Two for two

February 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

The 35+ race at Boulevard was relatively uneventful unless you were one of the riders who got shelled on the very first lap. Or the second lap. Or the third.

It was the first tough road race with all the major players except for Chris DeMarchi, who’s still recovering from a broken femur that he sustained in an MTB accident. Without Chris the race would be slightly different, as his trademark “bring the pain and thin the herd” brand of killing accelerations would be absent.

The riders didn’t know where they stood fitness wise, so there was a lot of watching and waiting, but only up to a point. It was Boulevard after all, a race of attrition that eventually was going to wear you down whether you waited or not. The general pattern in the 35+ race is this:  If the race stays together, only shedding the lame and infirm, the big explosion happens halfway through the last lap. The start of the race was freezing and two minutes into the race it began to snow. There were also a couple of new faces, which is always a troubling question mark. It’s the new faces that can completely screw up a well-planned race.

The 2014 edition played according to formula, with Mike Sayers and Marco Arocha putting in huge attacks that did damage but failed to shatter the group. Marco launched halfway into the race, but that’s a long, lonely distance to hold off a super field like this one over such a demanding course. He was  brought back on the downhill, where a solo rider has difficulty keeping ahead of a peloton that can easily hit 50 mph.

While Marco was away Monster Media strongman Karl Bordine set tempo up the big climb and made sure Arocha’s advantage didn’t extend too far. By keeping the gap in check on the second lap, Bordine’s solid tempo prevented the dangerous move by Arocha from suddenly turning into a  3 or 4 minute breakaway. That would have forced the Monster Media team to organize a chase, waste valuable energy, and take away their ability to keep team boss Tinstman safe and out of the wind. It was Bordine’s tempo that allowed the group to bring Arocha back and then set up Gary Douville for the big move on the last lap.

When the remnants of the field turned onto La Posta, Gary Douville and Phil Tinstman went to the front, attacking just over the railroad tracks and whittling it down to five riders, later joined by two others.  Tony Restuccia, Tinstman, Douville, Derek Brauch, Sayers, Paul Vaccari, and Randall Coxworth made up the final selection. The two who bridged, Vaccari and Coxworth, made it across at just the time the break briefly slowed.

From that point the break drilled up La Posta and put a big gap on the field, a gap that no one would be able to close once the breakaway hit the frontage road and began the final three-mile climb to the finish line. Sayers was the biggest threat to the Monster Media machine, which had four of the seven riders in the break. Sayers coaches the USA U-23 team and in addition to being a great coach is also a beast of a rider. Sayers attacked the break a couple of times but was countered by Tinstman and Douville.

This is the point in Boulevard where things come unraveled. The break was on the rivet and Tinstman was still feeling good. With teammates Restuccia, Douville, and Coxworth covering the SPY-Giant-RIDE duo of Brauch and Vaccari, Sayers put in a huge attack and, taking Tinstman with him, opened up a 20-second gap on the chasers. With Sayers urging Tinstman to pull through, the Monster Media rider declined the invitation. The math was simple: Better to get pulled back to the group, where there was a 4-to-7 advantage and where Tinstman was confident of winning the field sprint, than to trade pulls with Sayers and lower his chance of winning to 50 percent.

Once the Sayers-Tinstman duo was back with the chasers, Coxworth unleashed a flurry of attacks, swinging off with 250 meters to the line. Sayers was now out in the wind and had no choice but to go, and he gave it everything he had, but 250 meters out at Boulevard is like a kilometer anywhere else because the race finishes on a hard pitch after a long climb. With Sayers firing his final volley too early, Vaccari then jumped with Tinstman on his wheel. At the last minute Tinstman hit the wind and passed the SPY rider with room to spare. Vaccari got second and Brauch got third, making a good podium haul for the SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI team, especially considering the quality and quantity of Monster Media riders at the finish.

Teamwork

This was a classic example of a road race going according to plan. It was simple in theory: Keep Tinstman out of the wind as much as possible and save it for the end. Although he was feeling good, the fact that his teammates were doing such a great job increased his pressure to close the deal as they sacrificed everything to put him in position for the win. Having raced together for a couple of seasons the Monster Media team has reached a point where the riders can communicate in key moments without talking because they know what the other guy’s thinking and what they’re going to do. This is the kind of clockwork teamwork that only comes from lots of races.

Tinstman’s secret? There are none, other than the things that all successful athletes have in common, such as maximal preparation. Spare wheels in the car, food, bottles, clothing, then double check everything. Reassured that the prep was done, the victory was going to depend on using the least amount of energy and conserving until the end. By being alert and continually reading the race, Tinstman made sure that every second in the race he had a reason for what he was doing doing. Whether watching a guy, resting, or chasing, it was the continual mental alertness and rational planning that brought the victory to bear.

Saturday helped Sunday

Tinstman followed up his hardman win at Boulevard with an equally impressive win the following day at the SPY Red Trolley Crit in San Diego. Much of Sunday’s victory was the result of how well the team kept him fresh on Saturday. He wasn’t wrecked on Sunday because he hadn’t had to do the lion’s share of the work the day before.

Unlike the other dominant SoCal 35+ crit team, Surf City Cyclery, the Monster Media team never wants the race to end in a field sprint. 2013 was an extended clinic of breakaway crit victories by DeMarchi and Tinstman, and although SCC was absent from this year’s edition of Red Trolley, the plan was still to avoid a field sprint.

On the other hand, with accomplished finishers like Coxworth, Tinstman, and Danny Kam, if it came down to a sprint, there were options there as well. Coxworth had just finished second in the 45+ race after getting nipped at the line due to a premature victory salute, and felt like the snap was gone from his legs. He therefore volunteered to be the guy who would position Tinstman if it came down to a field sprint. In the last two laps he placed his team leader into position with laser precision.

With a tailwind on the climb and a headwind on the downhill it was going to be a hard course on which to establish a winning break because it was easy for the swollen pack to sit and then charge full bore up he hill. The Monster Media team attacked repeatedly with the SPY riders, trying to make things happen, but the field wouldn’t split. In the final laps SPY went to the front, with Tinstman on Coxworth’s wheel. A couple of intense efforts towards the very end even looked like they might create a winning move.

Everything came back together for the finale, however, so with Coxworth on the SPY train and Tinstman slotted in behind his pilot fish, the two Monster Media riders came around SPY’s Eric Anderson and locked in first and second place.

On February 15, Tinstman and the Monster Media tribe will have a go at the second hardman event on the SoCal calendar, the UCLA Punchbowl road race. If Boulevard and Red Trolley are any indication, they will be tough to beat. Very, very tough.

Winning

February 3, 2014 § 56 Comments

Every dog has his day. Saturday was mine.

This race that had bedeviled me, humiliated me, broken me, and told me loud and clear so many times that I’d never be a road racer was lying at my feet. After making it up the climb with the leaders the second time around I asked myself a question I’d never asked before: How was I going to win this race?

My legs felt great despite having started the race in a snow flurry. I’d been in zero difficulty as the big guns had carved the field down into a final mass of about twenty-five riders, and while the better, stronger, faster, skinnier guys had attacked, surged, and shredded with abandon the only thing I’d done was sit at the tail end of the field, doing nothing. That too was a first.

I thought about following wheels all the way to the finish. That would be hard, to put it mildly. Konsmo, Thurlow, Flagg, Pomeranz, Slover, and several other guys remained in the field, guys who would break me like a dry twig on the final 3-mile climb to the finish. On the other hand, my legs felt so good that maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe I could follow wheels and sprint for the win. Maybe I could also grow a third leg.

Then my mind went back to the Cyclovets Omnium Road Race in 2010. The remnants of the field were about 200 yards from the top of the first peak of the infamous green road, and I had hit the jets as hard as I could. The pack didn’t respond, and as I leaped out of the field my Big Orange teammates had yelled at me. “Ease up!” they had shouted. Confused, because it seemed like the winning move, I had eased up. Teammate Dave Worthington had gone on for the win, but I’d never really understood why I had been shut down, except for the obvious fact that no one had had confidence that I’d be able to hold it to the line.

As we flew down the winding, 50 mph descent, I made up my mind. If the lead group was was dragging ass at the top of the green road, I’d hit it. There was a long way to go from there, but my legs felt good and I had a better chance to win out of a breakaway than I did in a sprint finish.

We crossed the railroad tracks and started the first climb. People were laboring, gronking, and struggling on this third effort up the back side of Boulevard. Todd Parks dangled a few hundred yards in front, about to be sucked back after a hopeless attack on the downhill. Teammate Andy Schmidt bulled at the front, with John Hatchitt working to pull Parks back into the fold. Out of the nine SPY-Giant-RIDE teammates who had toed the line, only four of us remained. Amgen still had a beefy contingent to contend with.

Once we hit the green road, the peloton begin to sag. People were gassed. Thurlow had made multiple all-out efforts to split the field. Leibert had covered countless moves. Konsmo had driven the pace like a madman up the climbs. Everyone was hurting, and my legs felt New In Box. I attacked.

This was the moment I’d waited almost thirty years for. In 1986, with John Morstead and Mike Adams up the road in the state championships outside of San Antonio, I’d hit the jets on the rollers when the remaining group containing Mark Switzer, Fields, Rob DiAntromond, and a couple of other riders who were clearly on the ropes. I’d rolled away for good.

Today was that day, only better. No one answered the attack except for a dude on an aluminum bike with a down tube shifter for his front chain ring. We crested the hill and were gone. I never bothered to look back, assuming that the leaders were hot on my heels only a few seconds behind. My companion took a couple of ineffectual pulls but I didn’t care; they were enough to give me the brief respite I needed to renew the charge. The peloton would certainly catch me on the final big climb up Highway 80, and now I was going to grill and drill to the bitter end.

Two days before I had prepared for every eventuality. I’d cleaned my bike. Lubed the chain. Most importantly I’d put on two brand new Gatorskin 25 cm tires, bulletproof and built to withstand the cattle guards, road detritus, and sketchy conditions of the lousy roads in eastern San Diego County.

The combination of adrenaline and good legs propelled me along. In a couple of minutes I’d be at the highway climb. “It’s been fun,” I thought. “They’re gonna reel me in any second now.”

As my breakaway companion swung over, I pushed harder on the pedals. The final climb loomed. And then? A deafening blast lifted my rear wheel as my the back tire blew off the rim. “Oh, no!” said Aluminum Bike Dude.

I laughed to myself and came to a halt. For the first time I looked back, expecting to see the charging peloton, but there was no one. A few seconds went by and two riders came through, including Jonathan Flagg, perennial strongman and the guy who would stick it all the way to the finish for the win.

But where was the peloton? “Surely they’re hot on my heels?” I thought. I checked my watch in disbelief that that the attack had put any significant time into the field. A full minute later they rolled by in full chase mode.

“Wow,” I thought. “Could I have stuck it out to the end?”

Later still, Greg Leibert pedaled by and stopped. He’s the best guy in the world, and having won The Monument multiple times, he and Todd Darley preferred to stop for a friend rather than pedal insanely by for 25th place. Better yet, he called Lauren, who picked me up as I pedaled along on my blown out rear wheel.

“What happened?” she asked. I told her. “Oh, no! What a bummer! That’s terrible!”

I smiled at her. “Second best race ever.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah. You don’t always have to be first in order to win.”

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The monument

January 22, 2014 § 19 Comments

The Boulevard road race is perhaps our only monument in Southern California. It’s got two modes, “up” and “down.” Those who win it cross a terrible no-person’s-land to do so. Those who finish it do, too. Those who quit plan for next year or focus on crits.

I could tell you all the terrible things that await when you line up at Boulevard. I could tell you about starting at 5,000 feet. I could tell you about the howling descent that goes on forever. I could tell you about the unforgiving climb that pinches off riders in bunches and singly until only the hardiest remain. I could tell you about the green road, or the lonesome desolation of the Mexican border, or the freezing winds when the sun drops, or the icy rain that falls in bad years, or the inhuman pounding that your body takes simply to finish.

But I won’t, because none of those things make Boulevard a monument. They just make it a bike race.

The seed of fear

A monument frightens you, and it frightens you early. It’s not the nervousness that precedes a race, or butterflies while you’re crumping a hairy beet in the port-o-let, or the anxious chatter you expel on the drive up. A monument scares you long before it ever happens. It gets inside your head, and outside it, too. The external world becomes a series of ominous warnings, of suggestively bad outcomes, of predictions that all end in “failure” and “pain.”

Boulevard stands at the head of the line because of its relentless climbing and because it’s the first major road race of the season. Some would say it’s the only major one, although those who say so haven’t raced Devil’s Punchbowl in the snow of Vlees Huis in the 100-degree heat.

With run-ups like Poor College Kids, and follow-ons like UCLA Punchbowl and San Luis Rey, Boulevard is at the head of the class. If you sign up for it, you’re afraid. If you don’t sign up for it, it’s because you’re afraid.

What’s in a bike race?

There’s no such thing as an easy one if you want to cross the line first. Think four-corner crits are easy? Well, perhaps they are if you just want to finish. But any event that requires you to pin on a number will take you to the limit if you want to win it.

As a monument, Boulevard takes you to the limit and then, if you’ve got your eyes on winning, takes you beyond. Boulevard is one of the few races in SoCal you’ll ever do that conveys a measure of respect simply by being able to say, “I finished.” If, like Greg Leibert, you’ve won it multiple times, it conveys more than respect. It conveys greatness.

My record with the beast

2010, DNF. 2011, 27th place. 2012, 39th place. 2013, 15th place. These are not numbers to be proud of, but they’re numbers I’m inordinately proud of, especially 2010, when I was lucky enough to flat on the first lap after being soaked to the skin in freezing rain that pelted us from the beginning of the race. Last year I got what Jack from Illinois (not his real name) would call “Enough of a result to further the delusion that next year it will be better.”

In short, 2014 is my year. The magical combination of experience, beer, homemade bread, butter, and high-rpm training practically dictates that this is the year I stand on the podium. And if I don’t, so what? At least I rode the monument, and with fortitude and luck, maybe I also finished.

I hope you’ll be there, if only so that you can say you’ve ridden a monument.

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