung out the field, but most of the pack regrouped after the hills. Although I wasn't feeling great, I wasn't particularly uncomfortable on the climbs, and tried to respond quickly to Ricky's attacks, both to keep from losing contact, and to give the impression that I would be hard to drop. On the flat part of the course, however, I was trying to conserve as much as possible, just moving up to the front at the base of the climbs. On lap three, there was another attack on the hill that split the pack, leaving a few riders permanently OTB, and causing a number of rider to chase back to the group. The lap 4 climb was very fast, and finally blew the pack apart, allowing a five-rider group to form off the front that included Ricky Tenney, Paul Kerst, Randy Legeai, Larry Thompson, and D. Hughes. Although there was no attack on the climb on lap 4, Hughes lost contact. The four-rider lead group worked together fairly smoothly, although it was becoming clear that Larry and I were struggling (but trying to hide it!). Ricky had no interest in dealing with a sprint finish, and pushed the pace up the hills on the next two laps. Sure enough, on the next lap Thompson lost contact on the climbs during lap five, and I followed suit on lap six. I spent the next two laps trying to maintain a steady pace, and never lost sight of Larry and Paul, which I was happy to hear caused them some concern toward the finish when they slowed down prior to the sprint. This is a course on which a rider can lose an enormous amount of time once he's OTB because the tendency is to go up the hills at about 5 mph. The whole time, however, I was wondering how close behind time trial specialist Larry Thompson might be, and couldn't really relax until the last couple of miles. I finished about 500m behind the leaders with an average speed of just over 21 mph.
Dave Swords and I decided to take a shot at the Senior Road Race the next day, despite the fact that our training programs aren't exactly focused on 100 mile hilly road races. Twenty-nine riders showed up at the starting line, including about a half-dozen Texas riders who were there apparently to bolster their egos. As it turned out, they had a pretty tough ride too. As Dave and I warmed up, it occurred to us that if we were just able to finish the race, we were likely to qualify for La. BAR points, that go down to 10th place, since the field was fairly small and there's always a high drop-out rate. After checking with Lorrie about the number of non-La. riders, we decided to give it a try. The race started out early in the morning at a comfortable and smooth pace, and for the first 40 miles or so the pace up the hills was calm and easy, with the pack staying together and most riders trying to conserve enough to respond to the inevitable attack sure to come later in the race. At around 45 miles or so, there was a strong surge up the big hill that split the pack in two. Those of us caught behind the break had a few miles of hard chasing to bridge back up to the main group, and a number of riders came permanently off the back at that point. No sooner than we had gotten back to the pack, it seemed, we were again at the base of the big climb, and again someone put the pressure on, stringing the pack out badly. This time, we weren't so lucky, and about 10 riders went off the front, leaving the rest of the group in tatters. I quickly found myself with Todd Herbet chasing a group of two that was about 20 seconds ahead. We could also occasionally see Kendrick Perry chasing solo a bit farther ahead. Pretty soon, though, the lead group was out of sight and out of mind, and the two-man group ahead of us continued to pull away (we commented that it would have been smarter for them to have waited for us, considering we had a good 50 miles to go at that point). Todd and I settled into a smooth pace, figuring that we were at least within the top ten among La. riders. It was a few laps later that we passed one of the two riders who had been ahead of us, and we eventually passed the other one as well. The rest of the ride was your basic death-march training ride. We were usually able to maintain a speed of around 20 on the flatter sections, but after 70 miles of so we were into the single-digits on the big climb and happy to make it to the top. Up ahead, Dean Buzbee (TX) and Russ Walker had established a fast-moving two-man break, chased by a solo Todd Bauer. Rob Konrad made an effort to bridge earlier, but ended up in a 3-man group with John Morstead and James Keeneham of Texas. These riders all ended up lapping us, and finished in that order, followed by a solo Keith Breaux, a solo Kendric Perry, a solo John Hood, and the duo of Todd Herbet and me. That put me in 7th among La. riders. Anthony Nolan, Dave Swords and Mike Rourke finished later, rounding out the top-10 La. riders. All-in-all, Dave and I were happy to have met our goal of finishing in the top ten and getting in a good long training ride. ---Randy.
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