The following is from Jed Barden, a relatively recent Spokane transplant that has jumped right into the River City Red Cycling team, about his own efforts and those of teammate Richie Frahm. Take it away, Jed:
There is so much that goes into getting to the start line of a stage race. Travel, gear, lodging, food. It's been about two years since I've done a stage race, and I am reminded the logistics compared to a one-day race are much more complex. Since I am hoping to have my act together for Baker City in June, I needed an early season stage race under my belt.
However, my motivation last week was dropping. Not only was this a B training race for me, the weekend weather forecast in Enumclaw looked bad--70% chance of showers. My main concern was the eight-corner crit, which is dicey even when dry. But I grew up in Seattle and I haven't lived in Spokane long enough to turn into a water weenie. And as our director sportif said last week, HTFU.
But more ominous signs. Getting ready to leave Friday I suffered not one, but two inner tube blowouts--while loading the car. Apparently I did not get the inner tubes inside the beads properly the night before when I was changing tires. This has never happened to me before, and just nuts that it happened twice in the span of about 20 minutes. This unfortunately delayed my departure; plans for luxurious lodging were replaced by the tent and sleeping bag I threw in the car at the last minute.
After a long nap outside of Vantage, I rolled into Enumclaw late, about 2:30am, and set up my tent in the county park near the TT start line. I had just grabbed my sleeping bag from my car and was walking to my tent when suddenly a flashlight shines on me and I hear, "it's the police!" The officer wanted to know what I was doing. I told him I was going to sleep. He asked why. I said because it was late and I was tired. He asked where I was from. I said I just drove over from Spokane. Across the pass? Uh huh. He then commented about weirdos in this part of the park. By this point in the conversation he noticed my cycling cap and Gorge Roubaix t-shirt. He asked if I was there for the bike race. Yes. (An answer that now had me slotted as a cool guy, as opposed to a weirdo. Although, most "normal" people I talk to about driving all night to race a bike in the rain think I'm a weirdo, but I digress). The officer then kindly pointed me in the direction of a campground about a hundred yards away, and wished me good luck in the race. So I upgraded to the campground. The Enumclaw police hugely support this race and it was nice that they were there to greet me, even in the middle of the night!
Meanwhile, Richie was sound asleep in a hotel about fifty yards away.
57 riders had signed up for cat 3. Good strong competition with many teams from BC, Canada. Race rules called for mass start bikes with no aero equipment. At the start the guy behind me was complaining there was no start ramp. I asked where he had done a TT with a start ramp. "Nationals." Ok.
Despite the gloomy weather predictions, there was no rain and conditions for the TT were perfect. I finished about a minute down from the leader, around 30th. Richie had a good TT and was sitting about 15th (:40 down).
The TT start was 10am. Our Crit start was 8pm. I have never had that long of a break between same day events. Instead of hanging out in Enumclaw I drove to Seattle to visit my sister. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day there. When I drove back to Enumclaw, the sky began to cloud up. When I crossed the city limits the pavement went from dry to wet. Awesome. Richie had been watching the earlier crits and tells me it is just carnage. The main problem being the white and yellow lines all over the course. Fortunately the clouds clear, the sun peaks out, and the course mostly dries up by our race.
We all line up to start, Richie and I in the second and third rows respectively. Starting position in this crit is critical. With the figure-eight configuration there are only a couple spots where it is possible to move up. If you are in the back you are working harder than the guys in the front--the accordion effect in action. The official asks how many juniors are in the race. About 15 riders raise their hands. Audible groans from other riders. Juniors have a reputation for being strong but sketchy.
After the start I am in the back third and Richie is in the front third. Being in the back I am working super hard out of the corners. After moving my way up to about 15th position, my rear tire goes flat. I almost slide out in the next corner before I can get clear of the field. I swap wheels, get my free lap, and get back in with about 20 minutes to go. Fueled by adrenaline I work up to about 20th before running out of gas and drop to the back. I thought I was going to get popped but there were enough wheels to follow to stay on. With eight laps to go a crash in one of the many corners takes out 4-5 guys in front of me. I avoid the bikes and bodies and sprint back to the pack.
Sitting about 45th with 5 to go, I was resigned to a pack finish time. I could see Richie further up looking good. With 1 to go the pace predictably picks up. About halfway through the lap, a nasty crash in one of the corners. Unfortunately Richie is caught up in it, with about six others. Richie's right side and kit are cut up and I guide him to the finish line. When the EMT in the medical tent tells Richie to get his elbow cleaned up at the ER, he looks off with a steely gaze and mutters something about character.
I get a pack time but Richie drops about 3 minutes on GC. Scoring effup there but rumor was the time keepers were boozing that night.
This was the day it was really supposed to rain, but the skies were bright and almost sunny at midday for our 1pm start. While Richie cruises around the campground working out the soreness, I am still wrestling with my damn inner tubes. The course is five laps, 72 miles, with a 500 foot climb each lap up Mud Mountain. After the start, the pace is leisurely except for a fair amount of twitchiness. We hit the first climb and the pace is still easy. No fireworks yet.
On the second lap, bad luck strikes Richie again as he flats. Sam Maples also flats (he flatted in the crit too). To compound Richie's bad luck, he is given a junior wheel with a 25 tire. A tire that does not fit into his S5. After riding on the tire and burning his frame for half a lap, he heads back to the team van to switch bikes. Richie goes back out onto the course but is significantly behind and DNFs.
The second lap is also when the sky darkens and it starts raining, hard. Everyone is completely soaked as we hit the base of the climb on lap 2. The pace at the front lifts but I try to stay at a comfortable tempo knowing that most of race is still in front of me. At the top there is a long false flat plateau. There I can see that the peloton has split into three groups; I am in the third and largest group. I sit at the back of this group knowing (hoping?) others will work to catch the front groups. We catch the second group on the long descent down highway 410. It takes our now main pack another 4-5 miles to catch the front group of about 10 riders on the flat section.
The third time up the climb, the race lights up. As the climb starts my positioning is bad and I am towards the back. This is a stair step climb with portions you can draft. I was caught up in a slower group but did not want to push wind. When we hit the sustained climbing section I threw down wattage but could not catch the lead group of about 20 riders. Regrouping with a few stragglers, we started pacelining to catch back on. A couple guys were ready to throw in the towel. Screw that, there was a lot of racing left. In our group of about 7-8, four of us work to pull back the front group over about 10 miles. We finally caught them about two miles before the climb. Nice, but there would soon be a price to pay for my efforts.
Fourth time up the climb, the pace is reasonable but I was at the limit. I manage to hang until the very top where I get unhitched. Argh! There is one other dropped guy who I chase with, and the lead group dangles in front. But with only two us, both fried, we were not going to catch back on. I spot a couple other riders approaching from behind and we sit up and wait for them. We ride the fifth lap together, through an increasing drizzle. I was essentially bonked after the last climb and just dragged myself to the finish line. Fortunately Richie was there was some drinks.
About a third of the field DNFed the road race.
22nd overall in GC, plus some good training and lessons learned. The most important lesson is how critical positioning is. I wasted a lot of energy because of poor position, both in the crit and in the road race. Also, I need to learn how to change a dang tire.