UCLA Road Race
by Mike Easter
Disclaimer: the race report you are about to read contains graphic thoughts, honest feelings, and (dare I say “real?”) emotions the author experienced before, during, and after the race.
On Saturday, the Time-Velo Pasadena Team attended one of my favorite races of the year, the UCLA Road Race in Juniper Hills. I love attending the early season road races put on by the local collegiate cycling teams, like UCLA and UCSB’s Poor Kids. The courses are very demanding and always draw the fittest SoCal master’s racers, resulting in brutal competition.
Time-Velo Pasadena had three riders: Bill Daley, Rudy Napolitano, and me in the 35+ race. The course was the same as the previous year’s, four laps of a 12.5-mile square loop with over 1,500 feet of climbing. Having done well on this course the last two years, with a first and third placing, I had an idea of how the race would shape up. After completing registration, I looked through the start list to get a better idea of the day’s competition. By my assessment, the riders to watch were Gary Douville, Phil Tinstman (MRI), Derek Brauch (Helen’s), and Craig Nunes (Art’s Cyclery).
Bill, Rudy, and I warmed up and talked through our race strategy, which was to ride together and let the course create the damage. Bill was tasked with tempo and pace setting for the first two laps, and then whatever he could contribute for laps three and four. I was there to cover any significant attacks from possible winners and then set hard tempo up the climb on laps three and four to break the group if necessary. Rudy would sit in and out of the wind until lap four and try to move clear for the win as riders faded from the challenging climb and their early efforts.
The first lap started sensibly, with the group happy to use the first time up the climb as race warm-up. Following the descent and right-hander onto the bottom section of the loop, riders started feeling each other out. A rider from CA Pools was the first to break the rubber band and quickly got 60 seconds on the group.
As we started the second lap, Bill began a steady tempo on the climb, as an attack was initiated by Adam Livingston (SKLZ-Swami), and followed by Brian Cook (MRI) and a La Grange rider. I came alongside Bill and asked for his thoughts, he told me to be patient and let him do his job. I slid behind him and took a quick glance back at Rudy. Rudy gave me the steady hand signal and I settled back in behind Bill.
Bill did his job on the climb and, as the group came to the descent, the break’s lead was at around 30 seconds. I took over on the descent and by the bottom I was able to pull back the breakaway. Again, on the bottom section, riders used the false flat and headwind to attack. The same CA Pools rider got away again, but he was chased by Douville, Brauch, Tinstman, and a La Grange rider. That move had my job description all over it. Three of the favorites in a move, meant I needed to jump across. I made it across solo and decided to ride conservatively, this was not a group I wanted to stay away with. Douville was out climbing me, and Tinstman and Brauch had out-sprinted me in the uphill finish at Poor College Kids a few weeks earlier.
The group stayed together on the early section of the climb with Douville, understandably upset that I was not contributing, setting the pace. In fact, Douville turned to me and said, “if the group catches us, it’s on you.” Behind, strongman Nunes was chasing with Rudy in tow, so tactically it was better for me to let my teammate Rudy and Nunes catch. By the top of the climb, the race had shattered to bits. Across the top section, Douville created a gap that I followed in tandem towards the descent. Nunes led a three-man chase group with Tinstman and Rudy, who eventually caught us. This five-rider group contained all my pre-race favorites except Brauch. Because it contained a majority of the favorites, we all seemed to ride with a bit of hesitancy. That, combined with a larger group chasing behind, meant the race would come back together for the fourth lap. I slid back to talk with Rudy and we finalized our last-lap strategy.
On the fourth lap, I set tempo for the final time up the climb. Douville put in some efforts that forced me deep into the red zone. I had flashbacks of him catching me at the 2012 SDSR time trial. Not a pretty thought. As we closed in on the right-hander at the top of the course, the selection had been made and it was Douville, Nunes, Rudy, and me. As the four-rider group made the right turn, Rudy attacked, opening a 100-meter gap. I thought that would be the winning move, but I was wrong. Nunes made a super-human effort to pull Rudy back, which put me deep into the “box.” As we latched on to Rudy, I knew it was my turn to attack. I took a moment to catch my breath and let some lactate flush after surviving the pace set by Nunes. I tried to attack, but it was ugly. I could barely stand to lift the pace. It was so pitiful, I think Douville thought I was having an on the bike seizure. It was so bad, that Nunes’ calves laughed at me. Seriously, have any of you seen his calves? I am going to start wearing knee-high socks so my calves don’t get a complex.
The pace slowed as we came over the first roller. I regained my composure, shook my legs out, took my last drink of water, and made the mental commitment to attack on the second roller. I slipped back to third wheel behind Nunes and Douville. Boom! All out with Douville in tow. We had the gap, so I kept on the pace over the top and into the flat section that leads into the descent. Douville and I traded a couple short, hard pulls. All the while I was thinking, ‘this is not my best match-up for a one-kilometer, 9% uphill finish.’ As we came into the last 500 meters before the descent, I drifted about three bike lengths off Douville’s rear wheel to get some run-up room, and then I jumped and sprinted as hard as I could to the descent. That proved to be the winning move. I increased my gap by hitting a top speed of 49.8 mph and averaging 45.7 mph on the long descent.
Along the bottom section, I committed to making that my final effort, holding an average heart rate of 181bpm (my max hr is 187) across the bottom and begging my legs to not cramp and seize up. The race referee came along side me and gave me a time split, but I was wrapped up in the effort, so he sounded like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoon. All I heard was noise. He must have realized my inability to understand simple English, so he displayed 4-0 with his hand. I had 40 seconds on Douville and I still needed to make the final one-kilometer climb to the finish. I knew Douville was not the quitting type.
He probably has my childhood motto on his stem, “never, never, give up.”
As I turned right onto the final, one-kilometer climb, I committed to burying myself for the first 500 meters before allowing myself to look back and see where Douville was. At 500 meters, I looked back and realized that, although Douville had made time on me, it was not enough to come back in the last 500 meters. So, I eased off the pedals some and enjoyed the excitement of getting a win.
My final thought on this race was, “boy, that was a tough way to get a win.” Douville and Nunes were the two strongest riders on the day. Unfortunately for them, physics was on my side. At 175 lbs, I just go downhill much faster than they do. Congratulations to Douville for second and Tinstman on his late surge for third. Together with Nunes (4th), they surely made this what will likely be one of my toughest races of the season. Lastly, winning is rarely possible without great teammates, so thanks to Bill for keeping me patient and setting tempo, and thanks Rudy for letting me take this one.
My challenge to you this week is this: if you routinely pass over these great, early season road races, you are missing a great opportunity to ride outside of the typical urban environments we see throughout the race calendar. UCSB held their race in the rolling hills of Los Olivos just north of Santa Barbara and UCLA held their race in Juniper Hills, which is the high desert area just below snow level. So next year, put these races on your calendar and come out and enjoy great courses, tough competition, and a chance to support collegiate cycling.