This past Saturday (on my birthday) I attended the Independence Valley Road Race located in Rochester, WA about 90 minutes north of Portland and the same distance south of Seattle. The course consisted of four, 20 mile laps with two, 3-minute punchy climbs per lap and a long, winding, flat cross wind section in the middle. The course was beautiful with rolling green hills, tree lined dairy farm terrain and picturesque vistas in every direction. I didn’t even wear a base layer because it felt like a blue-bird Santa Barbara spring day.
There is something unique about entering a race when you don’t know a soul on the start line. Out of the 53 guys I lined up against on Saturday, I had met one of them once before; at Handlebar in March 2015 before San Dimas, but I didn’t even remember what he looked like (a former racing buddy of Aaron’s, Morgan Schmitt).
Not only did I need to learn the course during the first couple laps, I had to spend energy learning the good and bad wheels – who to follow and who to stay away from. I definitely felt like one of the stronger and smarter riders from the gun just by observing the others around me. That didn’t change the fact that I felt I had a lot to do to stay competitive early on.
The Audi team was well represented with nearly 10 guys, so they attacked from the gun and were in every move all day long. I knew racing by myself that I needed to conserve energy whenever possible, only covering attacks when necessary.
From the course profile I found on Strava, I figured it wouldn’t be selective enough to eliminate all the big sprinters because of the pancake flat finish coming approximately 10k after the second climb. I identified the USAC predicted race winner, David Richter (also the Washington State champion), by his sweet custom jersey and his #1 bib number. I quickly made friends with him at the back of the pack in the middle of lap 3 after we had shed two thirds of our field. “Got a bit of a target on your back?” He chuckled and we shook hands. This was the wheel to be on and I spent the next lap shadowing him perfectly.
Coming into the the final climb I found myself a bit too far forward and leading our diminished group of 20 or so up the road as the pitch kicked. I eased off a little and let a few others come around me to push the pace before slotting in over the top.
After the fast descent down the backside I covered a move that seemed dangerous, but got reeled in. I probably should have just stayed on David’s wheel like I had been for the last 30 minutes, sticking to my original plan. A two-man break ended up going a few minutes later with less than 10k remaining in the race containing an Audi guy that ultimately stayed away. No one wanted to chase after the barraged of previous attacks so their move was timed perfectly. In an instant we were all racing for 3rd place. I somehow ended up on the front with less than 5k to go and couldn’t get off in time to recover and prepare for the sprint.
It definitely cost me a top ten as David went on to take the field sprint for 3rd. My legs felt good and I should have trusted my initial instinct and strategy staying behind the seasoned Washington State Champion veteran. Sometimes, my strength can get the best of me in stressful race situations that require quick thinking.