Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tour de Tamarack Bike Race

My friends and co-directors from the DamTri, Steve and Nina Bell, have been putting this race on for over 10 years now. It is not a USCF event but they offer a 20 mile novice race, 30 mile intermediate race and a 40 mile expert race. In my return to road racing in 2006 I did this race and finished 12th in the 20 mile event and 2nd in my age group. I have not done a road race since then and other than Spain and my occasional group ride every training ride I've done has been geared toward triathlon and not competitive cycling.

I had planned to do this race all summer and was going to do the 30 mile race, as most of the top road racers from the area, Ohio and New York come to hammer each other in the 40 mile version. Coach John, however, told me to do the 40 mile race and use it as training.

The week leading up to the race was far from what you would call a good prep week for a hard 40 mile elite race. Monday was a long run, 16 miles, with the first7.5 as a warmup at 7:45 pace and the last 8.5 hard at 6:45 pace. Oh and it was a hilly run. Tuesday was a swim with 90 minutes of hard intervals on the bike in the evening. A 7+ mile hill run Wednesday at sub 7 min pace, then another swim and hard interval set on the bike again Thursday. Friday brought another hill run, this time 8 miles including one long grinding hill in under an hour and to top it all off I was to ride a long hill ride Saturday followed by a 1 hr run. I got 66+ miles of hills in Saturday on the bike at a nice steady but not too hard effort, and decided if I was not going to embarass myself Sunday I needed to skip the run. Also, my run I did Wednesday was an unplanned run so I was still on pace for the week. I had put up on Facebook earlier Friday that my legs felt like noodles and I was probably bowing out of the Tour de Tamarack but enough people 'urged' me on with the final push being John telling me that Rideout (from the Spain trip) would do it, so I had no choice now but to go and enter the 40 mile elite race.

I tried to rest as much as possible Saturday and get some fuel in the tank after the long ride and got my bike ready for the race. Got up early Sunday and rode the 5-6 miles, mostly downhill, to the park for registration and got signed up for the elite 40 mile race. A lot of people from Meadville and Erie were there as it was a perfect day for a nice race. My legs felt just ok during the warmup and before the race, but I knew I had no snap to them so I had no idea what the day would hold.

The elite wave started first, at 9 am which was nice as I hate super early starts, with the 30 mile and 20 mile races starting in 5 minute intervals behind us. About 50 riders, most on teams with several teammates there, lined up to start the elite race.

The course is basically 4 loops around Tamarack Lake. It starts with a short but steep climb up Devore Rd, which you end up climbing 4 times. At the top of Devore you make a right and continue a slight climb up Pettis Rd and then it becomes a long gradual downhill until a hard right onto Freyermouth Rd. for a short fast downhill, then a right onto Tamarack Drive for a 5-6 mile flat to slightly uphill section another right onto Williamson Rd for a small false flat/slight Hill and then a right back onto Devore Rd where you have a steep fast downhill to the start and then it's back up Devore to begin the next lap. For the 40 mile course on the 2nd lap there's a bonus hill, Phelps Rd, that comes about halfway down the flat section of Tamarack Dr and on the 3rd lap you continue straight on Freyermouth and go up a steep, hard hill for another bonus climb.

The course profile shows this is not a flat race by any means, with 6 good hills that although they are somewhat short are rather steep with all of them being over 10% in at least some sections and the beginning of Phelps pushes 20% for a little while.

The first lap was rather boring. Almost the entire group of 50 stayed together up the 1st climb up Devore right off the bat, and then it was simply a very fast large group ride around the lake. The descent of Devore was fun and although it was a large group most of these guys were seasoned riders and there were no twitchy bike handling skills on display.

Lap 2 started with a much harder effort up Devore Rd and we dropped about a dozen or more riders. The pace was hard but the longer the climb went the better I felt and I had no problem holding the main group. We continued around the lake to the first bonus climb, Phelps, which is a hard left turn and is immediately a steep 20% grade for the first couple hundred yards. Having ridden this road many times I knew to just make sure I stayed with the lead group at the start and that the climb eases up after the initial ascent and that is exactly what I did. I think we lost a couple of more riders going up Phelps and the group split up into several smaller groups for a short while but with the rest of the lap being flat to slightly downhill everyone came back together like I knew they would.

Lap 3 was again hard up Devore, but the third time up this hill comes fairly quickly after the hard climb of Phelps so the pace was not too hard. I again just made sure to stay with the leaders and did not have much trouble doing so, and although my legs were tired and had very little power to them my energy level and endurance felt good as I'd been fueling up on Clif Shots and Infinit during the ride. At the end of the long downhill we got the 2nd bonus climb up Freyermouth for our 5th hard climb of the day. This hill is steep at the bottom, has a short easier section in the middle before getting steep again and then one more easy section before a short hard section with a long drawn out top that eases over the hill. As part of my long ride the day before I put this hill in as it seemed like a good idea at the time. The accelerations on the steep parts were hard and the lead group, now about 30 guys, quickly got strung out and I found myself at the back of the pack. I kept my tempo under control and slowly got back in touch with the group until one more hard acceleration at the last short steep section spit several of us back out. I was now about 30-40 yds behind the tail end of the lead group with 2-3 guys and I knew once the leaders got over the easier top part of the climb it was a long downhill stretch to the start of lap 4. I knew I needed to be with them when they started this section as I could rest then and if I did not join them I would never see them again so I dug down and sprinted as best I could back towards the leaders determined to catch back on. As I did this I passed two riders from Erie and I told one of them to get on my wheel and they needed to catch up or they, and I, would never stay with the lead group. They did not react so I kept going and joined back up to the group just as we began the long gradual descent back to the start of lap 4. I used this time to rest and knew I just had 1 more climb up Devore to not get dropped on and I would be finishing with the lead group. I recovered well and felt good starting lap 4.

The 4th lap is the same as the 1st lap, and the starting climb up Devore was the best I felt all day. I stayed near the front of the group and had no problem with this climb. I think after 30 miles and 5 climbs I was finally warmed up. On the way up the climb we got a split that the two leaders were 1:10 up the road, and I honestly had not seen where they got ahead of our pack. After the climb up Devore there were 1 or 2 attacks on the long downhill but with everyone going along at 25 to 30+ mph no one was going to get away. Once we made the final turn onto Tamarack Dr for the last 4-5 miles of basically flat road the pace really picked up and there were multiple attacks with none of them successful. The final turn before Devore road was a bunch sprint to the top of Devore followed by a 50mph descent and then a short climb about 1/3 of the way back up Devore to a hard right hand turn then a short 150 yd sprint to the finish.

I got a little out of position at the turn at the top of Devore and was too far back in the pack. I tried to make up a few spots on the descent but so did everyone else and when we started the mad dash back up Devore I found myself at the tail end of the group as we made the right onto the finishing stretch. I sprinted hard and passed 7 or 8 people and finished right with the main group, which was now strung out. I really should have made sure to be at the front at the start of the descent of Devore.

Final results 40 miles in 1:47:11, 22.39 mph avg, 18th overall, 6th Male 30-39.
Given the week I had leading up to this race, lack of rest and lack of training for road racing I was very happy with the results and the fact that I stayed with the group all day. Later, while checking my HR file, I noticed that I never got much over 180 going up the hills which is slightly low for me as in training if I have the legs to really push things I can always hit 190+ going up short steep hills. The spread from me (18th) to 3rd was only 9 seconds and the two leaders only finished 30 seconds or so in front of our group. Oh, the two guys from Erie that missed the train at the top of Freyermouth finished next 3+ minutes back.

For a first road race in 3 years and on a strictly triathlon only training plan I was more than happy with the outcome. Next year I might actually train for this race.

Picture: The final sprint up Devore before the hard right onto the finish road.

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