Report by Brendon Bolin
The Lead Out
When looking over the NCNCA and SCNCA race calendars in an effort to plan out my early season, the OTF stage race caught my eye. It contained a road race with rolling terrain, a flat time trial and a circuit race with some elevation. The road and circuit courses both looked to suit me well and the time trial (TT) was intriguing if for no other reason than I could put my TT bike to use for the first time in an actual USAC sanctioned event. So with that, I was ready to commit to spend my weekend up north of Fresno in what to me were parts unknown.
Unfortunately, none of my teammates could make it up for the weekend but thankfully I had a friend, Frank, who was up for doing the racing. He would race in the Men’s Elite 4/5s and I in the Men’s Elite 3s . This presented a bit of extra coordination with all of our races starting and ending at different times but it would be great to have someone to split up the drive with and hang out with during all those in between hours.
Friday morning I took my TT bike and road bike out for final test spins before loading up to hit the highway. Good thing I did. On my road bike, I noticed that one of the rollers on the chain was missing from where I open the chain at the quick link for cleaning. Luckily, it was easy to fix and with the bikes in good working order I packed up and was off. I picked up Frank along the way and we proceeded to make our way to the Knights Inn in Madera. This presented the next challenge, dinner. We settled on In & Out, delicious, plenty of calories and minimal GI stress. That double-double with chilies and animal fries served me well. Shortly afterwards, we arrived at our motel in Madera and I was pleasantly surprised we were not as isolated as I had expected. We were surrounded by shopping centers and hoses and not endless farm fields. We made it an early night as the Men’s 4/5s race started around 8 am and we had a 20-30 minute drive from our hotel to the race staging area.
Saturday morning was one of the few times I was not rushing to get ready for my race. The day did start off early as I woke at 5:45 am to my alarm. After a small breakfast, we were on the road and were parked at the staging area before 7 am. I did what I could to help Frank get ready for his race and saw him off. I then proceeded to register, pin my number and kill some time flying my drone. My start time of 10 am was drawing near and I could finally get ready to race.
On the Road Again
The parking and race start where not at the lap start/finish line, in fact it was over a little over a mile away. With all the extra time I had, I rode back to check it out and the lead up to the line. The drag up to the line was at a slight incline and there was a bend about 200-250m to go so the finish line was not visible until those last couple hundred meters. I tried to keep this in mind as well as what it looked leading into that final bend. There were bonus seconds on the odd laps of the race and I was hoping knowing the finish the first lap around could help put me in position to try to collect some on the first lap.
It was time for my race to begin. The field size looked to be about twenty with unfamiliar faces minus a couple. The lap started out on a gentle climb of 2-4% with a couple intermixed flat sections. Towards the end of this section, the road pitched up then made a right turn. The next section was quick and for the most part gently worked downhill. This lead into the short steeper climb about 1k in length which was the first time there was any real surge in pace. After completing this, the road turned right again and was downhill then predominantly rolling for the remaining 2.5 miles to the lap finish. Leading into the finish, I knew I had to be up near the front coming into that last bend. With the centerline rule in effect, there is not much room to move up and around. I was about third wheel as we came around the final bend which now had also been marked with a 200m to go sign. I opened up a sprint and some combination of a good surge, not knowing there were bonus seconds on offer, or not knowing the finish line location lead to only one or two others putting in much of an attempt. After crossing the line first to claim my three bonus seconds, I settled back into the group while thinking to myself if it was worth putting in the effort for bonus seconds or would it be best to focus solely on getting good results in the road and circuit races.
With the first lap complete things seemed to settle down. One person when off the front and rode most the second lap solo. The thought of bridging up crossed my mind but I thought back to the Santa Barbara County Road Race and didn’t want to do as much so early on and either not be able to follow later moves or be marked more than necessary. The third lap had someone go from about 1k out to take the three bonus seconds on offer. I was again in good position and crossed first from the bunch to collect an additional two bonus seconds. The next laps were completed with the group staying mostly together. However, the wind had picked up and the first couple miles of the lap were into a headwind. That combined with the predominant upward slope lead to the group riding that section comically slow and easy. Then the rest of the lap was done at a good pace with a surge every time up the 1k long hill.
The forth lap saw two people go up the road with no real effort to chase them immediately down. They stayed in sight getting up to maybe 60 seconds ahead. On the fifth lap going up the 1k hill, a junior rider from Team Swift rider attacked towards the end of the climb. This put the two riders who were still off the front, well within reach. At that point the Team Swift rider had pulled a pit of a gap on the field. I thought if I could go with him and we reached the front two, the four of us would be able to stay away if we committed. I was able to join the Team Swift rider and we set off to catch the leading two. We brought back most of the gap and almost had bridged to the leading two but unfortunately at the same time a couple from the remaining group behind us were able to catch us. When seeing this I filtered back into what was left of the main group with the two still barely hanging on in front of the group.
The breakaway completed the fifth lap still ahead albeit with a small gap. The surge of the group coming into the finish of the lap took away what was left of their advantage. Again I tried to place myself well and I put in a little sprint that was not really contested. This put me third across the line for that lap and yielded me one more bonus second. Shortly afterwards as the sixth lap started, the break was absorbed and we were once again rolling at a snails pace up the first uphill-ish section. The remainder of the lap had a few surges and small attacks but nothing noteworthy.
The final lap began much like the laps that proceeded it. Slow again into the headwind uphill section. However, this time someone slowly upped their pace a bit and the people following were not willing to put in the minor amount of effort necessary to hold the wheel. As he slowly rode away from the group, I was puzzled by the seemingly lack of care, concern and effort from the group. At about the end of the uphill section, I counted the gap to thirty seconds. Still a long way from the line, I hoped once we were out of the headwind the pace would pick back up and the solo rider reeled in. As we rode the section leading into the 1k climb, I took a turn in front and was trying to get some sort of rotation going. Unfortunately, only about three of us seemed willing to do anything but sit up if touching the wind. Thankfully things went hard on the 1k climb. The remaining group was strung out and the chase was on. About one mile from the end, a reduced group somewhat reformed but it was characterized by random attacks and a general lack of cohesion. I did what I could to not let someone fly off solo and maintain a position near the front. Approaching the final bend, I found myself around third wheel and the rider off the front only 10-15 seconds ahead. By the time the road straightened out and the finish line was in sight I was second wheel. The rider in front of me made no real effort to pick up the pace and start a sprint so I started from long from some combination of hoping the field was still strung out behind me or the fear of having a line of rider streak past from a lull in the pace. I opened up my sprint to plenty of clear road. I felt like I might spin out my current gear and dropped into a harder gear. This would probably have held true earlier in the race but at this point it would be a stretch to call my final effort a sprint. As I grinded my way towards the line, I saw in my periphery a rider approaching on the left. He came around me by about a wheel to take the sprint for second. As some consolation, it was on of the people I knew in the race, Nick Jepson from CBS.
With the race complete, I had to be pleased with third and a total of ten bonus seconds. The race winner finished seven seconds ahead of the group and with time bonuses factored in, he was leading the general classification (GC) seven seconds ahead of me in second. The times were still tight among all those that finished in the lead group and I knew the TT would shake things up.
Neutralized Part I
I mulled over the TT but with it on the shorter end, I hoped to stay in the top 5 and if the gaps were small, perhaps move up further with the bonus seconds or forcing a break in the circuit race. After devouring a patty melt and curly fries at the diner restaurant next to our motel, the rest of Saturday consisted of kicking back and killing time. Part of this was periodically checking email as we waited to receive the TT start times. In general, we knew they were grouped by the race categories and the groups ordered by the start times of final circuit race. Among the groups, the riders would go in reverse order of the standings. Finally, while watching the classic Sandlot, the email dropped and I knew both Frank and my start times, 8:16 and 10:26 (2nd to last) respectively. If I thought I had plenty of waiting around the first day, a two hour gap in TT start times and a four hour gap in the circuit time starts ensured waiting around to race may become my new past time.
The TT start was located only a 10 minute drive from our motel so Frank rode to the start as his warmup. I was able to take my time getting ready, packing up and checking out of our hotel. I got to the TT course around 8 am and was able to see Frank off. I then ran into some of the people I knew from the race and proceeded to enjoy some coffee and got further practice on killing time as I waited for Frank to finish and return back.
The Race of Truth
The course itself was a simple point to point route with two 90 degree right turns and totaling 8.5 miles. I don’t have any set warmup protocol but I did want to spin around to loosen up a bit. About half an hour before my start time I started rolling around and did a few shorter efforts at around threshold and had a caffeinated gel. Don’t know if the gel helped at all but I figured it couldn’t hurt and salted caramel is bomb. After all bathroom stops had been completed, I lined up to start about 5 minutes ahead of my start time. I felt surprisingly calm while I waited to start. Maybe all those Monday Night TTs out in Goleta were paying dividends. As I rolled up to the start line, I rethought my plan on pacing. The out section was with a tailwind and would be fast. I wanted to not go too hard and this point and have to pay for it on the later half which was into a headwind. After getting to the final stretch, I could adjust my pace and pick it up if I was feeling good.
Before I knew it, I had the ref tell me 10 seconds. Then I got the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown and I was off. Immediately, I noticed my PM just fell asleep right before I set off from sitting around inactive too long. I hoped it would reconnect which is not a certainty from past Garmin experiences. Thankfully it was found again and I did my best to not go out too hard. With the smooth tarmac, a soft tailwind and a hint of adrenaline, I was out of the gates feeling good and rolling over 30 mph. After the first few minutes I did my best to settle in and ride roughly to power. I made it to the first turn still feeling good with my heart rate slowly rising but still about at threshold levels. It was a little over a mile until the final right turn and the final 4.5 miles to the line.
As I started the final stretch, I felt as if my pacing was good and I could hold my current effort till the end. This was occasionally interrupted by having to pay a lot of attention to the road surface. The inbound section had plenty of rough seconds where it was difficult to find a line to not be getting completely bounced around. Intermixed with the rough sections were areas that had been recently repaved and felt like being on a cloud. As the miles clicked away, it looked like I was gaining time on my one minute man but I couldn’t be certain. At some point, I passed someone else from my field on a road bike who looked like they were saving their efforts for later in the day.
I finally drew close to the finish line. From a distance, it was hard to make out exactly how far off it was. There were a few cars held up from the bike traffic and the end came up more quickly than I had expected. I did a little surge right at the end but I felt I had more left that in the tank and that I could have upped the effort for the last mile or so. Overall though, I felt I paced it well. After finishing, I checked my power and was happy with how I had performed. Upon cooling down, I caught up with my buddy Nick who was sitting in 3rd prior to the TT and asked how he did. I had done about 30 seconds better so that gave me some confidence that maybe I was still sitting in a Top 5 GC spot going into the circuit race.
Neutralized Part II
Without much else time to think, it was time to hop in the car and head to the circuit race course. My late TT start combined with the Cat 4/5s circuit start time left little extra time to complete the 45 min drive. The rush in the end was not necessary as all the officials and some of the equipment had to transfer from course to course as well. As a result, all the circuit races for the day were behind schedule and being ran to their full planned duration. The Men’s 4/5s race finished around 1 pm and I was still left almost three full hours before my scheduled race start. As the afternoon progressed, results were first posted for the TT. To my surprised, I finished 2nd with a time of 19:12. Doing some math with the previous days results looked to put me on the exact same time as the winner of the TT. This really made me lament over not finishing off the last mile or so of the TT stronger. I felt a bit better after speaking with the officials and confirming that the first thing to break the tie is a lower total for finishing place. Aside from being tied for 1st on time, there was one person seven seconds behind us. I knew these were the two people I needed to look out for in the race as well as make sure that a breakaway didn’t succeed. Then it was back to more waiting. After some combination of nature valley, natures bakery, cliff and lara bars and a countless number of water bottles consumed. It was finally time to start my race.
The circuit course was a rolling loop of about two miles in a gated community with a great road surface. The road was technically open but there were only a handful of cars all day from the people going to and from the eight to ten homes in the community. There was one main uphill section that took about 45 seconds along with another ‘kicker’ that took about 10 seconds to get up and over. The lead into the finish line was fast and downhill with a couple of turns but the turns were gradual enough to require any braking. The last section to the finish line was not far from the final corner leaving little if any time to change position in a sprint.
The race went similarly to the road race. Steady or easy for most parts then hard efforts up the longer uphill section. In the early laps there were too many attacks to count on the hill but people were fresh enough for nothing to stick and the group to always reform. There were also some attacks in the downhill run to the line but these were all short lived and the group would reform again once the road flattened out by the finish line. To me, the hard efforts up the hill were very manageable and I felt good about my chances halfway through the race. I kept my eye on the two riders I needed to and was quick to jump on wheels when they put in anything that resembled an attack.
As the laps counted down to three to go, I was finally put into a position where I had to make a decision. We approached the hill section and two riders attacked and pushed hard up the hill. There was no immediate response from anyone in the group. I rode a steady effort in front up the hill and kept up the effort when reaching the flat and proceeded to flicked my elbow for someone to come around and help keep the chase up. At this point the riders ahead had a gap of ten to fifteen seconds. I waited as everyone sat idly behind me. With the gap still relatively small, I didn’t want to watch the two in front ride off and take both the top spots in the circuit race and likely the GC. I kept up a decent pace and decided to go hard into the small kicker hill which would at the least force everyone to put in an effort and at best split the field. After attacking on the hill, I kept up a good pace and had the two in front more or less caught by the start finish.
The final two laps were ran at a more steady pace and no one tried to attack on the climb. On the final lap, the rider sitting in third place in GC put in somewhat of an attack on the smaller kicker before the fast bit leading to the line. I followed and as soon as the hill crested he backed off and I proceeded to take the lead. His bike handling skills were not confidence inspiring and I did not want to be on his wheel going through the series of bends. As the finish line fast approached, there was on large attack to my right side. The road was wide enough to allow for more than one line, even though we passed through this section close to single file on every other lap. I managed to get more or less back on terms with this surging move and next thing I knew, it was close to three wide going into the final bend. As the road opened up, two riders passed by me to my right as a started to open my sprint. From there it was only a handful of seconds to the line and I just held my position of third. The two riders in front of me were not the GC threats and crossing the line I knew I had wrapped up first in GC.
My happiness was briefly dampened by the fact I had known I needed to start my sprint earlier than I had and that may have cost me the win in the circuit race. I decided not to dwell much on that as things rarely go perfectly and going into the weekend if you would have told me I would finish, third, second and third and win GC, I would have been ecstatic. From there, I got my podium pic packed up and started off on the long drive back home. After spending the day living on bars, I eventually got to have my first real-ish meal at Panda Express at some hub stop along the 99. Finally making it back home at 11 pm ending a long but worthwhile weekend.
I would like to first thank OTF for putting on the event. The courses were fun and overall things went smoothly. Thanks to Frank for rolling out with me and capturing some of the weekends moments. Lastly, thanks to all my teammates and friends for all their encouragement and sponsor support.