2018 Kings Valley Road Race | Masters 40+ 3/4/5

by Chris Hanel 

April 14, 2018

Race: Kings Valley Road Race (53 miles, 2700 ft)

Category: Men’s Masters 40+ 3/4/5

Team:  Chris Hanel (1st), Shaun Martin (12th), Jake von Duering (5th)

Background:

I had ridden King’s Valley Road Race last year (2017) for the 1st time.  It was the single most miserable biking experience of my life in regards to weather.  I had never been that cold in all my life, and no, I’m not exaggerating.  I’ve spent a week hunting/camping in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness where the temperature never broke freezing, and was never as cold as I was at KVRR 2017.  Being soaking wet, not properly clothed for the weather, and riding in the wind at speed in a hailstorm while Rob Tornai attacks was not a pleasant experience.  I would drop back a bit from the pack on descents because I was shaking so bad I was afraid I’d lose control of the handlebars.

Advantage:

1.  Smaller field of riders.  2.  Finally, some hills, which for those of us racing for DCT in the Masters 40 – 49 for this race is generally a good thing.  3.  Course is familiar to all of us.  4.  Weather was suppose to cooperate…hopefully.  5.  Jake, Shaun, and I had a full hour of riding on Zwift earlier in the week and we discussed race tactics/scenarios/plans the whole time.

Disadvantage: 

1. The memory of the year before was still haunting me.  2.  It was a strong field.  Of the 22 in the 3,4,5 field, 1 was cat 5, and 7 of us were cat 4s.  The other 2/3s of the group were cat 3s.  There were suppose to be crosswinds/headwinds, which can be a mixed blessing depending on the situation.

Plan: 

1st lap – sit in and conserve.  Watch.  Only chase something if it looks/feels legit/threatening (I’m looking at you Hanel).  If there is nothing crazy going on the 1st time we hit the climb, and I’m feeling O.K., Jake gave me the green light to go for the beer prime.  Second lap around, Jake will make a hard effort a few miles before the climb.  There should be some crosswind/headwind in that section and he should be able to trigger some hard efforts by the guys that are always there to mark him.  Jake gets them to work as best he can for a couple miles leading into the climb, then backs off.  During this time, Shaun and I are to be conserving in the chase/peloton.  We should be catching Jake and anyone with him once we hit the climb proper, and at that point, Shaun and I counter hard going up the climb and try to get a gap.  If we can get away alone, or with 1 or 2 others, great.  The Peloton will have to make some hard choices and we’ll live with the results either way.  Plan B through Z are always the same if plan A doesn’t work.  Get Jake to the bottom of the climb and the rest takes care of itself.

Race:

At the start, we sized up who was there, and from what teams, and it seemed we weren’t at a disadvantage in regards to numbers/teammates, which was a good thing.  We had agreed to take it easy on the first of the 3 laps and just watch and play defense.  Shaun hung out up front playing some overwatch while Jake and I hung out the back.  I watched Jake do his high cadence warm up thing he does on the 1st lap and I had to tell him my obligatory “this pace is killing me.  I feel like I gotta do something” line (which is easy to say when you’re sitting in the pack the whole 1st lap).  I told him previously that I was going to try for the beer prime on offer for the 1st to the top of the main climb that is finish line on the 1st lap around, but only if the pace dictated.

I have a lot of trouble being patient in races and I would often pay for it at the end of races last year.  Well the pace was pretty tame.  Not that I was doing anything about it.  The 4/5s passed our group on the back flat stretch leading up to the turn of the climb, and I decided then that I was definitely gonna give a go the 1st time up the climb because somebody has to do something.  We hit the beginning of the climb and I gradually worked my way up toward the front. We hit the early flatter section of the climb and I go to work at the front.  The group responds and there’s some guys on my wheel.  I slow it down for a short bit and then hit it again and get some separation.

I get a gap right around the time a single 4/5 rider comes around to try and chase back on to the group that passed us.  So we get neutralized a bit while this guy goes by, and the peloton respects the small gap I had (this is why I love racing Masters – stand up guys, the lot of them) while the vehicles get sorted and we give this guy some space.  So the guy gets up there and the race is back on…sort of.  This guy has about 50 yards on me now with the vehicle right behind him, but he’s not going the speed he was when he passed us.  I’m having to hold back on what I want to be doing because I want to give this guy a chance to get himself and the vehicle ahead a bit.  I don’t want to be the guy that drafted the vehicle up the climb and kept “that one guy” from being able to chase back on to his group.  I’m keeping my distance, but this guy is slowing me down.  The gap to the peloton is staying about the same and I’m wondering if they’re watching the same channel I am.  It’s like we’re all in some kind of limbo for about 3 minutes.  Finally, I wave my hand at the lead car in a “move along because I want to start climbing and this guy is just gonna have to pass us again some other time” and within 5 seconds, the car pulls around the rider and moves on – man those volunteers are on it and I continue to be so impressed by them.

So, I’m off and headed up the climb with beer in mind (I so rarely drink the stuff, but I want to be able to give my teammates something at the end of the day).  I go hard the last couple of kilometers and yell “Beer Me!” at the top the climb.  I had a decent gap last I looked about halfway up the climb so I figured, “O.K., I’ll just do what I can on the downhill side, nothing crazy, but maybe enough to shake something loose.  If (when) I get caught, no harm/no foul, got the team some beer, and we go back to plan A.”

I take a look back before I settle into my TT position and see an orange jersey charging over the top of the climb.  Now all kinds of thoughts are running. “Is it Jake or Shaun (again, my far vision sucks)?  Should I totally back off and wait, should I halfway back off and wait, or do they have help with them and should I hammer it knowing that they will catch up and not compromise any gap they may have.”  I settled on halfway because the guy in orange was staying in front, which meant if there was someone with him, they weren’t helping at the time.  I twirl my finger in the air letting them know I see them and i am anxiously awaiting that rotating pain known as “attempted breakaway.”

It’s Jake…and wait for it…Webster.  I have history with Webster in my short 1 year career of racing.  My mind flashes back to Silverton Road Race 2017 when Jake and I attempted a breakaway and he was along for the ride.  He did help, eventually, in that break, but I was a bit bitter about the effort at that time.  He was also in the break at Montinore Road Race with me and again, I felt like the contribution could have been better.  He also followed Danny and I up the final climb at Montinore and came around us both at the very end for the win.  So yeah, I tend to hold grudges sometimes, even if they’re not founded.

I don’t know if he helped Jake bridge at all or not, but to his credit, once we got joined up, he took his turns and was not holding back, best I could tell.  So there is redemption for some and he definitely earned some respect back from me.  We worked fairly diligently, but it was always gonna be a tough ask to keep a gap on a downhill into a headwind.  We did make it to the corner and mild crosswind section near the staging area before the peloton caught up.  I was a bit dejected, but not completely deflated.  I knew it was long shot, but there was just too much energy yet in the peloton and too much of a threat with Jake up front.

Back to Plan A.  We settle back in the pack and Shaun goes back to guard duty toward the front.  Jake tells me he lost a water bottle because he somehow kicked it out of it’s holder on the climb.  Must be a high power thing I’m not familiar with.  I offer to switch him bottles. I don’t drink much during a race and still have quite a bit in my bottle.  He declines – the dummy.  I think the real reason he declined is 2 fold, #1 – he thinks I have herpes and #2 – the green bottle would clash terribly with his BMC red.  He’s likely right on #1.  80% of the world does.

As we’re cruising along in the second lap, Gregg Steele tells me he did help pull us back after the climb, but he’ll be damned if he’s gonna keep doing that because he’s not gonna repeat the cramps he had at Piece of Cake Road Race for all the work he did.

Things are fairly controlled for the rest of the western and northern segments of lap 2 and then we get to about where Plan A is suppose to kick off and something weird happens.  Shaun floats off the front.

[Shaun: I had been on the front for *miles* at this point which is normally not smart, but I was doing no more than 200W on the flats and *no one* would come around me. So I just said “whatever – it’s a nice day for a ride on a beautiful course so I will stay here”. I even chatted with a couple of guys about the scenery. One guy said “it’s going to heat up in the next half hour” “I hope so” I said. At about that moment, Jake came charging past and said something that I could only make out as “Play bikes?!” – that’s probably not what he said, but I took it as “let’s go!” so I put the hammer down with him and we got a brief gap, but per usual, the pack was not going to let Jake fly and we were brought back. A minute or two later, I looked back (I was getting used to being on the front with nobody in view) and I had an accidental 20m gap. And here’s where my racing inexperience comes in, with some constructively critical self-analysis. I knew the plan was for Chris and me to attack on the penultimate (is that word used anywhere besides bike racing?) climb which was still a ways out while Jake solo-attacks to soften up the field just before the climb. But the peloton had just given me a 20m gift, so I took it and ramped up the watts and floated away. Two big mistakes: When Jake went past me, I ought to have let him, and let the peloton chase him (per the plan DUH). Instead, I forgot the plan and put in a dig (burned a match) trying to break with him. Second mistake: I should not have taken the peloton’s 20m gift, and I should’ve waited to break with Chris closer to the climb. By floating off solo, I was burning precious matches and I made Chris burn precious matches bridging to me. That was at least 6 minutes of hard solo-breakaway effort that had I not done, I might’ve been able to stick with Chris (longer anyway) once we were together. I’m getting a feeling that almost all bike racing lessons revolve around patience. 😉 ]

And he keeps floating.  With my bad vision, I think there is someone with him.  Jake is on the inside toward the front.  I’m working my way up near the centerline toward the front.  I pull up next to Jake just a few spots back from the front of the group.  By this point, Shaun has a pretty good gap going and he’s chugging away up there.  Seems like he’s been up front all day.  I ask Jake what he thinks about me going to join him.  I can’t remember exactly what Jake said because in my own mind I had already decided I was going to try and join him and even if he said no, I was gonna convince him otherwise.  I do remember him shrugging his shoulders and saying something along the lines of “maybe” and “worth a shot” and “nothing crazy,” but again, I don’t remember for sure.  It’s not Plan A as we drew up, but it’s fairly close.

{Jake: “It’s worth a shot, but don’t take anyone with you” is what I believe was said.}

So I make a decent dig to the front to see if they’ll just let me go join Shaun.  Rob Tornai jumps on my wheel and we go hard for short bit and he goes around me and pulls for a bit.  I wouldn’t mind bringing Rob along for the fun, but there’s still guys on my wheel and I don’t want to pull the group back to Shaun.  Rob backs off the throttle a bit and I sit on his wheel.  I’m boxed in with Rob in front pulling and a guy to my left and back of me and he’s not moving.  So I wait.

Eventually, the guy backs off a bit and Rob pulls over and I grab the drops, pull up next to him, look at Rob, and say, “what do you think?” to see if he wants to come.  I don’t wait for an answer and I hit it hard (for me, anyway).  He doesn’t come along, and amazingly, neither does anyone else.  Fantastic!  Now it’s just slogging across the crosswind/headwind to Shaun and this other guy and it’s GO TIME baby!

I bridge to Shaun just before the turn to the climb.  On the way, I figure out I really do need to get some glasses for racing because it’s just him, and there is no other rider.

As we hit the climb, completely ignoring the fact that Shaun has been policing the front all day and he just worked his butt off for 2 – 3 miles in a cross/headwind solo, I say something along the lines of “I just wanna make em’ hurt a bit Shaun.  Let’s make em’ hurt.”  It could be that I’m not a good person – but that’s a topic for another day.  We got about 23 miles to go.  So, Shaun and I get our pain on.

From this point on, other than a couple glances back to Shaun, I do not look back to see if there is chasers or what kind of gap or whatever.  I tell Shaun at some other point during this torturous folly that “we are committed, we are fully committed!”  To be honest, I don’t know if he hears me, hates me, wants me to just shut up and get on with it, or what.  When racing, as in life, Shaun is a man of few words, and more a man of action.

Now this is the second time over the climb, and the second breakaway.  Why would the result be any different the second time?  The difference being as follows: 1. It is later in the race, so there is some fatigue setting in all of us. 2. Jake is back in the peloton, and 3. it’s just Shaun and me up front.  They probably don’t think we’re much of a threat. They don’t know much about Shaun and me, or how big a can of whoop-ass we can actually carry.  And if they do respond with vigor, they are burning matches and just giving Jake a free ride along the way – and they already know that’s a big can of whoop-ass to give a free ride to.

I figure if Shaun and I can at least get to the staging area while still having a decent gap, they would have a hard time catching us in the western/northern tailwind section of the course.  We keep hammering.  The car pulls next to us telling us we got a 30 second gap.  Then 40 seconds.  Then we get to the staging area.  We got about a 35 second gap.  We keep going.  We start hitting the smaller climbs on the Western segment of the course.  Gravity starts rearing it’s cruel head at Shaun.  He tells me to go on, and I convince him to get over the climb with me.  Selfishly, I need his respite hammering on the flats/descents.  He obliges.  He does not oblige me on the next climb.  He tells me to “go on” (I think, my hearing is almost as bad as my eyesight.  He could have been telling me to F*** Off).

[Shaun: I was dying just trying to stay on Chris’s wheel. Didn’t matter: uphill, downhill, flats. DYING.]

Now I have to make a decision quickly.  Do I hang back and recover with Shaun a bit and we press on together, or do I keep hammering until I fall apart.  We haven’t gotten any recent time gaps, so I’m not sure where we are at.  I put myself in Shaun’s shoes and I know I would be pissed off if I did all that work and then he didn’t go when I told him to go and things didn’t work out – or at least that is what I told myself in the brief instance to rationalize my actions, and thus, I pressed on.  I really should have talked to Shaun before writing this.

[Shaun: I count it a minor victory to get the notoriously selfless Hanel to ride off on his own. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more – the relief of the pain, or watching him ride off with an excellent shot at victory.]

Now I’m by myself.  I got a tailwind, some rollers with some flat sections, and just my own thoughts.  The first 2, I love. The latter can be a problem.  I figure if I just go balls out on the northern section I can hold them off in the tailwind.  It will be the open eastern segment in the cross/headwind heading up to the final climb that will be the problem.  I figure I’ll deal with that when it comes and I go hard in the meantime.  I’m feeling pretty good, because who doesn’t on rollers with a tailwind.  I don’t get a time check the whole time I’m on the northern section.

After the race, I looked at the Strava “Fly-By” and it looked like there was another rider (Rob DeAngelo from Bend) that was trying to bridge with us right around the time that Shaun and I separated.  He got awfully close.  But then, on the Fly-By, you see Shaun and him come together and Shaun must have grabbed his wheel and made him tow him along because they hang out there between me and the peloton for a while and slowly get drawn back in to the pack.  I’ll wait for Shaun’s report, but dang, I owe you so much for this race Shaun.  So glad you’re my teammate.

[Shaun: Yeah, Rob Angelo surprised me with a friendly push on the back as he pulled up next to me. I hopped on his wheel and for a few minutes we took turns working, but very shortly the pack was on us and we were swallowed up.]

Then I hit the corner to turn south on the eastern section.  Crap. Now I’m starting to slowly die.  I do not do well mentally in a headwind or crosswind.  I look at my watts, and when it’s not dropping out, it’s not looking great.  I’m trying to stay low into the wind.  The car pulls up and says “4-0, 4-0”  and I shake my head.  This section is just starting.  I’m losing a bit of confidence.

Then I think of my friend Andy’s phone call the night before.  “They don’t know what you can do Chris. They have no idea.”  Damn straight, Andy.  I keep trying to keep the thoughts positive and thinking of the people who have sacrificed just so I could be out here riding today in a silly bike race that for whatever reason, means a lot to us crazy people that ride bikes like this.

I finally get to the corner heading up the climb.  Just before the corner, car pulls up and he yells, “4-0, 4-0.”  I shake my head again and gasp at him “not enough,” as if he can magically add some more time for me.  I turn up the climb.  I’ve been at limit for about an hour now.  My heart rate has not gone below 170.  And now I have to climb.  I honestly don’t know if I’m gonna just blow or not.  My rev-limiter is on and I’m just taking whatever my lungs, heart, and legs will give me.  I get a little ways up the climb.  Car comes up, “3-5, 3-5.”  I keep turning the pedals, head down most of time.  Again, never looking back.  Passing occasional guys from the 4/5 group, I assume, that give words of encouragement.  I can’t even give them a glance or nod.  I’m just gasping and driving the legs and wanting it to be over.  Dreading being caught and swamped on the yet to arrive final pitch, after being so close.

Suffering halfway through the flatter section of the climb, the car pulls up, “3-0, 3-0, and they are mounting a chase behind you!”  I can’t even acknowledge him at this point in the suffering.  But I’m thinking, “Why did you tell me that!  I have nothing left to put into these pedals than what I’m putting out right now at this very point in time!  You could tell me “Jaws is 30 seconds behind you and he is going to eat and devour you for lunch and you will cease to exist…good luck,” and I still couldn’t go any faster than I am right at this moment!

[Shaun: It was fun to hear the peloton chit chat as we hadn’t laid eyes on you in a while and they realized the inevitable. WOOO!]

I’m getting towards the end of the flatter section of the climb to where it gradually starts to kick up and eventually leads into the final pitch.  Car pulls up beside me for the last time, “You’re still at 30 seconds, you’re still at 30 seconds!  Come on!  You can do this!”  The guy sounds excited and I absolutely love him for it.  I give him a little fist shake with my left and keep driving and gasping.

I hit the 1 KM sign and I’m thinking  “This might actually happen.  Just take a look back to make sure those aren’t wheels you hear sprinting up on you.  No! don’t fricken’ look back you idiot!  You can’t do anything about what’s behind you anyway.  You’re already doing what you can.  Just keep pedaling!”  I don’t look back.

I stand up and try to throw my weight into the pedals at the 200M sign.  It doesn’t really make much of a difference.  I cross the line head down, gasping, wheezing, and people looking at me with an expression of, “Crap, this guy might just keel over on us…I hope not, because I don’t want to have to deal with that kinda crap today.”

It’s over.  Ah man, It’s over!  It’s more relief than joy.  Not even relief that the pain was over, but relief that I didn’t let myself or my teammates down.  Without teammates, this result just doesn’t happen.

And that is why DCT rocks!