Words by: Joy McCulloch (KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo)
Oh San Luis Rey. I believe I have raced this event 4 or 5 times, and it has always been a thorn in my side. At 75 miles, it is the longest SoCal road race for the women’s field and with under 4K of climbing, one would think a group could get away on the flats or in the crosswinds before we climb back up the stair steps to the finish. This has never, ever, been the case. No matter how much I have tried to inflict my will on the peloton and get a non-climber break-away rolling before the climb, this has never happened. And I have been exceptionally frustrated by this.
Going into this years edition, coach Paul Abrahams and I took some time to look at the previous years race files and see where I could have played my cards more effectively. We came up with a game plan that would be inline, historically, with how this race has unfolded: wait until the climb, go bananas.
It’s one thing to draw up a plan. It is an entirely different beast to clip-in and take off down the road amongst the jittery racers. I was super motivated to stick to the plan because I have executed so poorly at this race in the past. Plus, Coach Paul was there in the feed zone/finish line so it would be pretty obvious if I went rouge.
Once the racers were assembled, I took mental roll-call of the players who chose to fight the wind and the heat over the 5 laps of the boom-a-rang course. This quick tally solidified my race-plan and I hunkered down at the back of the pack, waiting for the climbers to unleash their legs on the steepest grades heading to the switchbacks.
Knowing that the group would naturally begin to splinter, due to the elements and duration of the race, I was not too concerned with any early moves. As we made our way through the first 2 laps, my focus was to sit in and wait for the climbs. Exiting the feed zone on lap 2, the break sifted out, to leave 7 of us in the front pod of racers.
Within the break, we were all single riders except for Tracy Tilton and Holly Breck from InCycle. I knew Tracy and Holly would be the ones to animated the race, and being the team with numbers, it was their race to lose. The follow 2.5 laps carried on quite uneventful, with the breakaway riders content rolling through, realizing that attempting to ride away solo or in a pair would be futile in the wind. The pace was not challenging enough to shed riders either, keeping 6 of us intact to the final climb up to the finish.
Again, I assessed the group and mentally tallied my opponents. I felt confident that I could fight my hardest for the win, yet knowing that Tracy is a proven climber and she would be very strong up the climb.
As expected, with under 10 minutes of racing left in the day, Tracy jumped hard at the base of the steepest pitch on the climb. I had anticipated this move and made sure I was on her wheel so that I could follow the attack. Follow I did, yet the gap grew to a length I couldn’t quite bridge. After a minute or two, I looked over my shoulder and could see Pam Schuster (who has won this race in the 1990’s – how cool is that!) about 200 meters behind me.
This was a tough spot to be in because I knew I couldn’t catch Tracy, yet I knew Pam was far enough behind me with the handful of minutes remaining, that she wouldn’t catch me either. So I had to decide – do I tempo it into the finish? This isn’t a stage race, I won’t be losing seconds on the GC! Or do I hunker down and get as close as I possibly can to Tracy and really test the limits of my body, bike, and brain?
Test I did! I know it wasn’t a win, but I was very happy with my 2nd place finish at the San Luis Rey Road Race. I was happy because I methodically checked over previous years race data and feedback and came up with an alternate plan that would lend me to the best result possible if I committed to it. I was happy that I raced all the way to the finish line, even sprinting across the final meters to ensure I used every calorie I had ingest during the 3.5hr race.
I was happy to get another podium for my team and teammates, especially Coach Paul and super support staff Oren Mitz who spent the day out in the sun feeding us. But most of all, I was happy to be reminded that even after competing on the exact same course for 5 years, I can learn new tricks, new methods, and reach new heights.
Thank you to my teammates, Coach Paul, husband Brian, and fantastic sponsors for helping to make all of this a reality.
Thank you to our sponsors: KHS Bicycles, Maxxis Tires, JLVelo, Serfas, Shimano, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Xpedo Pedals, Kali Protectives, NDXSports, Bike Religion, Bicycle Blue Book, WD-40 BIKE, Chamois Butt’r, Cycling Illustrated, Rennie & Associates, Kramp Krushers, Ultra Cycle, and Q2.
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