By Carl Parker
Patterson Pass Road Race was my first road race as a Cat 4 racer. I was really looking forward to this race because it was longer in distance, 65 miles, and had significant elevation, over 6,000 feet of climbing. That meant a lot more time riding my bike than what I had in Cat 5 races. And that’s a good thing. I really like riding my bike. I couldn’t wait to get this started.
The 65 miles consisted of 3 laps. Each lap started off with a 4mile/1100ft (5%) climb, following that climb was a long descent and then another shorter climb of 2miles/600ft (6%). From there it was a steady downhill with slightly rolling hills until the start of the next lap and back to the big climb.
Race morning, there was a stiff head wind at the start line which blew right into the riders faces climbing that first long 4mile climb. The starting group of 27 racers built into the climb on the first lap right, pushing hard right into the wind. I did my best to hide myself in the group and keep from exposing anything to this wind. By the time we got to the top of the climb, about 5 miles into the race, I was already thinking I may get dropped on this race. I was close to cracking. At the top of the climb, I tucked into the bike sitting on my top tube as we started the descent. Immediately I found myself with a small gap on the field. I had no intention of breaking away but it was very easy at this point in the route to get off the front. The group all came together after the two climbs until one racer had decided to go for a solo break and eventually disappeared by the time the first lap was completed.
But back to the wind and back to the big climb. I passed on the neutral feed bottles as I had drank only one at that point. I would later really regret that decision. This time on the climb, the wind was blowing harder in our faces and so I found the biggest guy to hide behind and just held his wheel until we got near the summit when I worked my way to the front to take the descent even faster. By the bottom, I had a 20-25sec gap and held it until the second smaller climb. That gave me the chance to ride at a pace I was comfortable in. With the wind now at my back, I settled into a heavy tempo and made the field chase me. One racer bridged to me right before the summit and said “let’s go” and I told him “I don’t have the legs for the wind” and he asked (mistaking what I said) “you’re not in this to win?” The group caught us shortly after and it seemed like more people were hurting at this point. The group by that point, with half the race behind us, was now even smaller, about less than half it was when we started. Still no sign of the lone breakaway. Lap 2 completed.
Lap 3 started with the head wind again just lashing at the front of the group. I had been out of water for 10 miles and the heat was approaching 100 at this point. It was dry and everyone was already showing salt all over their jerseys. At the bottom of the climb was a feed zone, I grabbed two water bottles and sucked one down in 10min. The last climb was even harder with less racers to hide behind than the previous two climbs. They were also motivated to push to catch the break. The group slowed right before the road pitched up to about 10% with about a mile left to climb, I thought this was the best time to go to the front and keep the pace high. The wind was relentless but this was the best, steepest place to go to front on the climb with this nasty wind. I was told later we lost a couple more riders, some of the stronger climbers earlier in the race.
After reaching the summit for the last lap, I immediately went into the descent looking for that gap again. Then with little pedaling, I got another 20-25 sec and pushed the paced heading for the second climb. Right before that climb, I caught the solo break and yelled “let’s go” but it was clear he had nothing left. So I again went solo up the second climb making the field chase. By the time the field caught me, there were only 4 riders left and me, making 5 total. I had gone through my second bottle and was getting nervous of cramping, my legs were already twitching. So I decided to stay in the back and try to recover and hang on as long as I could.
The five of us approached the final 1km together. It was a slight uphill finish and right at the bottom we lost two riders leaving three. The one racer I thought was the strongest said to the other “it’s all yours” or something like that. I thought he was playing a trick to get behind him and then out sprint him. Not what happened. He sat up a little and I just hung onto the other rider’s wheel until 200 meters to go. I put everything I had left into the pedals and he didn’t counter. I won by 10sec.